Locked down at home for most of the last summer, Mason Walters' journey to dominating the Great Plains Athletic Conference in men's basketball was about to receive a boost.
His dad, Marty, fashioned a home weight-lifting gym in the family garage, and with nothing better to do than to regulate his protein intake and pump iron, the 6-foot-9 forward transformed himself into a hardcourt terror.
"Just started working out," Walters said. "Couldn't really do much, so just a lot of that and trying to eat right."
Whatever was done deserves an endorsement. Walters, a sophomore, was named the GPAC's player of the year on Wednesday, as he leads the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics with 21 double-doubles and 326 total rebounds.
Walters was also one of eight Jimmies receiving all-conference recognition from the league, along with teammates Marc Kjos, Allante' Pickens and Will Cordes, and University of Jamestown women's basketball players Hannah DeMars, Kia Tower, Noelle Josephson and Macy Savela.
"Obviously, my teammates and coaches put me in a position to receive the award," Walters said. "It just shows all the hard work that we as a team put in. It's pretty cool and special to me."
Walters played at roughly 195 pounds as a high school senior at age 17 for the Jamestown Blue Jays in 2019, being named North Dakota's Mr. Basketball by the state's sportswriters and sportscasters. He averaged a conference-leading 21.7 points and 12.1 rebounds per game at 220 pounds this winter for the Jimmies, something every man -- or three -- has had to deal with when defending Walters.
A 38-point outing against Concordia University, Nebraska, highlighted five 30-point games, which seems impressive before adding in three games with at least 20 rebounds. He set UJ's single-game rebounding record at 22 in a win over Hastings College, Nebraska, on Jan. 2 at Harold Newman Arena.
Walters dwarfed his per-game averages of 14.2 points and 8.7 rebounds a year ago as a true freshman, numbers that helped earn him GPAC freshman of the year accolades.
"His biggest improvement is his body and his attitude," said Jimmie men's basketball coach Danny Neville. "Just hitting the weights and eating, gaining some weight and some strength that he knew he had to do, and mentally I think he took a step up in having a little edge to him.
"When he combined that with his footwork and his skills it turned out to be a good thing for him this year."
The Jimmies finished third in the conference standings -- the team is 19-8 overall -- and will find out today (March 4) if they're awarded an at-large bid to this year's national tournament when the bracket is revealed at 7 p.m. The NAIA tournament begins at host sites on March 12.
The Jimmies closed the regular season strong, putting together a season-best six-game winning streak beginning Jan. 20 which helped secure 14 conference wins and a home GPAC tournament quarterfinal game last week. The Jimmies defeated Dordt 89-68 before falling at eventual GPAC tournament champion Northwestern College last Saturday.
"We kinda found ourselves," Walters said of the Jimmies' stretch run. "We just started focusing on what we needed to get done. Playing defense and playing hard like coach always preaches it, and I think we realized that's what it takes to win."
The Jimmies have averaged nearly 83 points per game, almost tops in the league, with Walters stepping outside and converting 15 3-pointers. Walters has shot 61% from the field on 397 total attempts and plans for this summer will include the GPAC player of the year working to extend his game away from the basket.
"Some big strides for him could be perimeter stuff and some more strength, too," Neville said. "I think you can always build on that as a big guy."
"I felt like I had to play through a lot of contact this year, but being able to put on that strength last summer helped a lot with that and I think it kinda showed on the court," Walters added. "I think this summer I'll try to continue to work on my outside shooting, like, 15 feet, on the 3-point line, and working on ball handling.
"That kinda stuff, and just keep getting stronger."
Walters will be terrorizing the GPAC for two more seasons.
Walters was one of 10 men's basketball players named to the GPAC's all-conference first team Wednesday, but he wasn't the only Jimmie recognized.
Kjos, UJ's sophomore point guard from Lake City, Minnesota, was a second-team selection, while senior guard Allante' Pickens and true freshman Will Cordes earned honorable mention all-conference nods.
Kjos has averaged 11.2 points and 4.5 assists per game and is third in the league in 3-point percentage at 45% with 70 makes and is second in both 3-pointers made per game at 2.9 and assists per game.
Pickens, from Chicago, tossed up per-game averages of 11.2 points and 2.6 rebounds, while Cordes, from Shakopee, Minnesota, averaged 8.3 points per game and tied Pickens for second on the team with 48 3-pointers made.
DeMars, a sophomore from Grand Rapids, Minnesota, was selected to the GPAC's all-conference first team women's basketball team. The NAIA's player of the week to begin the season, DeMars helped lead UJ to a 15-11 overall record with a conference-leading 17.8 points per game and 7.8 rebounds per game.
Tower, a sophomore point guard from Bigfork, Minnesota, was named to the GPAC's second team with per-game averages of 14.7 points, 3.6 rebounds and 2.2 assists while converting 51 3-pointers.
Noelle Josephson, a junior forward from Ramsey, Minnesota, earned co-GPAC defensive player of the year honors and honorable mention all-conference recognition, two years after being named the conference's freshman of the year. Josephson's 80 steals, fourth-most for a Jimmie, stands second in the conference and fourth in the nation.
Josephson has 200 career steals and counting for the Jimmies, which is fourth all-time. She also averaged 10.4 points and 6.1 rebounds per game.
Savela, a sophomore guard from Mountain Iron, Minnesota, converted 67 of 170 3-pointers for 39%, averaging 9.3 and 2.9 rebounds per game. Her 67 3-pointers stand third in the conference and 11th in the nation.
2020-21 All-Conference Teams
Mason Walters, Jamestown, 6-9, Sophomore, Forward
Trey Brown, Morningside, 6-7, Senior, Center
Garrett Franken, Dordt, 6-7, Senior, Forward
Nick Harden, Dakota Wesleyan, 5-10, Senior, Gaurd
Trent Hillbrands, Northwestern, 6-0, Senior Guard
Zach Imig, Morningside, 6-3, Senior, Guard
Jesse Jansma, Dordt, 6-4, Senior, Guard
Koln Oppold, Dakota Wesleyan, 6-4, Junior, Forward
Alex Van Kalsbeek, Northwestern, 6-6, Freshman, Forward
Justin Wiersema, Concordia, 6-3, Junior, Guard
Jailen Billings, Mount Marty, 5-10, Senior, Guard
Mason Hiemstra, Hastings, 6-0, Sophomore, Guard
Carter Kent, Concordia, 6-2, Junior, Guard
Jaden Kleinhesselink, Briar Cliff, 6-2, Junior, Guard
Marc Kjos, Jamestown, 5-9, Sophomore, Guard
Elijah Pappas, Mount Marty, 6-4, Senior, Forward
Will Ottebaum, Morningside, 6-2, Sophomore, Guard
Jay Small, Northwestern, 6-2, Senior, Guard
Gage Smith, Concordia, 6-6, Junior, Forward
Craig Sterk, Northwestern, 6-7, Junior, Forward
Player of the year: Mason Walters, Jamestown
Defensive player of the year: Zach Imig, Morningside
Freshman of the year: Alex Van Kalsbeek, Northwestern
Coach of the year: Jim Sykes, Morningside.
Briar Cliff: Quinn Vesey, Ethan Freidel
Dakota Wesleyan: Mason Larson, Jeffrey Schuch
Doane: Anthony Laravie, Jaxon Harre
Dordt: Jacob Vis, Cade Bleeker
Hastings: Karson Gansebom
Midland: Bo Sandquist, Laurence Merritt
Morningside: Aidan Vanderloo, Trey Powers
Mount Marty: Tyrell Harper
Northwestern: Isaac Heyer
Jamestown: Allante’ Pickens, Will Cordes
Sammy Blum, Northwestern, 5-7, Senior, Guard
Taylor Cockerill, Concordia, 5-9, Junior, Guard
Hannah DeMars, Jamestown, 5-11, Sophomore, Forward
Sierra Mitchell, Morningside, 5-6, Senior, Guard
Sophia Peppers, Morningside, 5-10, Junior, Forward
Haidyn Pitsch, Dakota Wesleyan, 5-5, Freshman, Guard
Taysha Rushton, Concordia, 5-4, Freshman, Center
Molly Schany, Northwestern, 6-1, Freshman, Center
Konnor Sudmann, Briar Cliff, 5-11, Sophomore, Guard
Ashtyn Verbeek, Dordt, 6-2, Junior, Forward
Madelyn Deitchler, Briar Cliff, 5-11, Junior, Center
Erika Feenstra, Dordt, 6-0, Senior, Forward
Karly Gustafson, Dordt, 6-0, Sophomore, Center
Haylee Heits, Doane, 6-0, Senior, Forward
Matti Reiner, Dakota Wesleyan, 5-10, Sophomore, Forward
Taylor Rodenburgh, Morningside, 5-9, Junior, Guard
Kaitlyn Schmit, Hastings, 5-6, Senior Guard
Payton Slaughter, Briar Cliff, 5-6, Sophomore, Guard
Makenna Sullivan, Midland, 5-11, Senior, Forward
Kia Tower, Jamestown, 5-6, Sophomore, Guard
Player of the year: Sierra Mitchell, Morningside
Defensive player of the year: Noelle Josephson, Jamestown; Kennedy Benne, Briar Cliff; Faith Meyer, Morningside.
Freshman of the year: Haidyn Pitsch, Dakota Wesleyan.
Coach of the year: Jamie Sale, Morningside.
Briar Cliff: Kennedy Benne, Mya Hendry
College of Saint Mary: Honnah Leo, Clare Lewandowski
Concordia: Mackenzie Koepke, Rylee Pauli
Dakota Wesleyan: Jada Campbell, Kaylee Kirk
Doane: Madison Davis
Dordt: Bailey Beckman
Hastings: Carley Leners
Midland: Peyton Wingert, Lexis Haase
Morningside: Faith Meyer, McKenna Sims, Chloe Lofstrom
Mount Marty: Karlee McKinney, Sarah Castaneda
Northwestern: Devyn Kemble, Taylor VanderVelde
Jamestown: Noelle Josephson, Macy Savela