ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — So, the New Mexico Lobos have this new kid — Walker, I believe his name is. Demetrius.
Where’d they get this guy, anyway? He’s not bad. Throw him into the mix with the rest of the group, and an awfully good New Mexico team gets even better.
How much better? Let’s see if this guy keeps showing up. If he does, it’s not a whole new ball game; that, the Lobos don’t need.
But they do need, or will need at some point, a contributing Demetrius Walker.
Walker, of course, isn’t a new guy; he just played like one Saturday, contributing in a major way — 12 points, two steals, solid defense, his trademark megawatt of energy — to the Lobos’ 75-62 victory over Nevada at the Pit.
With the victory, the 20th-ranked Lobos improved their record to 19-3 overall, 6-1 in the Mountain West Conference.
Those first five conference wins were achieved with almost no help from Walker. In those five games, plus UNM’s one Mountain West loss at San Diego State, he had played a total of 27 minutes and scored exactly two points.
Was this the Demetrius Walker who made major contributions last season — an energizer, the team’s leading scorer off the bench?
Was this the Walker who started the 2012-13 Lobos’ first four games of the season, or even the Walker who — after losing his starting job — scored 19 points and hit five 3-pointers in a victory over Idaho on Nov. 23?
No, that Demetrius, seemingly, had left the building.
Against Valparaiso, on Dec. 8, Walker scored 12 points. Until Saturday, he hadn’t scored in double figures since.
At Cincinnati, on Dec. 27, Walker hit two field goals. Until Saturday, he hadn’t scored from the field since.
Essentially, he had disappeared from the Lobos’ rotation. He had missed two conference games entirely, one because of illness, one to the dreaded coach’s decision.
Given that they were doing so well without him, it seemed a legitimate question as to whether he would ever resurface.
Resurface he did.
Walker first entered Saturday’s game, to a round of encouraging cheers, with 9 minutes, 9 seconds left in the first half. The cheers grew much louder after “D-Walk” hit back-to-back 3-pointers moments later.
“It felt great,” he said of that first 3, which gave the Lobos a 19-15 lead. “… I don’t think I’d hit a shot since Cincinnati, so that first shot tonight, in the Pit, it felt amazing.”
Walker, 22, a junior from Fontana Calif., is the oldest player on the UNM roster and in some ways older than his years. His AAU career, chronicled in the book “Play Their Hearts Out,” was a veritable roller coaster.
Roller coaster is the term he used after Saturday’s game to describe his 2012-13 season, but there had been far more lows than highs.
Saturday, the highs kept coming.
In the second half, in part because starting guard Tony Snell wasn’t feeling well, Walker re-entered the game with 12:01 left. He immediately produced a steal, though it didn’t lead to a New Mexico basket.
Some four minutes later, he stole the ball again. This time, junior forward Chad Adams converted the extra possession into two points.
With some five minutes left, Walker hit a jumper. At the other end, he pulled down a defensive rebound. Seconds later, junior forward Cameron Bairstow hit a layup.
Walker capped his big night by making four free throws in the final 2:30.
“Closing the game with my teammates, there’s no better feeling than that,” he said.
Coach Steve Alford said it was D-Walk’s defense that truly stood out — and could earn him more playing time in the future.
“He really guarded the way he’s capable of guarding, because he’s a big (6-foot-2, 190 pounds), physical guard,” Alford said. “… I’ve tried to send as many subtle messages as I can, it comes (down) to effort at the defensive end in this program.
“He gave that to us tonight, and I think that opened him up to do a lot of other good things. He can be a key, if he’ll play with this kind of energy at a concentrated level.”
— This article appeared on page D2 of the Albuquerque Journal