Former Gopher center Mo Walker isn’t on any of the major NBA mock drafts, but he’s still gotten plenty of attention from the next level as Thursday’s draft night approaches.
Walker caught some eyes in the last two seasons, averaging 11.8 points and 6.7 rebounds in 24.2 minutes a game – a far cry from where he was as an overweight and underused sophomore – in his senior season, while operating as a bright spot amidst Minnesota’s overall disappointing season.
Now, the 6-10 Toronto native is juggling new opportunities, working out with various trainers and catching a glimpse of life beyond the collegiate charters as he flies all over the country -- almost all of his flights have been delayed to some degree, he said – to be evaluated by teams. Walker has worked out for the Dallas Mavericks, the Toronto Raptors, the Washington Wizards, the Utah Jazz, the Los Angeles Lakers, the Los Angeles Clippers, the Cleveland Cavaliers and yesterday added the Boston Celtics to that pile.
I caught up with him to chat about his post-collegiate experience so far, reflect on his career at Minnesota and look ahead to what might be in his future.
Some of our conversation:
You’ve had nine NBA workouts now. Tell us a little about what those experiences have been like. It’s been fun. I’ve been enjoying the process, I’ve just been doing a lot of traveling, but I’m doing what I like to do and I have great opportunities in many of these different places – I’m just trying to make the most of them… I think the more I do, the more comfortable I’ve gotten. My last few workouts have been really good to me – I don’t know what other people are saying or thinking but I think I’ve done really well the last three or four.
You tweeted that delayed flights is the story of your life these days. You’ve had some bad luck, have you? It’s a little stressful, just trying to arrange pickups from the airport and having to change that if the flight is delayed or they’ll have to wait or if I’m planning on doing something when I get home, I’ll have to change plans because my flight is delayed. So it’s been a little stressful. On one, I actually had to stay in the airport.
What have the workouts been like? Are there any that have been really unique? All the workouts have their differences but their concepts are pretty similar. We’ll do some shooting, we’ll play 1-on-1 or 3-on-3, just so just being comfortable playing 3-on-3 – in college you never play 3-on-3 basketball. So just getting comfortable and adjusting to that. I think as I’ve gone on, I’ve gotten a lot better. Usually we do some ball handling, we have some shooting drills, we’ll break off do 1-on-1s, maybe some post moves – not too often we do that. And then after that we usually do 1-on-1 as a group or maybe 2-on-2 and 3-on-3 and probably end with a shooting drill.
What are teams saying about you? From talking to my agent (Mike George, an independent agent former of CIA Bounce AAU), there are four or five teams that really like me but they think I might need a year of experience to play overseas and then come back.
You were able to work out for Toronto – was that meaningful for you as a native of the city? I definitely grew up a Raptors fan and a Vince Carter fan. It did mean a lot. I was extremely excited to have that workout and come home. Being a Raptor has been my dream since I was a kid. It definitely was a great experience. It’s pretty much where, if I got to choose, I would want to play in the NBA. I just had a little extra going for me that day I feel like.
I know you were training at Impact Basketball in Las Vegas for about a month in May. What were you doing there? Just pre-draft training. A bunch of guys go there and work on their skills, do their training, prepare for any workouts. Basically, we would work out in the morning, maybe 9 or 10 for like a few hours. Sometimes we’d play 3-on-3, sometimes we’d play 1-on-1, sometimes we’d just shoot. We’d lift right after that and then we would get a break. We’d probably come back to the gym around four or five and do some more shooting… They gave us two meals a day. If you want to eat again, it’s coming out of your own pocket.
What was living in Vegas for a month like? Hard not to get distracted? We didn’t live on the strip, we were maybe 15 or 20 minutes from the strip (in a condo arranged by his agent), so there weren’t too many distractions, it was a nice quiet neighborhood. But then it was Memorial Day weekend, fight weekend, a lot of people I knew were coming to town and Dre knew were coming to town so we got to see a couple friends. But we really didn’t do too much – we were there to train.
Did you see [Louisville coach] Rick Pitino and [Minnesota coach] Richard Pitino when they were there for the fight? No, [Richard Pitino] actually did text me saying he would take me and Dre out to dinner but we never heard from him.
Coach P blew you off, huh?! Haha, yeah. There was a lot going on too, it was a busy weekend so I understand.
Have you gotten home much? Not really. I’m home now. I’ve been home for about a week now [before the Boston trip]. And I haven’t really been relaxing, I’ve been going to the gym every day. After I did my workout with the Raptors, I stayed here for a few days until I made my next trip.
What have you been doing for workouts on your own? Since I left Impact, I’ve been working with this guy from Toronto who specializes in working with bigs [Vladimir Matevski with Real Basketball Training]. So I’m doing drills with him, more post moves. In Vegas we did a lot of shooting, but I wanted to work on my post moves and my footwork, little things like that. So that’s what I’m doing at home but I have also got in the gym just with my friends, just to have fun again, enjoy the game and just fool around.
Have you been told specific areas to work on by teams? They said my shot is a little funny but it goes in. They said they just want to see me get even more athletic, even more explosive, work on my body a little bit more.
Your shot a little funny but goes in, huh? Do they want you to change your mechanics? I’ll probably have to change a few things, tweak a few things with my mechanics. But, they said it goes in so not to worry too much about that.
Did you change up your shot at some point at Minnesota? I don’t know. Now that I’m home, people are telling me that I shoot different, but I didn’t realize it.
Have you been back to Minnesota at all since graduation? I mean, I was hoping to get a workout with the [Minnesota Timber] Wolves but I don’t know, I don’t know what happened. I told my agent that I really wanted to, to get back and see coaches and teammates and what not. But they haven’t invited me for a workout. I know Andre had a workout with them.
Reflect on career at Minnesota a little bit. Your first three years you didn’t play much – you tore your posterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in your right knee in December of your freshman year and then didn’t play again for a year and a half. Your sophomore year, after a full redshirt year, you didn’t play much either – just 6.6 minutes a game. Then you dropped 75 pounds in the summer before your junior year, after Pitino and his staff replaced former coach Tubby Smith and his. The next two years, you were like a different player. Does it almost feel like your collegiate career had two halves? Yea, it does actually. It feels like it was split into the Tubby Smith era and the Richard Pitino era. Because I wasn’t playing too much with Tubby, and then coach P came and I really had a chance to get on the floor and play a lot. My first few years were really just learning experiences, just watching other guys. I got injured and I had a lot of time to just watch the game and learn more about it. Seeing guys like Trevor [Mbakwe] and Ralph [Sampson III] and Colton [Iverson] and whatnot playing my position, even [wing] Rodney [Williams] I learned things from. Just being on the floor, talking to them, watching film. Even though I wasn’t playing games, I still had to participate in all the team activities, so we’d watch film and do all those things. But when coach Pitino came, I think that first year was kind of like a breakout for me. I finally got the opportunity to get some impactful minutes on the court. I think I did some good things that season, opened a few eyes, and then this season, also, I got better. As my years went on, I got better. Every year was better for me than the last year. That’s big for me, that’s important to keep progressing.
In the first three years, do you feel like could have contributed more than you did? Yeah, definitely. I’ve always had confidence in myself and my abilities; I just didn’t have opportunities in those first three years. I thought I could contribute, but I was accepting of my role and I’m extremely receptive to coaching, so I didn’t really complain or fuss too much about it.
Did you talk with Tubby and his staff about you losing some weight and that potentially benefitting your game? Our strength coach probably mentioned it, but it wasn’t something that was ever something that they were really harping about or really pushing me to do.
You ended up redshirting for a full year after hurting your knee mid-year in your freshman season. How involved were you in that decision? I felt like I made the decision because I felt like I wasn’t ready. I don’t know if they thought they made the decision, but I made it just because I got injured my first year and I rehabbed for the rest of that year, and I just still didn’t feel like going through practice and whatnot, running on it, I still didn’t feel like I was stable. I didn’t have the confidence in my leg strength. I thought maybe I was going to get hurt again. I’ve heard maybe stories about people maybe coming back too early, rushing it and then getting reinjured. So I took that extra year to redshirt, really build my strength back and get confident in it.
Did you have knee problems growing up? Never, I never had an injury until that one, that was my first injury ever.
When you came back the following year, you still didn’t get much court time. Did that affect your confidence in yourself? I didn’t know what it was. I thought maybe he just didn’t have confidence in my knee strength. I thought maybe I just wasn’t as good as other players out there. A lot of things went through my head. But I’m not really the kind of guy to stress things too much and I just kind of let things go as they may.
What changed when Pitino and his staff came? I think it really was just a simple conversation. Coach Smith never really sat me down and said this is what I need to do. I really didn’t know why I wasn’t playing, I just wasn’t playing, I was accepting of it. I guess he thought I wasn’t good enough so I don’t know, I just accepted it I guess. Because I thought I was working hard in practice, I thought I was working hard in the weight room, all those other things but I still wasn’t getting on the court. Coach P told me basically if I want to play, this is what I need to do. I think if coach Smith would have told me if I want to play this is what I do, I would have done everything.
Considering you didn’t play much outside of two years, do you wonder if you had one more year in college that you could reach another level with your game? Yeah definitely. Even this last year, just talking with Andre, we’d say ‘I wish I was a freshman again’ – but I was like I am right now as a freshman. I feel like I would do so much better. But it is what it is. I don’t regret my time at Minnesota in any way, shape or form.
Do you think you can still get a lot better in your game? I still have some potential to be reached. I think a lot of these NBA teams see it too because they’re telling me they think I need to play a year overseas and keep developing. So I think they see potential in me as well. I’m just hoping I can reach that potential. I only played a few years of college basketball, really. So in my mind, I’m actually a junior. There is still a lot to learn. I feel like if I would have played more, I would be more experienced and more ready for this moment.
Where going to be for the draft Thursday? I’ll just be at home.
Any anxiety? Do you look at mock drafts at all? I’ve looked at the mock drafts maybe once or twice. I don’t know, I feel like because my personality is just like laid back, I’m not really thinking too much about it. I really have no expectations going in. I mean, I didn’t see myself on any of these draft boards or anything like that. I’m not really expecting my name to be called, but if it is, it will be great, a great opportunity. If not, there are still other opportunities in playing summer league – I could get picked up. If I play well in summer league a team could still sign me to their roster. And there are always options overseas. So I’m just looking to play basketball as long as possible.
Have you talked with agent yet about overseas opportunities yet? We’ve talked about it a little bit. He’s had a few offers in a few different places. But we’re just trying to keep our options open because you never know what could happen. A team could pick me up and hold my rights and send me overseas themselves, so you never know what could happen.