Jabari Walker understands the added attention is on the way.
Those wide open 3s, like the five he hit during Colorado’s NCAA Tournament win against Georgetown, won’t come around so frequently. There is certain to be more double-teams on the block and more bodies flying at him when a rebound is up for grabs.
Of course, added attention occurs in other ways, too. Last week, Walker received honorable mention honors in the Pac-12 preseason all-conference vote conducted by league media members. If he plays in line with the possible NBA draft projections already lining up in Walker’s favor, more attention, and more wins for the Buffaloes, will be in store during the 2021-22 season.
“I’m just working on different aspects,” Walker said. “I feel like last year I was mainly a catch-and-shoot guy. That was maybe the biggest thing in the scouting reports. The thing this year is to put the ball on the floor more, making plays for others. Just adding layers that nobody has seen yet. I feel like there’s a lot to improve on and I’ve done that. I’m ready for whatever comes.”
Walker’s contributions last year — sometimes explosive, sometimes nonexistent thanks to an injury and a penchant for foul trouble — generally were bonuses for the Buffs. His production wasn’t as essential as the work of CU’s senior class, and the occasions in which Walker went off often could be at least partially attributed to the defensive attention paid to since-departed players like McKinley Wright IV, Jeriah Horne, and D’Shawn Schwartz.
Despite missing six games due to a foot injury, Walker still earned a spot on the Pac-12 All-Freshman team after averaging 7.6 points and 4.3 rebounds in 26 games off the bench. He shot .526 overall with a stellar .523 mark on 3-pointers (23-for-44). The 6-foot-9 Walker checks in at 215 pounds, up 20 pounds from a year ago, and he believes the added strength will help power his move into a bigger role.
“I can feel it,” Walker said. “People have said I look bigger, but definitely I can feel it in my legs. My explosiveness, the way I move laterally and my balance is a lot better.”
Walker heads into his sophomore season as a fixture on mock 2022 NBA draft boards, should he ultimately choose to leave CU early. Where Walker might fit into the 60-player draft, however, is widely varied, though NBADraftnet.com has Walker as high as 13th overall.
If Walker plays his way into that spot, Buffs fans might have to get their heads around the dynamic forward being a two-and-done player in Boulder. Yet playing his way into that high of a draft spot also would probably mean a successful season for CU.
“It starts with staying out of foul trouble. Jabari, you look at the numbers and they don’t jump off the page at you until you look at the fact he only played 14 minutes a game,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “What he did in the time that he was on the floor, he was very efficient. He impacted the game in a big way. He can do it by shooting the ball. By rebounding the ball. We’re really challenging him to attack close outs and play off the dribble a little bit. Make plays, be unselfish. People are going to start preparing for Jabari Walker now. Whereas last year he kind of was the beneficiary of people kind of keying on Evan (Battey) or Jeriah Horne or D’Shawn and guys like that.
“He got a lot of free looks last year he’s not going to get this year. This is just the evolution of going from your freshman year to sophomore year. We’ve tried to prepare him for that. He’s going to be a big, big part of this year’s team, without a doubt.”