Although the University of Minnesota Gophers' drought in the NBA draft is expected to reach 11 years tonight, there are still two former University of Minnesota players to keep an eye on.
Center Mo Walker has been invited to nine NBA workouts this summer and has enjoyed a steep upward trajectory in his game the last two years. Guard Andre Hollins, meanwhile, remains the most recognizable U of M name through the last few years, and is the only Gopher who sits in the top 100 draft prospects outlined by ESPN’s Chad Ford (at No. 96). On the heels of a senior season that featured both Hollins’ best stretch and his worst slump, the Memphis native has had five workouts in the last few weeks, traveling for evaluations with the Memphis Grizzlies, the Los Angeles Lakers, the Los Angeles Clippers and the Utah Jazz, in addition to a workout with the Minnesota Timberwolves.
I chatted with him about those workouts, what it’s like living out of a suitcase in Minneapolis and what the future might bring. Some of our conversation:
You worked out with Memphis a few days ago. What was it like having that experience in your home town? If I didn’t have any workouts, that was for sure the one I wanted. I was able to come home – I hadn’t been home in six months – and spend time with my family, and just getting a chance to work out for the home-town team. It was just a great opportunity. I’ve been trying to make my rounds, trying to see everybody.
Which workout was the toughest? The Minnesota one was the longest. I would say that one was the hardest. There was a drill where we did three-minute runs. You just run for three minutes down and back and see how many times you can touch each line. And that was a two-hour one, and all the other ones had been like an hour.
Any weird interview questions in any of them? I did an interview with Utah and they had some psychological-type questions. They would give you words and ask the first thing that came to your mind …I don’t remember what the words or phrases were… I just remember that because it was kind of bizarre. I had to stop and think because nothing came to my mind right away.
Do you get to keep anything from these workouts? The jersey or any of the gear? It depends on the team. In Memphis, I got to keep everything – the shorts, compression, socks, jersey and a dry-fit workout shirt. Most teams let you keep the dry-fit shirt, the compression, the shorts and the socks and you have to give the jersey back. But it depends on the team.
What have you heard from teams? I’ve done well for myself because last year, I was restricted to just playing the 2 [shooting guard]. In the NBA, I’m a very undersized 2, so I did well for myself this summer to prove that I can play the point guard position [which is where teams are interested in playing him]. Teams have said that I’m really solid, heady player that works hard, plays hard. The only thing is just my age. It’s hard for seniors to get into it. But other than that, I’ve played well, I’ve done well in my workouts, teams have given me really good feedback. So I’m just waiting to see now. That’s basically been my whole summer, just waiting and letting the process play out.
All the waiting, all the not knowing, is that tough? It’s just weird. Just not knowing. I’d get a text [from his agent, Adam Pensack] one night that said ‘OK, you’re going to leave tomorrow at 3:30 and fly out to LA.’ That next day, in the morning, you’d get a text that says ‘OK, after LA, you’re going to fly to Memphis and workout Monday.’
Do you just always have extra stuff packed whenever you go somewhere? I'm pretty much living out of a suitcase, living with [girlfriend and Gophers women basketball star] Rachel [Banham] now. So I’ll go there [in between workouts] and I have all the stuff that was in my room in Minneapolis at home [in Memphis] now and I have the most important things with me.
Rachel announced recently that she’ll be back at Minnesota for another year. How tough is it not knowing where you’ll be but knowing you’ll likely be apart? It’s hard right now just not knowing, not knowing where I’m going to be eventually. That’s a part of the process, but one of the good things is soon I’ll know.
You worked out at Impact Basketball in Las Vegas with Mo Walker for a month as well as a bunch of other players. What was that experience like? It was good to get out. We were just in the gym all the time. We would go 2-a-days. We’d get up, we’d have set days to play. We’d lift some days, we’d do agility. A lot of the things, a lot of the workouts we did in Vegas kind of prepared us for the workouts we did with teams. It was good to get out there and train with some good competition. There are a lot of lottery pick type guys that were out there, a lot of good competition.
Did you get to enjoy Vegas at all? Not really. We walked down the strip just to experience it, but we didn’t have a car or anything. So we were kind of just hanging out. We had a park by our condo, so we would walk around the park sometimes. We saw some celebrities out there – [comedian] Dave Chappelle, [actor] Anthony Anderson, [Brooklyn Nets player] Alan Anderson. That was a pretty cool weekend, it was pretty crazy.
[Minnesota] Coach [Richard] Pitino didn’t call when he showed up though I hear. He didn’t! He flaked on us.
Are you doing things on your own in terms of workouts now? I’m actually about to go work out with [former Gopher] Austin [Hollins], Austin got back to town [Memphis area] the same day I did.
Is that most of what you’re doing – shooting around with friends, playing pickup ball? Yeah, there are a lot of people here I can work out with, a lot of gyms I can get into, so I’m just doing that and seeing my family, seeing my friends I hadn’t seen in half a year. I’ll be back in Minnesota next week. I’m working out with a trainer there [Chauncee Hollingsworth at Hoops and Christ in Minneapolis].
Have you been working on any specific aspects of your game that teams talked to you about? A lot of guys say I’m really solid, it’s just the age thing, the potential. I would have done better if I had left after my sophomore year – on the draft boards. But that’s how it is. They’re looking for potential a lot.
Do you look back at that? Do you wonder what would have happened if you had left after sophomore year? Yeah, looking back at all my years, that would been my best year to come out. Draft Express had me going lottery. I had a breakout year. Everything was on the rise, I had all these invites to camps in the summer time and everything was going good. But I wouldn’t take it back. That was an opportunity. I ended up getting my degree, meeting my girlfriend – me and Rachel got together after that. And just prolonging friendships I’ve made in college, networking and connecting. And I’ll never forget those things, those four years. I think when I look back on it, it will be the best four years of my life.
Was declaring for the draft something you thought a lot about after your sophomore year? You had your best statistical year that year – 14.6 points, 3.4 assists and 3.7 rebounds a game. Yeah it was. I think when [former Minnesota] coach [Tubby] Smith got fired, it kind of distracted me from that. Then I started thinking about what was happening next with the team, I wasn’t thinking about myself. But that’s how it goes.
You severely sprained your left ankle midway through your junior year and then last year there were some nagging things – toe turf, hip problems, etc. You tried to downplay it at the time but was some of that stuff still bothering you? Definitely. Just by the way we played, pressing and going up and down, you could tell. And then just practicing every day. That’s the thing with college – when you practice every day you just don’t get a chance to heal. It’s just harder to heal because you’re practicing every day and doing individuals and in the meantime, you’re playing games. So there’s never really a time to just organize yourself and get healthy right away.
Now that you get some days off, not same strenuous schedule, feel like your body just feels better? Oh yeah, it feels so much better. The ankle injury really changed a lot for me – it changed everything, really. It happened, I probably should have taken some more time off but just me being a competitor, I wanted to be out there.
You graduated a semester early, in Dec. 2014 with your degree in the prestigious Carlson School of Management. How proud are you of that achievement? One of my goals coming into college was to get a degree. So now I’ve got that, I’ve made my family proud. Almost all of my family came up to Minneapolis to see me graduate, so that was awesome. It was great to just get it done early so I could focus on the season, focus on ball.
Do you have any nerves about the draft on Thursday night? I just want to know what the next stage is. Because this is just limbo – not knowing, not knowing anything. When I talk to my friends and I say ‘What are you doing? What’s next for you?’ And they’ll say they’re applying for jobs or they have a job lined up in like July. Then they say ‘What about you?’ And I said ‘I don’t know. I’m just waiting.’
Did you talk with your agent about playing overseas? Yeah, I had a long conversation with him just trying to get every scenario that could happen. Being drafted, not being drafted, playing summer league, not playing summer league. We just went through every scenario that could happen so I have a game plan for everything. If it trickles down, I have another game plan.
Is that your personality to try to plan out every scenario like that? Exactly. I don’t want anything to sneak up on me like ‘Oh, I didn’t think about that.’