ARVADA — It was, to use Dallas Walton's own words, "a dark place" the highly touted basketball prospect fell into about 15 months ago.
In January 2015, Walton, a promising big man from Arvada West High School, was sweating his way through a series of drills at the finish line of his rehabilitation from a torn ACL in his left knee he suffered the previous April.
Walton was on the cusp of rejoining the Wildcats for the stretch run of his junior season when disaster struck. Inexplicably, Walton retore the same ACL. Not only was his junior season officially wiped away, but his dream of landing a Division I scholarship — let alone with a Colorado Buffaloes program he grew up watching alongside his alumnus father — felt like a hurdle more formidable than the Flatirons.
Yet on Wednesday a year-plus of determination, grit and exhausting hard work came full circle for the 7-foot Walton, who signed a national letter of intent to join coach Tad Boyle's program this fall.
"I had a few offers, but I didn't even know if I wanted to continue playing," Walton said of the despair he felt after his second injury. "I wasn't sure if I was able to do this road again. But something clicked after that and I wasn't going to let it stop me. I'm going to come back, and I'm going to get better, and I'm going to get the scholarship that I wanted. It was a decision I made right there."
While playing at less than 100 percent through much his senior season at Arvada West, Walton averaged 16.1 points, 10.2 rebounds and 2.8 blocked shots while hitting 59 percent of his shots from the floor. He posted 14 double-doubles in 26 games and led the Wildcats to the Sweet 16 of the Class 5A state tournament.
His father, Matthew, is from the CU class of 1990 and has been a men's basketball season-ticket holder for years. Despite the number of stirring performances the elder Walton has watched at the Coors Events Center during Boyle's six seasons, none compare to the work he watched his son endure since that second knee injury.
"He worked so hard to come back from his two ACL injuries. I can't be more proud of him," Matthew Walton said. "At that point in time I wasn't sure he wanted to continue playing basketball. When he said, 'All right, let's go,' it blew my mind. I knew at that point that if anyone was going to do it, he was going to."
Walton's addition fills a frontcourt void left by the pending graduation of Josh Scott, who led the Buffs in scoring and rebounding this season while earning first-team All-Pac-12 accolades. Walton's slight frame — he's listed at 225 pounds on A-West's roster — and recent injury history could make him a prime candidate for a redshirt season, but Boyle said that is a decision he will not make until later in the fall in case of any unexpected injuries or other roster issues.
"Dallas is a guy who's got big-time potential as a player," Boyle said. "He just finally about halfway through his senior felt like himself. I spoke to Dallas and his family, I spoke to the surgeon that did the surgery, and it's just a matter of him gaining strength, gaining weight and getting used to the speed of the college game. For a guy who hasn't played a lot over the past two to three years, it's going to take some time."
Walton was expected to be the final piece to a 2016 recruiting class that already includes guards Deleon Brown and Bryce Peters, both of whom signed in November.
However, with the announcement two weeks ago that Tre'Shaun Fletcher and Kenan Guzonjic have decided to transfer, Boyle now has two additional scholarships available with more roster additions expected in the near future — possibly by the end of the week.
CU has been linked to three recruits — prepsters Adrean Johnson (Dallas) and Lucas Siewert (Los Angeles), in addition to Arkansas transfer Jimmy Whitt — but nothing official has been finalized with any of those players.