A farewell to college basketball at Final Four for Mizzou’s Hodge, KC’s Walker

The Final Four isn’t just about the four teams vying for the national championship. The event comes with three-point and slam-dunk contests and an all-star game, bringing in players from the non-participating teams.

Such as Missouri’s D’Moi Hodge and Nebraska’s Derrick Walker, a Kansas Citian.

“Pretty fun, man,” said Hodge, who logged two events, finishing second in the three-point shooting contest on Thursday and scoring 11 points in the Reese’s College All-Star Game inside NRG Stadium on Friday. “I enjoyed all the moments.”

Hodge helped Mizzou to an unexpectedly good season under first-year coach Dennis Gates. The Tigers, picked to finish 11th in the SEC, became the No. 4 seed in the league tournament and played in the semifinals for the first time.

Missouri then won its first NCAA Tournament game since 2010 by beating Utah State in the first round. The 25 victories were the most for the program in its SEC decade.

Hodge had plenty to do with success, averaging 14.7 points per game and leading the team in steals and total blocks while shooting 40 percent on three-pointers.

“Nobody believed in us at the beginning of the season, but we kept grinding and showing that this is what we came to do, turning the program around,” Hodge said.

The 6-4 Hodge started the All-Star game, knocking down 3 of 9 from beyond the arc, with three rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot in a 104-99 loss in a contest that saw more attempts beyond the arc than inside it.

Like Hodge, Walker helped pivot his team’s season. The Cornhuskers had posted three losing seasons to begin Coach Fred Hoiberg’s tenure in Lincoln. But Walker led a turnaround, pulling off the rare triple of leading Nebraska in scoring (13.9 per game), rebounds (7.1) and assists (3.9).

The Huskers lost their Big Ten Tournament opener and finished 16-16. Nine conference victories were the most since 2018.

“As basketball players, we’re always hungry to be better, we’re always hungry to do good and make the people who care about us proud,” said Walker, who started his high school career at Raytown High and transferred to Nebraska from Tennessee after two seasons.

Both players spoke of continuing their basketball careers. Neither is projected to be selected in the NBA Draft, but that doesn’t stop the desire.

“I don’t know what the future holds, but I’m going try to achieve my dream and go to the NBA,” Hodge said. “That’s the plan right now and see how that goes.”

Hodge sees himself as a defensive specialist, as well as a solid perimeter shooter. He was the Horizon League’s defensive player of the year at Cleveland State in 2022. At Mizzou, Hodge set a school record with 91 steals. His 2.6 swipes per game ranked fourth nationally.

Walker balances his desire to play hoops with his business. Last year, he established a trucking business.

Tall Boy Trucking has one truck and one driver “but I’m looking to expand,” Walker said. “I like to think I can do anything I want when I put my mind to it. ... With the right people around you can make anything happen.”