By Andy Swanson
From all indications, the start of the 2012-2013 season looked bright for Demetrius Walker.
A highly touted prospect that failed to live up to some lofty expectations in his freshman year at Arizona State, Walker proved to be a potent scoring threat off the bench and finished his redshirt sophomore season as the top reserve for head coach Steve Alford.
His excellent play down the stretch last season - including a career high 19 points against Air Force last March - earned Walker a starting nod in Alford’s four-guard set.
The Lobos were touted as a deep team with a surplus of talent in the backcourt, which made Alford’s move to the unconventional four-guard starting roster seem logical at the time.
Back-to-back double-digit performances by Walker against Davidson and Illinois-Chicago to start the season gave UNM fans hope that the new-look starting lineup would fare well.
Walker provided the same offensive spark as in the previous season; draining 75% of his three point shots while adding some energetic play on the defensive side of the court.
Unfortunately, Walker did make some ill-advised plays and committed ten costly turnovers in the first three games.
When he stopped making shots but continued to commit turnovers, it became apparent that Walker had quickly become a liability by the fourth game of the season.
Opposing offenses took advantage of Walker’s short 6-2 frame by playing taller forwards against him inside. Walker did his best in those matchups, but playing against players with significant height advantages did not work out well.
This fact, compounded by Walker’s woes on the offensive end, forced Alford to change to a more conventional two big set with senior forward Chad Adams taking over that the four.
Adams lacked the potent offensive skill set that Walker brought to the table, but his 6-6 frame and steady offensive production proved more valuable to Alford and assistant head coach Craig Neal.
Initially, Walker responded well to the demotion and tied his career high mark with 19 points on 5 of 7 shooting against the Idaho Vandals. His apparent awakening prompted many to believe that returning to his comfort zone as the sixth man off the bench cured him of his woes.
The return to form did not last long and Walker continued his bad habit of forcing poor shots and trying too hard to make things happen offensively.
He appeared to hit rock bottom in UNM’s 77-68 overtime win against Indian State on December 1st.
In that game, Walker went 0-6 from the field and committed two turnovers before fouling out after just 17 minutes of action. It was arguably the worst performance of his UNM career and an unfortunate sign of what was to come.
A month long field goal drought that included 47 minutes of play without a basket resulted in a significant reduction of playing time. Walker managed just one minute of play in UNM’s 55-34 loss against the Aztecs and Alford failed to call his number once in Wednesday’s win against the Cowboys in Laramie.
Alford has yet to shed light on the issue of Walker’s diminished playing time, only to comment on the fact that Walker’s strong defensive play continues impress the UNM coaching staff.
When asked after the Wyoming game why Walker did not play, Alford simply stated that “it was a coaches decision” and that Demetrius was not hurt or benched for breaking team rules.
Poor shot selection is something that can earn a spot in Alford’s doghouse, which is something Walker appeared to do after a contested three-point attempt early in the shot clock against the Aztecs last Saturday. Walker was quickly replaced after that ill-advised shot and has not returned to the court since.
Only time will tell if Walker will regain his confidence and find his role with this team.
He needs to relax and stop trying to make up for a month of struggles with each shot. The elusive 25-point basket does not exist, and the only way he will make up for his 0-for January is by playing smart basketball and contributing on the defensive end.
The question is whether or not Alford will give him another shot.
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