Two years ago, University of Minnesota head coach Richard Pitino challenged Maurice Walker: Lose weight, or don’t play. It was more of an ultimatum actually. Walker responded and dropped 50 pounds. Pitino needed a big man, but he also wanted to play a certain, uncompromising style. The Canadian simply wasn’t in shape and couldn’t execute it consistently.
After shedding the weight, he played more (24 MPG as a senior, up from six as a sophomore) and improved in nearly every statistical category. He peaked as a senior averaging 11.8 points and 6.7 rebounds.
So, what should the NBA expect from Walker?
At 6’10" and 270 pounds, Walker isn’t an explosive athlete, but his size makes him a presence with which to be dealt on both ends. He’s skilled as a passer and finisher around the basket. For a man his size, he has great touch and refinement in his post game. (He shot 57 percent from the field last year.) His back-to-the-basket game is his strength, and despite a somewhat unconventional shooting motion, Walker can hit midrange jumpers. (His right elbow points outward, but it’s a consistent motion so he’s accommodated and can make shots.)
Offensively, some critics wished he were more aggressive on a Gopher team lacking consistent offensive playmakers, especially in the frontcourt. It’s a bit unfair; he didn’t play huge minutes and two senior guards dominated the ball and the offense, for the most part. And, a most players can always be more aggressive, but in context, the offense wasn’t built to pound him the ball.
In a league that values pace-and-space big men who protect the rim and rebound, his size could translate well. The NBA has places for players with his combination of size and skill set. Since he doesn’t have elite athleticism, he’ll need to be coached up on defensive schemes. His anticipation and intelligence could make up for any athletic shortcomings. (It’s not as if he’s a bad athlete, but playing against NBA talent is a huge leap, and he’ll need to do more defensively at the next level.)
Weight issues have certainly derailed many talented careers. But, Walker showed discipline and didn’t go down that path, a good sign for any NBA team concerned with his commitment and work ethic. His offensive game is more refined, but he’ll need to continue to work on conditioning, and will need to find a way to compete on defense against better athletes.