The brace protecting the latest injury to Dallas Walton’s troublesome knees is a hefty one, possibly large enough to encase the entire leg of the more diminutive among Colorado Buffaloes fans.
The heavy burden that brace is carrying is equal parts physical and theoretical.
Last October, Walton suffered a torn ACL in his right knee, robbing the Buffaloes of a 7-footer who, at the very least, would have formed a formidable defensive tandem in the paint alongside small forward Tyler Bey. Walton could only watch as his teammates struggled, then surged, through a 2018-19 season that eventually ended in the quarterfinals of the NIT.
While Walton obviously isn’t a newcomer, adding his skills to the mix of players that seemed to turn a corner down the stretch is an intriguing proposition. If healthy — not a certainty, given Walton’s injury history — a return to form could prove much more than simply personally gratifying for the 7-footer from Arvada.
“What’s exciting was seeing all these guys improve, seeing how well we can play together,” Walton said. “Which means when I come back I’ll be challenged as well. It will improve my game and improve us team all-around competing against each other at a high level.”
Walton, who twice tore his left ACL during high school, recently passed the six-month mark since suffering his latest knee injury. He has resumed non-contact basketball injuries and is gradually ramping up his work in the weight room with an eye toward being ready for the Buffs’ season-opener, which will be on a date still to be determined in early November against Arizona State in the Pac-12 Conference’s annual game in China.
Walton’s overall leg strength already was considered his biggest physical challenge at the Pac-12 level even before his latest injury setback. Recovering the gains he had made through his redshirt freshman season of 2017-18 will be Walton’s priority throughout the upcoming months.
Barring setbacks, Walton should be cleared for full-contact basketball workouts by the end of the summer. Yet after suffering his second high school ACL tear while nearing the finish line in his rehabilitation from the original injury, Walton is confident in taking a deliberate, step-by-step approach with his comeback.
“I’m taking my time with this injury, so I’m about two months away from physical contact. But I’m doing basketball workouts on my own and with coach (Mike) Rohn and slightly progressing on my confidence and my moves,” Walton said. “The next step for me is just working on different basketball moves, making more and more athletic moves as we progress. My post moves, making them more strong, making them more quick. Right now I’m doing my post moves just kind of slow to see how I feel about them. Then repetition, repetition, repetition once I get comfortable with it.”
Thrust into a larger role than originally expected early in the 2017-18 season due to an early season-ending foot injury suffered by then-senior Tory Miller-Stewart, Walton played in 25 games and started the final 20 in a row, averaging 5.7 points and 3.4 rebounds while leading the Buffs with 34 blocked shots.
With Walton sidelined, the 6-foot-7 Bey often was forced to guard much bigger opponents. Walton’s return could allow the highly athletic Bey to roam a little more effectively on defense.
“We’re taking it very conservative on the approach in terms of his rehab so we don’t push it and come back too early,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “I think that’s always the danger, especially with ACLs. The knee feels normal and ready to go when technically it’s not. Dallas knows that better than anybody. But he’s feeling good. His spirits are good. His knee feels good and he’s excited.”
Since he redshirted as a true freshman, Walton is a candidate to petition for a sixth season of eligibility but he said he will not initiate that process until the completion of his fifth season in the spring of 2021.