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UCLA's Walker Gets Fresh Start : College basketball: Senior center puts scoring slump behind him in preparation for game against USC tonight.


While his starting center struggled to escape a four-week slump, UCLA Coach Jim Harrick refused to criticize Kevin Walker.

Walker knew, however, that Harrick's patience was wearing thin.

For one thing, Walker was a starter in name only, introduced to the crowd after pregame warmups, but spending more than half of the next 40 minutes on the bench.

Then, an assistant coach pulled Walker aside one day and told him what Harrick would not publicly state, nor even suggest.

"He sat me down and told me that my (limited) production was putting a strain on (Harrick) keeping me as a starter," Walker said.

He also suggested a meeting.

Last Friday, Walker and Harrick met for more than an hour. Afterward, during a 115-66 rout of East Tennessee State, Walker made six of nine shots, including three of three from three-point range, and scored a season-high 15 points.

"I think I can definitely use this as a start and consider this the first game of my season because everything before this was so bad," Walker said Tuesday, as UCLA (8-1 overall and 2-0 in the Pac-10) prepared to play USC (5-3 and 0-2) tonight at Pauley Pavilion.

What did Harrick tell him?

"He basically said, 'Your play will dictate your minutes,' so I figured I'd better start playing a little better and hopefully my minutes and my production would pick up," Walker said.

Harrick said: "All his problems were mental. He doesn't forget the past and think about the future."

Last season, when he started all 31 games, Walker averaged almost 10 points, shooting 46.1% from the field, including 66.7% from three-point range.

A 6-foot-10 shooting guard trapped in a center's body--he averaged only four rebounds a game last season and has averaged only three this season--Walker helped open the inside for forwards Trevor Wilson and Don MacLean, who between them averaged 37 points and more than 16 rebounds.

But in UCLA's first eight games this season, Walker averaged only three points, shooting 29% from the field and making only one of 16 three-point shots.

It got so bad that when Harrick brought him off the bench near the end of last month's 68-64 victory over Washington State at Pullman, Wash., a fan called out from the stands: "Thanks, Coach." Walker made only one of seven shots and scored two points.

"My minutes were starting to dwindle and I didn't want the starting job to be a consolation prize," Walker said.

More and more, he was pulled in favor of freshman Tracy Murray.

Walker's frustration increased.

"To me, that's not a senior season," Walker said. "I kept thinking how bad the season was going after I had worked so hard during the summer. I'd think about it 24 hours a day. I'd play pretty well in practice, but the games would be a totally different situation.

"I started off the first couple of games not shooting well and when I don't shoot well, my whole game tends to suffer. I was letting my (poor shooting) dictate how I was going to play.

"I was still trying to rebound as best I could and defend, but everything revolved around my shooting because I'm known as a shooter. I just put too much pressure on myself and I think a game like the other night's can stop all that and I can think more positively."

A 230-pounder, Walker is two inches taller and 20 pounds heavier than Murray, who is more suited to play forward than center.

"You need Kevin Walker when you face Chris Munk," Harrick said of USC's 6-9, 230-pound center. "You need him when you face (Louisville's) Felton Spencer and when you face the (tall lineups) at Arizona State and Arizona."

After what he has been through, Walker is happy to be needed against anybody.

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