Minnesota head coach Tubby Smith announced this week that sophomore forward Maurice Walker will redshirt the 2011-12 season. Walker suffered a right knee injury in the Golden Gophers' game against South Dakota State on Dec. 23, 2010, and underwent surgery a little more than a year ago on Jan. 11.
Coming into this season, Walker and the staff were uncertain about whether or not he would play during his true sophomore year. He continued to rehab his knee, and had worked his way back to near full participation in team practices. Walker even suited up for a handful of games.
Walker will be a redshirt sophomore in 2012-13.
"We were just kind of playing it by ear, day by day, to see how my knee was recovering and how it was doing strength-wise," Walker said. "(The trainers and coaches) just don't feel like it's ready yet. They want to wait until I'm 100 percent before I play again."
Walker, who gave the Gophers quality minutes off the bench last season, would have been nice to have this year, especially with senior forward Trevor Mbakwe out with an ACL tear. Smith said that Walker likely would have been ready for the beginning of Big Ten play had he not suffered a minor setback in rehab during November.
But after being forced to tone down the intensity of his workouts for several weeks back in the beginning of non-conference play, Smith said Walker was not close enough to being ready to play until about this point in the season. Already a third of the way through the conference schedule, Walker and the staff felt it would be, as Smith put it, "a waste of a year to play him."
"It's the best thing to do, and I think he has accepted it well," Smith said. "He's working extremely hard with (strength & conditioning coach) Kevin Kocos and (athletic trainer) Roger Schipper."
As for his knee, Walker said, "It feels good right
now, but there are still some strength issues, and still slight pain at times." He has tried to maintain a positive attitude about the rehab process, although it is difficult to just sit and watch. There are times when he wishes he could be on the court, but he has accepted the decision to redshirt.
"I feel like I could help, but there's nothing I can really do about it except for encourage my teammates and try to pick them up," he said.
Mbakwe update: Trevor Mbakwe is also going through the rehab process, for a more recent knee injury suffered in Novemeber. He is enrolled in spring classes and is still cheering on his teammates at games. He has not yet told the coaching staff what he plans to do next year. Mbakwe has the option of petitioning the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility.
"He probably needs (the petition) done now so he can determine what he needs to do," Smith said.
If a sixth year is granted, Mbakwe will still have time to decide whether he wants to accept it or explore his options of a post-collegiate basketball career.
Not everyone can coach a Division I college basketball team, but this week's episode of "Barnstorming with Grimm" gives the rest of us a chance to at least see what a coach's work space looks like. Play-by-play man Mike Grimm goes behind the scenes in Williams Arena to show us the coaches' locker room and head coach Tubby Smith's office. Stick around after the tour for an update on Joe Coleman and the Golden Gophers' upcoming schedule.
As a freshman in 2010-11, Maverick Ahanmisi was thrown into the spotlight after the Golden Gophers' senior point guard, Al Nolen, suffered an ankle injury. The experience he gained last year has helped Ahanmisi to be a bigger contributor as a sophomore. Get to know the Minnesota guard better in this video and Q&A. Ahanmisi talks about his freshman year, his California roots, and more. Q: How important was it for you to gain point guard experience in the Big Ten as a freshman? A: It was very important, because now I know what to expect, and things that I didn't know last year are going to really help me this year throughout the season.
Q: Are you okay with playing both guard positions? A: Definitely. I feel like I can play point guard or shooting guard, whatever Coach would want me to play.
Q: Are there any particular opponents you are looking forward to facing? A: Ohio State. They're always a competitive team. Purdue. Just everybody in the Big Ten, really.
Q: What are some of your favorite drills to do in practice? A: My favorite drill would probably be shooting on the perimeter with the point guards, where Coach splits us up into guards and post moves. We'll start down low and pass it up top, and then we'll curl. First we'll shoot twos, then threes, then fade and curl, and things like that. That's my favorite drill.
Q: Does anyone ever tell you that you have the coolest name on the team? A: Yeah, a lot of people say that all the time, actually. Q: Do you know what you are going to major in yet? A: I'm undecided right now, but it's probably somewhere in business and marketing.
Q: What is your favorite thing to do with your teammates outside of basketball? A: It's been a recurring thing--we always try to find scary movies that come out, and we always go as a team and watch it.
Q: What is the scariest movie you have seen? A: "Paranormal Activity 3."
Q: Did any of your teammates scream? A: Yeah, Andre Ingram screamed.
For the rest of the 2011-12 Gopher basketball season, look for these "Observations from the Game" blog entries.
Joe Coleman led the Gophers with a career-high 23 points Sunday at Penn State.
Minnesota is doing its best to shake off a tough 0-4 start to conference play. For the first time since last January, the Golden Gophers have won consecutive Big Ten contests, putting their record at 2-4. After winning at No. 8 Indiana, Minnesota followed up that success with an 80-66 win at Penn State. The Gophers' last consecutive conference victories came in a string of four between Jan. 13 and 26, 2011: No. 8 Purdue, No. 25 Iowa, at No. 15 Michigan, and No. 16 Northwestern.
This is also the first time in three years that Minnesota has won consecutive road conference games. The Gophers won back-to-back road games against Iowa and No. 17 Wisconsin in January of 2009.
The Joe Coleman Show
In the three games since Tubby Smith inserted him into the starting lineup, Joe Coleman has shown that he belongs there. The freshman has done a good job driving to the basket to score or draw a foul. Coleman carried the Gophers with a career-high 23 points against Penn State, eclipsing the 14-point mark he set in his first career start against Purdue.
His points came in spurts today: Ralph Sampson III found Coleman on the baseline for easy two-pointers on consecutive trips down the floor in the first half. A little later in the half, he scored eight straight points for the Gophers. He added another eight-point streak extending from the end of the first half into the second half.
The free throw line has been important to Coleman's recent success. In today's game, he made an impressive 13-of-14 free throws, not missing until his final attempt of the game. That miss ended his streak of 17 that began during crunch time in the Indiana game. In his three starts so far, Coleman shot 23-for-25 from the line.
Sampson now has 191 career blocks.
Although foul trouble hampered Ralph Sampson III's productivity, he was still able to make a move in the Gopher record book. His five blocks today put him in a tie with Damian Johnson (2006-10) for third place on Minnesota's career blocks list. Johnson finished his career with 191 blocks. Kevin McHale (1977-80) holds the school record with 235.
Close Call? Not This Time
With a double-digit differential today, nail biters among the Gopher and Nittany Lion contingents may have been able to take a break from their habit. Recent games between the two teams have been much closer than this one. Penn State won each of last year's meetings by a score of 66-63. Prior to today's game, the last four meetings in University Park had been decided by no more than five points.
At Hopkins High School, Joe Coleman often played in pressure-filled games, including in the state championship. Now a Golden Gopher, Coleman has already found himself in pressure situations as a freshman. He made four straight free throws in crunch time in Minnesota's road victory over No. 7/8 Indiana.
Learn more about Minnesota's 2011 Mr. Basketball winner in this Q&A and video. We asked him about his successful high school career, his older brother Dan (a Gopher from 2004-08), and more.
Q: With all your history at the University of Minnesota, did you ever really consider going anywhere else?
A: When I was younger, I never really thought about it, because I was still so young. I thought I'd probably go somewhere different. I never really thought about it. But after going other places, visiting other campuses, I really liked the feel here a lot better than other places, and that's when I realized I wanted to come here.
Q: Who wins in one-on-one, you or Dan?
A: Oh, that's me. Every time. Sometimes he'll get lucky, but other than that, it's definitely me.
Q: What does winning Mr. Basketball and Gatorade Player of the Year mean to you?
A: They mean a lot, but without my team and without the success that my team had, I wouldn't have been able to get those. It's a personal award, but it also comes with your team, and your team helps you earn it. I appreciate that my team helped me out with everything.
Q: What is it like playing with another Mr. Basketball, Andre Hollins?
A: It's good. He's a top competitor. He knows what it takes to be a winner. It's fun to be with a great teammate.
Q: What are some of your favorite high school basketball memories?
A: Beating Eden Prairie in the state championship, that's probably one of my greatest moments. Or junior year when we won in double overtime against Henry Sibley.
Q: Talk about the first time you dunked.
A: The first time, I was a freshman. In the Hopkins back gym--the old gym they used to play in back in the day--that's the first time I dunked.
Q: Was it a pretty good dunk?
A: It was a legit dunk. When I did it, I shocked myself. People were like, "Just try. Just try." I was like, "I'm not going to be able to do it." And when I did, I shocked myself. I never really thought I could do it, but I was able to.
Q: You have been around the U for quite awhile, with your uncle and brother playing here, but have you noticed anything new around campus since you enrolled?
A: Obviously, TCF Bank Stadium, and a lot of the new apartments, like 412, FloCo, and Sydney Hall. None of that stuff was here when my brother played here, so it's nice to see something a little different.
Q: Do you have any pregame rituals?
A: I put my left sock on first and my left shoe on first. That's about it.
Q: What is your favorite sports movie?
A: That's a tough one. "Love and Basketball," I think that's pretty good. It's really all about sports, but that's a good one. Or "Hoosiers."
Playing Division I basketball is already a great accomplishment, but some college athletes even have the chance to pursue the sport as a career. The Golden Gopher basketball program has a history of players being drafted in the NBA. This week in "Barnstorming," Grimm shows us the place in Williams Arena where these talented Gophers--from Kevin McHale to Mychal Thompson to Trent Tucker--are honored.
This cold January weather is a little different from what Tennessee native Andre Hollins is used to experiencing. But the Gophers' freshman guard has learned to make himself at home in Minnesota. Learn more about Hollins in the video above and in this written Q&A:
Q: How much does it help you to have an experienced junior guard like Julian Welch on the team? A: It's a great help. I get to learn from him, because I haven't played college basketball, and he has. The way you get to learn, and pick up new things, and battle each other in practices--that's a great help. Q: Talk a little bit about your state championship you won in high school. A: It was one of the greatest feelings I've ever had. It was a magical run. It definitely boosted everyone's confidence on the team. We kind of got better after that. We made it to three state championships. My senior year we made it to the state tournament. We lost in the semifinals to the eventual state champions. It was a good tradition at White Station. I think that's part of the reason I'm here, because it was such a great tradition, playing with great people and a great coach.
Q: What did it mean to you to be named Tennessee's Mr. Basketball? A: It was great. It was a great honor. Even though we didn't win the state championship, (the award) kind of took the sting off the loss a little bit, being named as one of the best players in Tennessee. I just take that as an honor. It kind of made me even hungrier to come into college and do better, because it's just a testament to what I can do. I just need to continue to work hard.
Q: Your fellow freshman Joe Coleman is also a state champion and Mr. Basketball. Talk a little about your similar backgrounds. A: I think our state championships and our two Mr. Basketballs, that shows what kind of people we are. We work hard, and that's why Coach Smith recruited us. I think that brings a lot to the team.
Q: Gopher fans know that you and Austin Hollins are not related, but how often do other people get confused about you two? A: Now that we play on TV, the announcers say that we're not related. So I think people know now, but there are still a few people who are confused.
Q: Are you and Austin close enough that you feel like you could be brothers? A: Yeah, we're close enough to be brothers. We got really close in the summertime. It's like we're brothers now.
Q: What is your favorite thing about the state of Minnesota? A: It would have to be the summertime. I love the lakes, going out on boats. And everybody's nice here. I'm enjoying it.
This week in "Barnstorming with Grimm," play-by-play man Mike Grimm explores the game room at Williams Arena. When the Gophers are not on the court, in the weight room, or in the video room, sometimes they just need time to relax. The game room is one place for them to do so.
To watch previous episodes of "Barnstorming," follow this link.
Next up in our "Get to Know Your Gophers" interview series is sophomore guard Chip Armelin. The Sulphur, La., native provides a spark for the Gophers off the bench. He is averaging 5.9 points per game in 14.8 minutes per game this season. To learn more about Armelin, watch the video above and read the Q&A below from earlier this season.
Q: How was your experience playing in the Big Ten as a freshman? A: It was a great experience. With Blake (Hoffarber) and Al (Nolen) and where I play, I was able to learn from them and gain good experience. That helped me out to take me into my sophomore year, and I'm doing pretty well, working hard.
Q: How do you and the other returning sophomore guards (Austin Hollins and Maverick Ahanmisi) work together? What do you guys do to help each other out? A: After practice, we talk about what we need to do to become better guards, as far as our shooting, passing, defensive skills, stuff like that. We also like to talk about how we can come together and make things better.
Q: How do you think you have improved your shooting compared to last year? A: I'm very confident, compared to my freshman year. Last year I was trying to gain experience, trying to get used to playing in the Big Ten and playing in college overall, but I've been able to take that into my sophomore year and lock down shots. During the summer, I worked on my shooting back home and in the gym here. It's been helping me.
Q: Do you have any goals for this season? A: My goals for this season are to help the team win some games, get to the Big Ten championship, and hopefully make a big run in the [NCAA] tourney. Q: Who is your favorite opponent to face? A: My favorite opponent right now I would have to say is Ohio State, because they're a top-10 team in the Big Ten. I'm looking forward to playing them and trying to upset them.
Q: What are some of your favorite drills to do in practice? A: I would have to say shooting drills. That's my best drill in practice because it helps me with my shooting and becoming better at all areas.
Q: You had a career-high game against Ohio State last year with 14 points off the bench. How did you feel after that game? A: It gave me a confidence boost and helped me towards the next games. It really gave me a good spark to help me be able to take it to the next level. It helped me bring it to this year and get me more confident, take the ball to the hoop, and stay aggressive.
Q: Have you decided on a major? A: Right now, I'm thinking about graphic design. If not graphic design, I'm thinking about music production.
Q: What was the most fun part about your trip to the Old Spice Classic this year? A: Going to Disneyworld. That was my first time going there, so I got to see some cool things, ride some awesome rides.
Q: You're great at providing a spark when you come into the game. How do you contribute that spark to the team? A: Coming in with tremendous energy, coming off the bench with some defensive stops, keep scoring, being aggressive. Just pumping up the crowd and getting them riled up.
Q: What's one superpower you wish you could have? A: To fly. It'd be really easy to get to places if you could fly.
Interview by Kirsten Sherwood, Athletic Communications Student Assistant
During the Golden Gophers' 13 non-conference games, junior forward Rodney Williams dunked 23 times. Gophersports.com put together a highlight reel of some of No. 33's most exciting buckets so far this season. Click the video above to enjoy this holiday treat.