'He's gonna get a lot better': MSU hoops being patient with Tyson Walker

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

East Lansing — When it comes to Tyson Walker, it’s probably best for everyone to take a deep breath.

That’s true for Walker, too, Michigan State’s junior point guard who transferred during the offseason from Northeastern with hefty expectations to revive a Spartans offense that was a mess most of last season.

It was clear through a pair of exhibition games and the season-opener against No. 3 Kansas that Walker hadn’t yet taken that breath himself, unsure at times of when to distribute, when to shoot and when to put his foot on the gas.

Michigan State's Tyson Walker.

“It was just trying to find a happy medium,” Walker said after Michigan State’s 90-46 win over Western Michigan on Friday. "The shots I took before were mostly bad shots, so I just didn't know where to find my spots at now. But we talked about it, and I know exactly what to do."

We, of course, includes Tom Izzo, the Hall of Fame coach who made landing Walker a priority after Walker capped a sophomore season at Northeastern where he scored 18.8 points a game while handing out 4.8 assists and grabbing 2.4 steals per game as the CAA defensive player of the year.

Izzo wanted it all, obviously — the shooting, the passing, the defense. But until Friday night, Walker was having trouble deciphering how to put it all together, taking just three shots against Kansas after combining for only seven attempts in two exhibition games against Ferris State and Grand Valley State. None of his shots were 3-pointers.

“I think he's pressing a little bit, trying to figure out what to do,” Izzo said. “I think he realizes he's got enough shooters around in Max (Christie) and Joey (Hauser) and Gabe (Brown) that he wants to be a facilitator, and so he's probably caught in the middle a little bit.

“I don't care if he pulls up and shoots it. I might pull him if he doesn't shoot it.”

So, when Walker stepped back and buried a triple to close the first half against Western Michigan, he lifted his arms almost in relief as his teammates swarmed him with high-fives.

“Everybody was excited I took a jump shot,” Walker said with a smile, finishing the game with seven points on 3-for-4 shooting with three assists for the Spartans (1-1).

He was smiling, but so were his coaches and teammates because it was at least a glimpse at what the Spartans were hoping they’d get — a true point guard who can distribute the ball but also has the ability to hit a shot or get to the basket.

After all, that’s what he’d done the previous two seasons.

“That was the type of shots I was constantly taking before, and I just didn't think it'd be OK here,” Walker said. “And then me and coach had a discussion, and he told me (to shoot). Once I got to that spot — that was my spot — and I shot it.”

Time will tell how quickly it all comes together for Walker, who is making the transition from a mid-major to one of the top programs and conferences in the country.

It’s not always easy, and Michigan State’s schedule offers few breaks as the Spartans head to Butler (3-0) on Wednesday to take on the Bulldogs in the Gavitt Games, his next chance to prove things are getting easier and the confidence is there.

“It’s going to take him a little while,” Izzo said. “He’s not going to be there yet. He came from a different league. He came from a different program. He’s worked his butt off. He’s a great kid. He's got great skills. He's really good finishing with either hand. It’s just not as easy to finish, so we're trying to get him to pull up for those mid-range and shoot a three. He’s a good three-point shooter and has only shot two of them.

"So I think he’s gonna get a lot better.”

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Twitter: @mattcharboneau