The world of college basketball has cast an unmistakable and unavoidable spotlight on the Michigan basketball program once again. And if the Wolverines hope to have even a similar amount of success next season as they did throughout 2012-13, advancing all the way to the national championship before falling to Louisville, incoming freshman point guard Derrick Walton will be a major reason why.
The deal is simple -- Walton will arrive in Ann Arbor in June and like it or not, ready or not, the expectations will be through the lit up roof of Crisler Center. The task of following college basketball’s National Player of the Year, Trey Burke, is a tag Walton won’t be able to escape, but in his mind, the words, analysis, and breakdowns will fall on deaf ears.
Aiming to remove himself, as much as possible, from the giant shadow a player the caliber of Burke has permanently left in the Michigan basketball program, won’t be easy. But Walton is his own man, his own player, and eager to pave his own trail, all the while heeding words of advice Burke can provide as he exits.
“I talked to him a couple days ago,” Walton told GoBlueWolverine. “He was just telling me a few things that’ll help my transition going into college. He basically just told me to be ready for whatever is thrown at me and be ready to grow up quick. Basically, be ready to run the team at a young age and dedicate myself to getting better everyday.”
Walton won’t be alone at the point guard position, leaning on sophomore Spike Albrecht to help share in the duties of running and guiding a talented, deep, but still young Wolverine crew that feel, once again, like they left unfinished business left on the table.
“Every time I go up there I talk to Spike but Spike doesn’t really say too much,” said Walton. “He’s kind of a quiet guy. But I intend on him showing me the ropes and showing me how to get there. I’m going to depend on him a lot for a lot of things.
“Looking at the big picture, there’s still a lot of work to be done. I haven’t stepped on campus and done anything. Basically, I’m still trying to prove myself.”
And Walton will have every opportunity to do just that as he shifts his focus from leading Harper Woods (Mich.) Chandler Park Academy, where he played for his father Derrick Walton Sr., on to Michigan, where he is set to enroll in June.
Sweating out the process both Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III went through, looking at the possibility of jumping ship to the NBA, Walton chose to let his future teammates make their own decision without any added pressure. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t have his own opinion in the matter.
“I was basically crossing my fingers, crossing my toes, crossing my eyes -- just hoping that they wouldn’t leave after their first year,” said Walton. “Just give me one year, at least one year with all of that athleticism and the craziness that goes on with those two in there.
“After I saw the headline, I was like, phew. It was a big sigh of relief knowing that those guys are coming back.”
With McGary and Robinson III on board, Walton’s real skill will have the full capability of taking flight. Walton’s passing ability combined with high pick and roll action and the freedom John Beilein’s offense allows for should create plenty of time for lobs, lasers, and sneaky no look bounce passes through traffic.
“Honestly, it’s just all about chemistry with my guys,” said Walton. “Them knowing my tendencies and stuff. Me being a guy that’s willing to make the extra pass or willing to get somebody else going is basically it. I just basically tell my teammates to expect the ball even when you don’t expect it.
“The freedom the point guard has is great for me. I like the freedom coach gives us to make plays. That played a big part in my decision to go to Michigan.”
The trust Walton has in the Michigan coaching staff to help get him where he needs to be come October is immense, specifically his relationship with assistant Bacari Alexander, who Walton calls, “an uncle.”
And the coaches plan to reciprocate that level of trust in Walton. The flashy passes and assist totals could jump out, but the propensity, and the courage Walton holds inside of him to want the ball like Burke did in the waning moments of regulation against Kansas, goes unmeasured.
“Thinking about that is crazy,” said Walton. “I always imagine myself taking a big shot like that and trying to go win the game. Just thinking about being the focal point, or even having the chance to be, is big for me.”
And if Michigan hopes to get back to Dallas next spring, Walton could provide the key to the chartered flight.