If the Colorado men's basketball team manages to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2016, the Buffaloes will do so without a key piece of their vaunted sophomore class.
On Wednesday, head coach Tad Boyle opened his annual media day comments by announcing 7-foot center Dallas Walton will miss the 2018-19 season due to a torn ACL in his right knee. Walton, a home state recruit from Arvada West, suffered the injury at practice Tuesday, chipping away at a frontcourt depth that previously was a source of confidence for Boyle.
Walton also suffered two torn ACLs in his left knee during high school, suffering his first during his sophomore year and then re-tearing it during one of his final tests to be cleared in 2015. While it is the opposite leg he injured in high school, it is the same leg upon which Walton endured toe surgery during the offseason.
That procedure limited Walton's ability to work out during the offseason, a situation Boyle explained to reporters at the outset of preseason practice. Whether that limited amount of lower-body weight work during the offseason contributed to Tuesday's injury is a question that likely will go unanswered.
"We'll never know that. I wish I knew the answer to that," Boyle said. "I'm not a doctor and that's a question that I don't think there's an answer to. It would be pure conjecture for me to say something like that. But you never know. I do think the offseason for any college basketball player is critically important in the weight room to get stronger. Dallas' upper body strength was probably ahead of his lower body strength.
"The one thing Dallas knows, because he has been through it before, is he knows what the rehab is going to be like. He's going to rehabilitate his lower body over the next nine months before he gets back. From everything people have told me, is when young men come back from ACL surgery, their knees are sometimes stronger and more stable than they were even before the injury."
Thrust into a bigger role last year as a redshirt freshman following an early season-ending injury to forward Tory Miller-Stewart, Walton responded with a solid rookie year. He started 25 games, including the final 20 in a row, and averaged 5.7 points and 3.4 rebounds with a team-leading 34 blocked shots. He shot .461 from the floor and .703 at the free throw line while also going 5-for-13 on 3-pointers.
Though Walton at times struggled to assert himself in the paint, he also turned in a number of standout performances the Buffs hoped to see more frequently in 2018-19. Most prominently was a 7-for-7 outing with 15 points in an upset win at home against No. 14 Arizona on Jan. 6. He scored a season-best 16 points in a road loss at Washington State, going 4-for-6 from the floor and 7-for-7 at the free throw line, and twice recorded a career-best eight rebounds — at home in a win against New Mexico and during a road loss at Arizona State.
Walton already used a redshirt year during his true freshman season of 2016-17, but he will be eligible to apply for a medical hardship for a sixth season at CU. However, that process would not begin until after his fifth-year senior season of 2020-21.
"I'm looking at this as a positive thing as best as I can," Boyle said. "For this season and this year, it's not a positive thing for our team or Dallas. But he'll get through it. We'll get through it. And we'll get through it together."