Weight has been a challenge for Minnesota center Maurice Walker throughout his career.
The 6-foot-10 big man weighed 340 pounds when he reached the Minneapolis campus in 2010. But he was a fluid post presence despite his size. He had some unique tools for a freshman center.
But the weight was clearly an issue. Still, he became a semi-reliable contributor for Tubby Smith’s squad as the pounds began to fall off his frame midway through his debut season.
Everything changed when he tore his posterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in a December nonconference matchup against South Dakota State. Walker missed the rest of that season and all of 2011-12 as he recovered.
That’s when the weight came back. Walker averaged just 6.6 minutes per game in 2012-13.
Once Richard Pitino was hired as coach in April, Walker’s role in a system that thrives on speed and stamina was questioned due to the new coach’s emphasis on creating offense through full court pressure.
Walker, however, viewed the change as a challenge.
Per Star Tribune columnist Chip Scoggins, the Canadian center has already lost more than 40 pounds in the offseason:
Not long after the Gophers introduced Richard Pitino as their new men’s basketball coach, rumors began to circulate that an unnamed player intended to seek his scholarship release and transfer to another program.
My gut reaction was, “Wonder where Maurice Walker will end up?”
It didn’t require much deductive reasoning to determine that Big Mo appeared ill-fitted for Pitino’s breakneck brand of basketball. At 310 pounds, Walker looked out of shape manning the low post in Tubby Smith’s plodding offense. How in the world would he ever survive in Pitino’s run-and-gun system? That’s like asking a pontoon to keep pace with speed boats. A change in scenery seemed inevitable.
In a touch of irony, the player who transferred -- Joe Coleman -- might have been the team’s best athlete. As for Walker, he decided to stick it out and make some life changes.
“Once I heard Pitino, I was really excited,” he said.
And then they met for the first time. Pitino has made Walker’s weight a standard quip in his public speeches, and he didn’t mince words in offering a blunt critique of his 6-10 junior center.
“[He said] it’s going to take a lot of work to get into shape and that I’m a long ways from where I need to be,” Walker said.
He’s still not there yet, but Walker has lost nearly 40 pounds through diet and fitness training. Noticeably slimmer, he hopes to lose an additional 15 to 20 pounds and enter next season around 255.
As someone who showed up on campus as a freshman weighing 340 pounds, Walker believes his career will follow a different arc with these changes to his body.
“Looking back at it now, I should have done this a long time ago,” he said.
A coaching change provided the necessary push, but Walker’s new outlook likely stems from a recognition that he was wasting an opportunity. He was either injured or too overweight to be considered anything but an intriguing unknown his first three years, including a redshirt season. His size became nothing more than a tease because he lacked the quickness and stamina to maintain anything.
Pitino needs Walker, and anyone else he can find, to boost his interior depth.
Elliott Eliason is the only player on Minnesota's roster who is 6-10 or taller.
It appears, however, that Walker recognizes the contribution he could make on this season's squad. He has lost 70 pounds since 2010. And he’s determined to lose even more so he can help a Gophers team missing multiple pieces.