Minnesota looking for Mo-Mentum from Walker


Minnesota looking for Mo-Mentum from Walker

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Trevor Mbakwe's return from a knee injury has received plenty of attention and is considered the key to Minnesota's hopes of returning to the NCAA tournament this year.

The Golden Gophers will likely need a little Mo-mentum from a less heralded comeback to get there as well.

Big man Maurice Walker will play his first meaningful game since 2010 on Friday night when Minnesota opens the non-conference season against American. He tore the PCL and meniscus in his right knee as a freshman, then missed all of last season as well while dealing with complications from the injury.

The 295-pounder's presence is expected to add some serious bulk and muscle to a frontcourt that severely lacked both with Walker and Mbakwe out last season. Ralph Sampson III graduated as one of the most criticized players in the program's history, with fans frustrated by his seeming unwillingness to assert himself down low. And freshman Elliott Eliason gave plenty of effort, but the talent and experience just wasn't there.

That shouldn't be a problem this season. Mbakwe was a first-round draft pick before tearing his left ACL early last season and Walker brings some nifty footwork and a couple of nice big elbows to throw around in the rough and tumble Big Ten.

``We didn't have anybody that size and that type of physical aggressiveness and bulk,'' coach Tubby Smith said. ``Ralph gave us what he could. And Elliott gave us what he could. That's the difference, and I think they'll be difference-makers this year by being available to us.''

In his first game action in nearly two years, Walker scored eight points in 11 minutes during an exhibition victory over Minnesota State, Mankato earlier this month. It's going to take him some time to work off the rust from such a long time away from the game, but he was encouraged by how quickly things started coming back to him, even if it was against an overmatched opponent.

It was also clear just how long it's been for Walker to be out of the game. In college, two years is a lifetime, and it felt that way to him.

``It was exciting. I was happy to be out there,'' Walker said. ``It was just fun. It brought back old memories from freshman year. I just tried to be out there and do what I do best: be a big presence inside.''

Walker should have plenty of time to work his way back into a rhythm at the start of the non-conference season. The Gophers open with lightweights American, Toledo and Tennessee State. He'll need to continue getting into game shape, with coaches wanting him to drop at least another 10 pounds from his oversized frame.

``He still doesn't have the lift right now,'' Smith said. ``He's got to still continue to trim down.''

He also has to work on his timing and chemistry with point guard Andre Hollins, a sophomore who hasn't yet played a meaningful game with the big guy in the middle. He'll also have to regain the feel for playing alongside and off of Mbakwe.

``I thought I was out for a long time,'' Mbakwe said. ``He's been out for a super-long time. It was great for me to see him out there scoring and moving around. Mo is going to be big for us this year.''

If both Walker and Mbakwe are able to come back at full strength, the Gophers should be much better equipped to handle the meat and potatoes of their schedule. It will start with a trip to the Bahamas for a tournament opener against Duke, but will become imperative when Minnesota starts conference play in the smashmouth Big Ten.

Too often last year they were pushed around by bigger, stronger, more experienced teams. That has to change if they want to return to the tournament.

``He's a big body. People tend to run into him, and it's not very successful,'' Mbakwe said. ``So we're going to need Mo, and we just need him to stay healthy and keep playing the way he's been playing.''

The Spartans, Hoosiers and Boilermakers aren't going to have Sampson to push around anymore. When they come into Williams Arena this season, they can expect the Gophers to push back.

``Playing against Michigan State, playing against Illinois, Indiana, they've got a lot of big-bodied guys,'' guard Joe Coleman said. ``So having Mo out there is definitely a good thing.''


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Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did


Wizards' second round pick Issuf Sanon will take time, much like Tomas Satoransky did

The first round of the NBA Draft played out expectedly for what the Wizards had planned for the night. In Troy Brown, they clearly got the guy they wanted all along, seeing as there were many interesting prospects they passed on to choose him.

The second round was a bit more chaotic. Team president Ernie Grunfeld said there were a few players picked just ahead of them at No. 44 that they had their eyes on. They contemplated trading up, but no perfect deals were presented.

So, they decided to think long-term, like really long-term. In choosing Ukrainian point guard Issuf Sanon, the Wizards understand it may be years before he plays in the NBA.

"We hope to have him developed in a few years," Grunfeld said.

Sanon, just 18, plays for Olimpija Ljubljana in Slovenia. He may stay in Europe into his 20s before he comes to the United States.

The Wizards have utilized the draft-and-stash model with other players. Their 2015 second round pick, Aaron White, has been playing in Europe for the past three seasons.

Sometimes those players never convey and contribute for the Wizards. But sometimes they do and Grunfeld pointed to a player already on their roster as a model to consider.

"We drafted Tomas [Satoransky] at an earlier age, he went overseas [and] he played at the highest level and it got him ready for the NBA," Grunfeld said.

The difference between now and then is that the Wizards have a G-League franchise starting this fall, the Capital City Go-Go. Because of that, it seemed more likely going into the draft that the Wizards would use the second round pick on a guy who can play there right away. 

Grunfeld, however, opted for roster flexibility. By keeping Sanon in Europe, the Wizards can have another open roster spot. They could either fill that spot, or leave spots on the end of their roster open as they did for much of last season.

"We want to preserve a roster spot, so just because you draft someone in your second round, if you sign him, he still has a roster spot even if you let him play for the GoGo," Grunfeld said.

Sanon may have a bright future. He is a 6-foot-4 point guard with impressive athleticism who doesn't turn 19 until October. He said he models his game after Russell Westbrook, as a guard who can score the ball.

The Wizards passed on several interesting prospects to pick Sanon. Still on the board were Keita Bates-Diop of Ohio State, Hamidou Diallo of Kentucky and Svi Mykhailiuk of Kansas, three players they brought in for pre-draft workouts. But instead, they went with a long-term investment, hoping they found the next Satoransky.


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Capitals Draft Tracker


Capitals Draft Tracker

The 2018 NHL Draft starts on Friday with the first round and runs through Saturday. Here's a running tracker of the Caps' picks.

1st round, 31st overall: D Alexander Alexeyev, WHL, 6'4", 196 pounds

The Caps' first first-round pick sine 2016, Alexeyev is a smart two-way defenseman with good size.

Read more on him here.

2nd round, 46th overall (from Florida, via New Jersey): D Martin Fehervary, Allsvenskan (Sweden), 6'2", 194 pounds

A physical style defenseman who is very strong in his own end, but does not have much offensive upside. Sort of a throwback style of play which makes him a surprise pick this high.

2nd round, 47th overall (From Colorado): F Kody Clark, OHL, 6'1", 179 pounds

Kody Clark boasts an NHL pedigree as the son of Wendel Clark, a first-round pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs who recorded 330 goals and 564 career points in 763 NHL games.

3rd round, 93rd overall: F Riley Sutter, WHL, 6'3", 203 pounds

4th round, 124th overall: 

6th round, 186th overall: 

7th round, 217th overall: