Notes and thoughts on Mo Walker, Charles Buggs and more from Monday night at the High Performance Academy in Eagan. (Photo source: Chris Chambers/Getty Images North America)
Mo Walker suited up for action Monday night
Those of us on hand at High Performance Academy watched Minnesota Golden Gophers' redshirt sophomore Maurice Walker return to game action in the Howard Pulley Pro City League Monday night. Walker, a native of Canada, redshirted last season while continuing to rehabilitate his right knee after undergoing surgery for a torn PCL and meniscus in January 2011.
The 6'10", 290 pound center came off the bench for an average of 10 minutes a game during the 2010-11 Gopher season, averaging 3.7 points and 2.8 rebounds and highlighted by a 10 point, 5 rebound and 4 assist 15-minute outing at St. Joseph's. His knee failed him just 12 games into his first season and, until Monday, fans had yet to see him in an organized game since December 2010.
While the Gophers have two talented seniors that are capable of holding down the front court against most opponents with 6'8" Trevor Mbakwe and 6'7" Rodney Williams, the only returning true center that played in 2011-12 is 6'11" Elliot Eliason (2.6 points, 3.9 rebounds per game). Mo Walker provides a mountainous presence when on the court and at a minimum provides a space-eating option that can help clear out room for others on offense and subject the opponent to a physical fracas on defense.
Walker's touch with the ball is what could make him special, though. With good positioning on the blocks, he's very tough to stop and also has the ability to find open shooters. Minnesota can afford to take things slow and let him gradually increase his minutes this season, but there should be no question that having him available is important and gives head coach Tubby Smith another dangerous weapon.
Monday night Walker played quite a bit in the first half and mostly looked like the Mo of old. He won't be running track meets or taking on Wally Ellenson in high jump competitions any time soon, but overall he looked solid and strong even with the wraps and other devices on both knees and ankles he was wearing. His sheer size and ability to throw around his weight enables him to rebound and score even without much lift off the ground.
The big man also has good range on his jump shot (although his 26-foot attempt that clanked off the rim wasn't a thing of beauty). With three and a half months still to go before regular practices begin, his current status gives another reason to be optimistic with regard to the chances of a special 2012-13 season for Minnesota.
Late in the second quarter, Maurice hit the deck on a play and aggravated his right ankle which has been giving him problems. During the halftime break, Walker opened up a packaged medical contraption for his ankle that looked like something out of the Saw movie series. He managed to install this more elaborate brace, but didn't re-enter the game until the 4-minute mark of the third quarter and then only stayed in for a few minutes. Although it appears the ankle is something that will bother him for awhile, it doesn't look like it will completely shut him down.
Gopher fans will probably breathe a collective sigh of relief each time he gathers himself off the floor after a physical play for the rest of his career, but the worry will be worth it - Maurice Walker is a nice and unique player.
Charles Buggs and Other Notes
Tag(s): Gopher Basketball