When Marcus Walker and Willis Gardner trot out to center court of Moby Arena Saturday afternoon accompanied by family and receiving a standing ovation from Rams fans, both players will know they had an impact at CSU.
Walker and Gardner have one final game left to play at home before their careers in Fort Collins are over, and both are trying to make the most of time they have left.
Walker, a six-foot guard, said even though the results haven’t come immediately, the Rams have come along way since he first adorned the green and gold.
“It’s come far,” the Kansas City native said. “The wins aren’t going to show it, but as far as people’s mind set and how we approach games, all that type of stuff has changed.”
Gardner agreed with Walker, adding that the wins will come with time. The guard explained that he likes to think he helped play a big part in improving the team.
“I think I had a good role because I’m competitive and tough,” Gardner said. “I showed the other youngsters how to play, and I know they will get better every year.”
Both Walker and Gardner transferred to CSU from junior colleges during a time when the Rams basketball was near disaster. Head coach Tim Miles was entering his first year with the Rams and had lost a majority of the previous season’s team.
Miles said he will be forever indebted to the senior duo for choosing to become Rams, explaining how this year’s senior class will always have a special meaning to him.
“I’m greatly appreciative of Marcus (Walker) and Willis (Gardner),” the second-year CSU coach said. “They bet on us when no one else would. These guys had other options and decided this was the best place for them. I really appreciate that.”
Both Walker and Gardner said they don’t regret coming to Fort Collins, even with the way the team has struggled the past two seasons. During the duo’s time at CSU, the Rams have gone 16-44.
Walker explained that through the adversity of playing for a losing program, people will learn much more than just how to play basketball.
“You’ll learn a lot about yourself,” he said. “You’ll learn that you can take the good with the bad, especially the way we’ve been losing the last two years. I’ll never give up on this and I don’t regret it. I’m happy with my decision to come here. Everything happens for a reason.”
Gardner and Walker have one final chance to win at home as CSU (9-19, 4-10 MWC) is set to square off against New Mexico (18-10, 9-4 MWC) Saturday in Moby Arena. The Lobos outlasted CSU in the pair’s first meeting this season, besting the Rams 68-50, and they enter the game with a two-game winning streak.
Miles compared UNM to perennial MWC-powerhouse Utah, but said he likes how his team has handled that style of team all season.
“We’ve battled those types of teams well,” he said. “We just have to stay with it. I know the guys are down right now. We just have to get past the pity party and find a way to get better.”
CSU enters the game losing two of their last three games, including an overtime loss to Utah and a heartbreaking defeat to rival Wyoming.
For Gardner, Saturday’s game represents one final shot to gain some momentum before heading to Las Vegas for the conference tournament.
“Hopefully we can play hard, go to the conference tournament and make a run,” he said. “That’s a brand new season right there. Anything can happen then.”
Men’s basketball beat reporter Adam Bohlmeyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
6’0″/175 pounds Guard
Career at CSU:
PPG – 16.6
RPG – 2.7
Steals – 1.05
Miles on Walker:
“Marcus is Marcus. He’s an enduring guy, kind of unflappable. What you see is what you get, high energy and fun to be around. He’s as good as an open floor player as I’ve ever coached and he’s as electric of a player as you are going to find in the MWC. In transition he’s great.”
6’1″/182 pounds Guard
Career at CSU:
Miles on Gardner:
“Willis has really been the heart of our team. He kind of wills himself to play. We tease him, calling him Mr. Potato Head because he’s had every sort of injury since he’s been here. We just keep putting him back together. Players see that and the things he still does and admire him for it. Coaches do to.”