|Walton's strides point to bright future|
Written by Adam Biggers
Just a freshman, Derrick Walton Jr. has many more sleepless nights, agonizing defeats, triumphant victories and a couple more years before he’s ready to claim a full grasp on Big Ten basketball. But after a solid start with the Wolverines, not to mention a 16-point outpouring during Tuesday’s 80-67 win over visiting Penn State, the former 4-star distributor is gaining a better understanding of his surroundings.
Despite injuries, inconsistencies and setbacks, the Wolverines somehow find themselves tied with No. 4 Michigan State for the top spot in the Big Ten.
“It’s really a grind—each game is like a championship game,” Walton said of conference rigors. “You can’t let up. As you could see, they made a rally (tonight).
“We’re a young team like you all know, and 4-0 is a big boost to our confidence. But we won’t make it the high of the season.”
Walton’s pair of 3-pointers during the opening minutes versus Penn State proved to be enough fuel for Michigan, which never looked back, despite a concerted comeback effort from Coach Pat Chambers’ team.
Pouring out Michigan’s first eight points, Walton looked as if he were on pace to reach 30 by the half. Yeah, it was a good – even great – game for a youngster learning the ropes.
But that’s the thing; he didn’t act as if any of it mattered. Judging by his tone and body language, Walton wasn’t overly impressed with himself. Instead, he was too busy crediting his teammates – who tallied 15 of Michigan’s 18 assists and forced nine turnovers – to sing his own praise.
“We have a very good offensive team and have multiple weapons who can score,” he said. “For us to get off to a hot start like that is kind of expected. We basically form our team around defense and get stops.”
The young freshman wouldn’t say it, but the cloud of media members around him after the game didn’t mind suggesting it – Walton is quickly developing and stands to have a bright future under Coach John Bielein. The rest of the Big Ten better take notice.
“I don’t really pay attention to it,” said Walton. “The goal is to win the game, and go in and do what it takes to win the game.
“My team kept on me, we just rolled with it.”
With just over 12 minutes left in the second half, Caris LeVert found Glenn Robinson III for an alley-oop dunk, giving the Wolverines a commanding 59-47 edge. It was a backbreaker and essentially flattened Penn State’s tires. But Walton viewed it as just another solid team effort, rather than an opportunity to brag about the victory.
“It was a highlight play, we all like to see that,” said Walton, while possibly trying to hold back a smile. “But I don’t want to say it was a ‘highlight play’ or the play that made them deflated, it was just another play in the game.”
As for his pedal-to-the-metal opening performance, Walton couldn’t help but crack a half-smile when his early daggers were mentioned – and he even slightly lit up when asked about the possibility of a 30-point game in the future.
Of course, he sidestepped the props and took the high road.
“I’m going to keep playing my game and be aggressive – find guys and let the stats be what they are,” he said.
Michigan has a frosh en route to stardom. But Michigan also has a freshman who’s grounded, humble and more interested in wins that filling a stat line and patting himself on the back.
Follow Maize and Blue News contributor Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81
Adam has written for The Flint Journal, MLive, Yahoo! and Bleacher Report