MINNEAPOLIS — One year and 60 pounds ago, Gophers center Mo Walker wouldn’t have been able to have this type of game.
It’s not just the 17 points and 13 rebounds he had Monday in Minnesota’s exhibition win against Concordia-St. Paul that were unfathomable at 310 pounds. It’s also the 24 minutes he played in the Gophers’ second and final exhibition game.
The slimmed-down Walker is noticeably thinner, now playing at around 250 pounds, and the weight loss paid dividends Monday.
“Mo was very good — 17 and 13 in only 24 minutes,” first-year Gophers coach Richard Pitino said following his team’s 101-67 victory over the Division II Golden Bears. “It just shows you he’s playing with a lot of confidence, feels good about himself.”
While Pitino said he’d still like to see Walker be more aggressive than he’s been in the Gophers’ two exhibition games, Monday’s game was a good sign for Minnesota in that Walker showed he can be a contributing player on this team.
Coming off of knee surgery prior to last season, Walker averaged just 2.2 points and 2.0 rebounds in 6.6 minutes per game off the bench during the 2012-13 season. At his previous weight, Walker could never have played in Pitino’s uptempo system — or any system, for that matter, insists Pitino.
“As people keep saying, ‘Well, he had to lose that weight to play your style,'” Pitino said. “He couldn’t play in any style with that weight. That’s why he only played six minutes a game last year. I know he was coming off a knee injury, but you can’t play college basketball at 310, 315. You just can’t do it.”
But Walker has shown he can play at around 250 pounds, which he did Monday. Four of his game-high 13 rebounds came on the offensive glass, and he paced the Gophers to a halftime lead with 10 points before intermission.
Walker’s highlights Monday included back-to-back baskets in the first half, one of which was a dunk that Walker said he probably wouldn’t have been able to pull off with the extra 60 pounds. The 24 minutes he played would never have happened last year, either.
“I feel like I did well out there, had a lot of fun playing with my teammates,” Walker said. “I think I gave myself a much better opportunity to be out on the floor for longer periods of time. … Little things like getting to the open spots and getting after rebounds and stuff, I probably would have been too winded to get a few of them last year.”
King does the little things: Minnesota sophomore Joey King, an Eagan, Minn., native who transferred from Drake to be closer to home, has played two exhibition games in a Gophers jersey and has already made a strong impression on his coach and teammates.
The 6-foot-9, 225-pound King scored nine points and grabbed five rebounds in Monday’s exhibition win. But the sophomore forward was diving on the court for loose balls and drew a charge on defense.
“He’s hard-nosed. He’s going to do everything he can to win,” said junior point guard Andre Hollins. “He’s a very good passer. … He’s a very reliable player.”
King scored 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting in the Gophers’ first exhibition game against Cardinal Stritch. While he didn’t shoot as well Monday — he was 4-for-9, including 1-for-5 from downtown — Pitino was pleased with King’s game and didn’t have an issue with his shot selection.
“The good thing about Joey is he’s going to give us something every single game,” Pitino said. “He plays so hard. He’s the guy who steps up and draws charges. He’s the guy that you want on your team. He just does a little bit of everything, and he’s got a little bit of nastiness to him, which you’ve got to have on your team.”
Halvorsen returns to the Barn: Former Gophers walk-on Chris Halvorsen didn’t get much playing time during his time at Minnesota — just 31 career minutes — so he opted to transfer to Division II Concordia-St. Paul for his senior year.
Halvorsen’s new team visited his old team on Monday as he faced the Gophers for the first time. He was quiet in his homecoming, scoring just three points in 24 minutes. His former roommate, forward Oto Osenieks, outdueled his former teammate with 10 points for Minnesota.
“Once the game is on, you’re so focused. We’re competing out there,” Osenieks said of facing Halvorsen. “We wanted to beat him, because we were friends and we were competing against each other. Other than that, no mean feelings.”
Was there any trash talking before the game between the former roommates?
“He said he was going to dunk on me,” Osenieks said, “but that didn’t happen.”