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Tuesday, July 2, 2013
Can Walton be U-M's next great PG?

By Dave Telep

In case you haven’t noticed, the Michigan Wolverines are getting pretty good at replacing their starting point guards under John Beilein.

When Darius Morris arrived in Ann Arbor, expectations were tempered and reasonable. As the No. 100 recruit in the 2009 ESPN 100, Morris outkicked his coverage and bolted early for the NBA draft after two seasons at Michigan.

Enter Trey Burke. It’s easy to believe now that he’s a National Player of the Year winner and NBA lottery pick, but the truth is that Burke came to the Wolverines with muted fanfare and zero illusions of grandeur. He was the No. 84 recruit in the 2011 ESPN 100. If he was a potential lottery pick pre-Michigan, then someone should have told the rest of the Big Ten and everyone else who watched him in high school.

Heck, even when Michigan has had to play its backup point guard, good things have happened. If you recall the first half of the NCAA championship when Burke picked up a pair of early fouls, Spike Albrecht briefly became the shooting star of the title game. Keep in mind, Albrecht was a Division II recruit as a high school senior.

In 2013-14, the quasi-revolving door at the point for Michigan is likely to be manned by incoming freshman Derrick Walton. The question everyone wants to know, given the pressure of replacing a Wooden Award winner on a team with repeat Final Four aspirations, is whether Walton is ready to come in and immediately be Michigan’s next great starting point guard.

Derrick Walton
Michigan signee Derrick Walton, No. 30 in the final ESPN 100, could be the next great point guard for the Wolverines.
To answer that question, let’s first rewind. The 6-foot Walton, ranked No. 30 in the 2013 ESPN 100, comes to Michigan with the best pre-Ann Arbor resume of the point guards Beilein has recruited. As a high school senior, Walton averaged 26 points per game and was named the Gatorade Player of the Year in Michigan. Last summer, he put his Michigan Mustangs travel team on his back and propelled them to the adidas Super 64 championship while playing alongside Iowa State signee Monte Morris.

And here’s where things get really interesting. Going even further back, the AAU teammates were offered the same scholarship to Michigan following the completion of their sophomore seasons. Walton bit first, and Morris later signed with the Cyclones.

Fast forward to the present and it’s clear Michigan received the better player for its program and the better point guard for this coming season’s team.

Because he’ll follow in the footsteps of a pair of NBA guards, it’s important to note that Walton is not Morris (doesn’t have his flash) and is not Burke (can’t score like him). As a prospect, Walton comes in ranked higher than both out of high school, but it would be misleading and incorrect to assume he’ll be better. Those guys proved themselves at the highest level. They were motivated by the chip on their shoulder to unlock their potential.

Walton is his own man. Morris and Burke didn’t walk into Ann Arbor with his intangibles and credentials for commanding a team. Walton has a major presence at his position. In writing this piece, I went back and reread my notes from last summer. Some of the buzzwords included “winner,” “set-up man,” “reads defenses” and “thinks pass first.”

Walton is a point guard’s point guard. He’s a player who has a craving to win and will be an extension of his coach. Next year, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary will need the basketball. Walton, if he’s the player I believe him to be, will not only recognize that, but will allow them to be better scorers for the Wolverines.

The Walton I know also has a major chip on his shoulder. Too small, doesn’t shoot it well enough, isn’t a scorer -- he’s heard all the criticisms. Walton will be ready to come into Ann Arbor and be a function of the team. He’ll know his place, step into his role (because he’s prepared and mature) and have a good year.

Expect Walton to come in and begin sharing the ball immediately. He’ll also knock down jump shots and pick his spots to drive, but most importantly, he’ll be strong enough to defend in the Big Ten and smart enough to know his role.

Sometimes freshmen get overwhelmed, especially ones jumping into big shoes. But Walton is confident enough to believe in himself and mature enough to know he doesn’t have all the answers.

Albrecht was great in his role in the title game, and he’s going to be part of what Michigan does going forward. However, he’s not Walton. Albrecht is neither the facilitator nor the natural leader Walton is.

Michigan needs Walton, but he’s the kind of prospect who understands that he needs Michigan, too.