Mo Walker might not be starting again on Tuesday night, but that doesn’t mean he didn't take good steps in his chance on Saturday, filling in for normal starting center, Elliott Eliason.
Before the matchup against New Orleans, coach Richard Pitino approached his backup big man and told him to take advantage of the opportunity.
Walker did that effectively, recording 11 points and eight rebounds in just 23 minutes (he missed most of the second half due to foul trouble) and getting more aggressive inside -- something he needs to continue to focus on -- as the game went on.
“I told him at halftime, you lost 60 pounds, you have earned the right to go out there and be very confident,” Pitino said. “You put in a lot of work that a lot of people have not done so go out there with the confidence that you deserve to be on this court. And I think he showed that, he did a good job.”
But now, with Eliason’s tweaked left ankle almost fully healed according to Pitino, Walker will likely re-take his spot coming off the bench.
Pitino hinted on Monday morning that he was toying with the idea of starting Walker anyway, but on Monday afternoon, he indicated he would hand Eliason back his job as long as the center practiced well on Monday late afternoon.
“I don’t want to say that he has to earn it back because he didn’t intentionally get hurt – so you don’t want to punish him for that,” Pitino said. “I would anticipate him starting -- Elliott. Because he didn’t do anything to lose that spot. It means more to those guys than it does to me. But I understand why it means something to them.”
The minutes on Saturday were probably beneficial for Walker, who is still sort of at the beginning of his season after sitting with a suspension (violating university policy) for the first six.
“I feel like it helped me build a little bit more confidence,” he said. “I felt pretty good out there, got a few points early, a few rebounds, so I just feel good about myself.”
But if Walker is going to command more minutes on a regular basis, he needs to continue to grow as a player. The opportunity on Saturday should be viewed as a starting point, not a peak. The Big Ten season, after all, is just around the corner, and both Walker and Eliason need to increase their toughness and strength under the basket. After Saturday’s game, Pitino commended Walker’s performance, but pointed out that such a performance is what should be expected of the center, given his frame and his role.
“He did some good things rebounding the ball – he’s big, he’s got size, he’s got to rebound the ball,” Pitino said. “I think he’s got to be more aggressive posting up.”