Slimmed down Mo Walker following through on Richard Pitino's ultimatum
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Mo Walker knew what he needed to do.
If he was going to continue to play for the Minnesota Gophers, the 6-foot-10 center had to get his weight, which had crested over 300 pounds, under control.
But it took an ultimatum from his new head coach, Richard Pitino, to cement the drive it would take to slim down into the playing shape that would work in Pitino's fast-paced offense.
Soon after taking over the program, Pitino bluntly told Walker what he already understood -- if he did not lose weight he would not play.
"It was more a wake-up call to me," Walker said. "I mean, I knew I was overweight, but I finally just lived with it and played with it comfortably. But ever since I've been changing my body it's been a big benefit to me."
"It's a personal thing for me. No matter what people are telling me or what people might ask me (about my weight), it's all inside me. This is my goal. This is what I want to do."
Three months after his talk with Pitino, Walker has transformed. Viewing him at one of the Gophers' summer practice Tuesday, what has resulted the result is a dramatically slimmed down version of Walker, still equipped imposing height, but now with the body shape to give him the mobility needed to function regularly on a Big Ten team.
Walker cut off around 45 pounds, dropping down to 265. His personal goal is to get his weight to 250-pounds by the start of the season, but now the job is tone his body in the fashion the Gophers need from him in order to have a bruising presence in their currently thin front court.
"He has lost a lot of weight and now he needs to turn it into muscle," Pitino said. "He's still not quick enough, he's still not in great enough shape, but step one, that's pretty impressive for him to be able to do that."
With center Elliott Eliason the only other player on the Gophers roster above 6-9, Walker is going to have plenty of opportunities at nabbing playing time in the low post as long as his transformation remains permanent. For a big man with his impressively upper-tier passing skills, Walker has an open role to fill.
"As a big we play a lot of pick and roll offense," Walker said. "I see myself setting a lot of screens and rolling, getting a few touches inside, offensive rebounding, defensive rebounding, just making good passes to my teammates."
• The Gophers are still waiting on the NCAA to determine if transfers Malik Smith, who left Florida International to follow Pitino, and Joey King will be eligible next season. Pitino said the team is expecting a decision to be made on Smith "soon," while he was unsure if the King's eligibility waiver had been submitted yet. There is always legitimate uncertainty in these matters with the NCAA, but the Gophers are confident both will be granted the ability to play right away.
• Pitino has a solid, go-to leader in Austin Hollins. The now-senior guard, who along with Maverick Ahanmisi, is the Gophers' longest tenured member. Hollins, one of the team's captains last season, is as Pitino put it "more of a lead by example" type player. Pitino is also looking for a player to fit the bill as "rah-rah," vocal leader. But does he have that with anyone on his current team?
"Probably Malik, but that's only because he's comfortable right now and he knows what he's talking about," Pitino said. "I want to give the other guys the benefit of the doubt."
• There's no doubting Andre Hollins will be in the Gophers' starting lineup come November, but Pitino isn't saying whether he sees him slotting in at point guard or being moving down to the two-guard spot.
"It's open for competition. I would be shocked if he doesn't start," Pitino said. "But it could be at the point or it could be at the 2. I'm not sure yet."
• Andre Hollins is finding his comfort zone in Pitino's offense. Going over film of a particular NBA player work in the same type system helped speed up the transition for Hollins.
"One practice Coach showed us Chris Paul film," Hollins said. "Then that practice I played unbelievably off the pick and roll. It's just me getting used to where everybody is in the offense. It's getting better."
• In Pitino's up-tempo system there is no room for tentativeness -- a flaw that hindered the Gophers' offense under Tubby Smith. Unlocking the offense enough to free guys up to make quick decisions has been a key point of emphasis for Pitino.
"He doesn't want us to be intimidated to shoot," Andre Hollins said. "If we have the open shot, shoot it. He doesn't want us to second-guess. He just wants to make sure we're comfortable with the offense and comfortable with our decisions. That's what it comes down to."