Last year, Dinjiyl Walker got into the gym when he could. Sometimes, he was too tired after practice or didn’t have time beforehand.
In his words, it was “on and off.”
He also never played more than 20 minutes in any game during his first season on campus, and played a combined 16 minutes in Oklahoma’s five postseason games – Big 12 Tournament and NCAA Tournament.
Just a few weeks ago, Walker sat in Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger’s office, fresh off just three minutes in the season opener against Memphis. He was in a bit of a rut, having missed out on the playing time he wanted in his first year and not playing in big-game situations or much in the second half.
Three minutes wasn’t cutting it against Memphis either, so Walker wanted to know what type of role Kruger wanted him to play.
“Basically, he was just saying he needs me to come give energy off the bench and score and keep the motor going,” Walker said. “ . . . I told him I’m comfortable shooting. I’m comfortable driving. I’m comfortable whenever I need to play. He trusted me.”
Since the opener, Walker hasn’t played less than 14 minutes in any game – a mark he didn’t reach in any of the final 12 games of last season. After scoring eight or more points just seven times last year, Walker has at least eight points in three of the last five games this season.
He’s getting in the gym more, scheduling shooting sessions into his day. Walker likes to come in before practice so he’s not too winded after practice to shoot. But he still comes after practice at times as well.
“It definitely feels different, just because I’m used to how everything is with practices,” Walker said. “I know what to expect. I’m ready. It’s my second year, but it still feels like my senior year because I’ve been around basketball this long. I feel like I’m ready. I’m ready. It’s just a mental thing. I’m more focused.”
Walker still runs the point in practice and would be considered as the No. 3 point guard on the roster, but like his roommate Jordan Woodard, he’s playing off the ball much more this season. He’s seen a spike in production and confidence because of it.
“Confidence is probably the big thing,” Kruger said. “He’s confident in what his role is.”
Walker is averaging 9.5 points per game over the last two contests and is shooting 50 percent from behind the 3-point arc as the first wing off the bench for the No.3-ranked Sooners.
He said before the season that he wanted to be the Big 12 Conference Sixth Man of the Year. Now, he’s starting to play like one.
“He’s just gotten to be more comfortable by being around for a year,” Woodard said. “He knows what coach wants from his players now. It’s little things like that. It’s not a huge change. You can just tell he’s more comfortable and confident in his game.”
A natural comedian and Call of Duty fanatic, Walker said not playing the point guard in games has taken a burden off his shoulders. He can just focus on knocking down shots. He’s become more confidence in that, and his defense has improved behind it.
He’s found his place in Oklahoma’s hyper-movement offense: Having dished out three assists against Oral Roberts – a total he had in the final 13 games last year – and has 15 assists all year.
He had just 18 all of last season.
“It makes it easier for me,” Walker said of moving almost exclusively to the off guard. “. . . It gives me confidence to score when I need to and be open and knock down shots. Just for me not having the point guard strictly on my shoulders where I have to do everything, it gives me a little more confidence for when I need to score.”
One thing that hasn’t changed is Walker’s penchant for talking trash. Woodard said that Walker loves it. But Walker is more confident. Woodard can see it in his play.
Whether that’s because Walker is getting more playing time, making more shots and shooting after practice or vice versa, it doesn’t really matter.
It’s working for Walker.
“It’s hard to shake his confidence,” Woodard said. “He likes to talk trash. He’s a real confident person.”