Antoine Walker's Rookie Campaign
M.L. Carr knew he'd be filling his center position "by committee" going into the season. The problem is that his committee --Dino Radja, Pervis Ellison, Frank Brickowski and Alton Lister -- is now a committee of one--Antoine Walker, after Lister missed another game hamstring problems. Radja (knee surgery) is out for the season, Ellison (toe) won't be back any time soon, and Brickowski (shoulder surgery) will be sidelined at least another month.
Despite going up against bigger and more experienced centers, the rookie has recently chipped in with 28- and 27-point performances, respectively, against Rony Seikaly and Patrick Ewing. Marty Conlon has seen some time in the pivot, but Conlon was doubtful for last night's game at the Fleet Center against Portland because of an ankle sprain. Brett Szabo, who has signed on for the remainder of the season, will also get some minutes.
Walker, Conlon, and Szabo were hardly in Carr's preseason plans at center. Second-round draft pick Steve Hamer was, but preseason knee surgery has kept him out. Hamer, who resumed practicing New Year's Day, could make his debut soon -- and Carr said he'll get some quick on-the-job training.
"We thought we had that center position covered and covered well," said Carr after yesterday morning's light shootaround at Brandeis. "But we've been forced to pare down to the point where we have a 6-9 center, a rookie, to run that position. It's not something we want to keep Antoine doing because he's going to get worn down. But by virtue of him playing there, he is learning another area, and it can only help him long term.
"Hey, he's played all five positions this year, so this morning I asked him if he could help me and play them all at one time," laughed Carr, who added that Walker's extra minutes -- in the pivot and everywhere else -- have put his development "ahead of schedule. We were bringing him along pretty slowly earlier this year, and I know it was frustrating for him.
"I said eventually he'd get his time, and that time came ahead of what I planned to do. And Antoine's responded very well. The other night in New York against Patrick, he had 27 points and 16 rebounds. The one thing that Antoine's doing that all the great ones do is he's really starting to rebound. If he does that, well, that's what guys like Larry (Bird) and (Charles) Barkley did that set them apart."