ST. LOUIS —
Indiana State center Myles Walker is full of surprises.
A gentle giant off the floor, Walker transforms in a competitive environment. The most oft-heard battle cry from Walker in games or practice is, “Let’s go!” It’s delivered in a manner that leaves no doubt that Walker means business.
He will mix it up with anyone, from a minor tussle with Sycacuse’s Rick Jackson in the NCAA Tournament last March to teammate R.J. Mahurin in practice earlier this week. It’s rarely a case of Walker delivering any blows, it’s more about not giving any quarter to anyone in the paint who might get the idea he’d be a willing recipient of one.
The affable Walker is similarly hard-to-predict under questioning. To wit, Walker was queried about his offseason regimen.
“I’ve been working out a lot, I’ve been working out with George Hill,” Walker said.
George Hill? Of the Indiana Pacers? How did that come about?
“Back in San Antonio [Walker’s hometown, Hill previously played for the Spurs], I lived about three houses down from him. He’d come to my house, I’d go to his house and we’d just chill. We’re really good friends,” Walker said.
Walker’s workout partners are secondary to the work ethic the 6-foot-8, 250-pound center has tried to live by. Walker’s work ethic has always been strong, but given that he ended the 2011 season playing his best basketball, it fed his desire even more.
Walker averaged 6.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per game in 2011, numbers that don’t jump off the page for a starting player. Walker’s value was primarily on the defensive end from season’s beginning to end.
But Walker began to square his offense with his defense by the last quarter of the season and at no point was that more evident than ISU’s three-day run to win the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament.
“Myles has been terrific since he’s been here. Not only in the classroom — he won the athletic director’s award, I think he had a 3.4 [grade point average] in the second semester — but his mom had some health issues last year he had to deal with. But he’s never had a bad day. He works hard and he was huge for us at the end of last year,” ISU coach Greg Lansing said.
Against No. 2 seed Wichita State in the semifinals of the MVC Tournament, Walker played the biggest role in limiting the Shockers’ four-headed big man contingent of J.T. Durley, Gabe Blair, Garrett Stutz and Aaron Ellis from making up the points that WSU’s struggling guards couldn’t produce.
On top of that, Walker added a season-high 14 points.
The performance against the Shockers came one game after Walker played a key role in ISU’s 52-50 victory over Evansville in the MVC quarterfinals. In the final 2:12, Walker had a blocked shot and rebound and converted the three-point play that tied the game, giving Jake Odum the opportunity to win it with a buzzer-beater.
That season-ending momentum dovetails into the usual progression of a junior college transfer. JUCOs almost always struggle in their first season – they’re just like freshmen in the sense that they’ve never been in the system. Walker no longer has the adjustment period to worry about and he’s working hard to prove it.
“He’s one of the hardest-working guys we have on the team. From where he came in last year to where he is now, it’s ridiculous,” Odum said. “He’s a high-major big man. You don’t find too many guys like that in the Missouri Valley. He’s tough and competitive and he’s really stepped up his post play for this year.”
What Walker needs to work on is staying out of foul trouble and his free throws.
Walker was second in the MVC at 2.9 fouls per game, the primary reason Walker’s per-game scoring and rebounding averages were low. Walker also made just 40 percent of his free throws.
“I’ve been in the gym a lot working on my free throws. I’ve got to get my average up. I know I’m going to get fouled a lot. I’ve also been working on a hook shot. I need to better myself and make this team better,” Walker said.
Lansing has taken note of Walker’s offseason progression. ISU lost Isiah Martin from its frontcourt, but even with R.J Mahurin, Jake Kitchell and Justin Gant able to play in the middle, Walker has to be the assertive leader ISU feels he can be in the paint for the Sycamores to be successful.
“He’s been outstanding in the offseason. He doesn’t get enough credit for what he’s done. It’s why I say people should come to practice. If they watch Myles Walker practice everyday, they’d be very impressed,” Lansing said.
Walker hopes so. Along with his other three senior teammates (Carl Richard, Dwayne Lathan, Jordan Printy), Walker has tried to convey the attitude to the younger Sycamores that even though ISU made the NCAA Tournament last year, they have a lot more to do to achieve all of the goals they set out to do before they walk out of Hulman Center for the last time.
“If we don’t go hard as veterans, we’re not going to be on the court and we’re not going to make anyone else better. I try to put some fire in everybody when practice starts. They have to be at the same level I have to be because that’s what they’re going to get [in conference games],” Walker said.