BALTIMORE | It was only 19 months ago Shane Walker made a decision so common in college basketball, quietly transferring from Maryland to Loyola to begin an absence from competition that ends Friday when the Greyhounds host Vermont.
In many ways, it seems longer for the lanky forward, who was rarely used in his single season in College Park.
“Really, I’ve been waiting for two years, but I can’t wait,” Walker said. “I’m excited, and obviously I’m going to be nervous. But nervous is always a good thing, I believe.”
The anxiety is understandable. The on-court beginning of a second chance - after the NCAA-mandated year on the sideline for Division I transfers - caps a process of shifting from one school to another, an opportunity a player can ill afford to squander.
Walker played sparingly at Maryland, averaging 0.5 points, 1.0 rebounds and 5.3 minutes in 24 games with the Terrapins. When he was on the court, it was mostly in a defensive role.
At 6-foot-10 and 211 pounds, it’s little surprise rebounding and shot-blocking would be the first thing associated with the native of England, who didn’t pick up basketball until his teens. He played two years at Bishop Ireton, another at Montrose Christian and then joined the Terps.
The adjustment wasn’t easy. There was a chance to play behind seniors James Gist and Bambale Osby with plenty of young forwards behind them. Securing minutes, though, was a challenge.
“He was raw, and like a lot of freshman, he didn’t understand how hard you had to work and just how disciplined you had to be,” Maryland coach Gary Williams said. “If we were running at 6 o’clock in the morning, we weren’t running at 6:15. I think once he sees that at another place, ‘Oh, you mean it’s not just like that at Maryland. You have to do that here, too.’ Well, you’re not going to transfer to a third [school]. You’re going to change.”
That place is Loyola, a haven for former Terps this decade. Coach Jimmy Patsos was a longtime Williams assistant, and both Andre Collins and Hassan Fofana completed their careers with the Greyhounds after starting off at Maryland.
Patsos’ teams have featured other transfers, notably Jamal Barney and Gerald Brown by way of Providence. But Walker, considering his defensive ability, is a different sort of addition.
“You come from the league meetings where they picked the first-, second- and third-team all-league players, and he’s not on there, so I guess that says he can’t help you that much,” Patsos said. “What do I think? I think a 6-10 guy that can run and shoot, I think he can help us a lot, like Kevin Garnett helped the Celtics. He’s not going to average 30 points a game like Andre and Gerald did, but he’ll make us a much better team.”
So much so that guard Brett Harvey believes Walker is “the missing piece” for the Greyhounds, a defense- and size-deficient team last season. Some of the talk surrounding Loyola is Walker’s ability to step outside and connect on perimeter looks, a skill never seen during his time with the Terps.
“It’d been there all along,” Walker said. “I just wasn’t able to play. I really felt enclosed, and my confidence was shot going into Maryland and coming out of Maryland. I just wasn’t able to play my game really at all. Jimmy’s given me the free run so I can do whatever I want, and everybody is going to be able to see what I can do now.”
Walker insists his time at Maryland was humbling but in some ways fulfilling. He said he remains close with Gist and current Terps swingman Landon Milbourne, and the decision to transfer to a school running the flex offense assured the on-court transition wasn’t too arduous.
But Walker’s frustration still exists, as well as a belief he can help the Greyhounds in the next three seasons. It’s also significant that Walker is spending consecutive years at the same school for the first time since his stint at Ireton.
“Shane’s a good player. How good he can be, he’s got three years to go,” Patsos said. “But if he had patience, he could have played for Gary because he’s a long, running, pressing player, but he was not ready to play. I’m lucky that he was young and made a mistake leaving Maryland. I’m just saying he’s a good player and he’s got all the tools.”
It’s just a matter of piecing them together. Walker, who believes he can provide scoring and passing as well as rebounding and shot-swatting, is eager to prove he didn’t disappear in the 19 months since he departed the Terps.
“I like people not knowing where I’m at,” Walker said. “I’m just going to come out and surprise a lot of people, and Loyola is going to surprise a lot of people by how well we do this year. We didn’t really have a good year last year, but I promise you there’s going to be some good stuff happening this year.”