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Jabari Walker embracing prep for bigger role with CU Buffs men’s basketball

Talented forward balanced foul trouble with explosive performances as rookie

BOULDER, CO - Jan. 30, 2021: ...
BOULDER, CO – January 30, 2021: Colorado’s Jabari Walker shoots over Utah’s Riley Battin during the Pac-12 game between Utah and Colorado in Boulder on January 30, 2021. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

He often was explosive, yet also was frequently forced into cameo appearances due to foul trouble.

Yet when Jabari Walker analyzes his rookie season with the Colorado men’s basketball team, it’s not those frustrating but very typical freshman inconsistencies that spring to mind. It’s the stint Walker was forced to remain on the sideline that stands out. With more minutes and a more prominent role looming in Walker’s future, he realizes it will be critical for the Buffaloes for him to show up every night.

Coming off a Pac-12 All-Freshman Team season marred by a midseason foot injury that cost Walker six games in February, the 6-foot-8 forward is focused on putting in the work that will lead to his name being a constant presence in the rotation each and every night.

“I think overall it was a successful freshman year. The work I did last summer I think paid off and I was ready for the season,” Walker said. “The biggest thing that I’m going to work on is really staying healthy. If I’m going to be playing a significant role, then I’m going to have to be healthy for those games. I can’t be missing huge amounts of games due to injuries.

“Staying healthy. Keeping my body strong. Staying in shape. If I’m going to be playing more minutes, I’m going to have to be on the court more. I want to stay in shape and work on some skill stuff, add little layers to my game since there’s going to be more opportunities.”

Walker scored 10 points in his CU debut at South Dakota and emerged as an explosive force in the middle of the season, scoring 15 points in a road win at Utah on Jan. 11 and pouring in 23 points three days later in a home rout of Cal.

However, a few weeks later a foot injury put Walker on the shelf for six games. His return to the rotation was executed deliberately, and he averaged just 4.5 points in six games before once again erupting in the NCAA Tournament, going 9-for-10 with five 3-pointers (four in the first half) and 24 points in CU’s first-round thrashing of Georgetown. It was the highest CU scoring total in seven NCAA Tournament games under head coach Tad Boyle and tied for the fifth-highest tournament scoring total in program history.

Other than the injury setback, the other struggle for Walker during his rookie campaign was a propensity for quick foul trouble. Walker recorded four fouls in 13 minutes against Oregon on Jan. 7, four in eight minutes at UCLA on Jan. 2, and four in eight minutes against USC on Feb. 25 in his first game back from the injury layoff.

Walker says he already has added about 20 pounds to his frame since arriving in Boulder last year, and he believes that continued work in the weight room will help address the root cause of those foul issues.

“Defense, I definitely want to improve guarding one through five. I want to stay out of foul trouble,” Walker said. “Early on I’d get in the game and I would pick up silly fouls. I can’t do that this year if I’m expected to play more minutes. Just working on little things like that.

“I started off playing with my hands, so I’d be kind of touchy, putting on my hands and take them off. Refs will call that nine times out of 10. I learned I can’t get away with little things like that. I think me being in the weight room improving with my legs and my core is going to help that. Hopefully I’ll be able to stand guys up more and I won’t have to play with my hands.”