In his unofficial return from a crushing knee injury that left him questioning his basketball future, Dallas Walton enjoyed a starring role in an exhibition win against Pomona-Pitzer last month.
In his official return to the Colorado Buffaloes’ rotation against Arizona State last week in China, Walton had to settle for a brief cameo.
Among the few preseason questions surrounding the CU men’s basketball team that wasn’t addressed during the season opener was how the 7-foot Walton would respond after missing an entire season due to a torn ACL, his third such injury in a span of five years. Walton was limited to just two first-half minutes against ASU, a circumstance predicated by matchup issues and a situation head coach Tad Boyle doesn’t believe will be permanent as his 25th-ranked Buffaloes prepare for Saturday’s home opener against San Diego (8 p.m., Pac-12 Network).
“They played small ball. They played four guards, and they even played five guards at times,” Boyle said. “I’m not saying Dallas couldn’t have played more. I just felt like we matched up better with other guys. I don’t expect that to be a normal thing. It was just one of those nights. To Dallas’ credit, he understands that. He’s a great kid, a great teammate. We want to play him more than we did the other night. We know that. I was expecting to play Dallas more than I played him.”
Throughout the preseason, Boyle was consistent in the message that Walton’s minutes might fluctuate depending on particular matchups. He also indicated bringing Walton along slowly might be in the cards just 13 months removed from tearing his right ACL. (Walton twice tore his left ACL at Arvada West).
Those provisions collided with the fact that ASU was missing two 6-foot-8 frontcourt players in Romello White and Taeshon Cherry, who served suspensions for a violation of team rules. Sun Devils coach Bobby Hurley had point guard Remy Martin direct a guard-heavy lineup that didn’t make Walton a good fit defensively.
“I’m a team guy first. I’m here for whatever the team needs me to do,” said Walton, who still grabbed two rebounds in those two minutes. “Sometimes the game plan may require me more than others. Arizona State played a little smaller, and so the game plan didn’t really call for me. I was just there to support my teammates to the best of my ability. I’m just going to make sure I’m ready in case my number is called.”
Walton put on a show during the Buffs’ exhibition win against Pomona-Pitzer on Oct. 26, knocking down his first four shots to draw a standing ovation from a fan base that had just given him a warm welcome moments earlier to honor his long-awaited return to the floor. However, if Walton and the Buffs are looking to exploit particular matchups for the 7-footer, San Diego might not present any more of an opportunity than ASU.
The Toreros most accomplished post player, 6-foot-10 junior Yauhen Massalski, only played in the season opener before getting sidelined by a foot injury. Going into San Diego’s game Thursday night at Weber State, the Toreros had utilized a seven-man rotation in two straight games featuring only one player as tall as 6-foot-8.
“That’s one good thing about this team is that we have so many weapons,” Walton said. “On any given night it could be any of these guys’ nights. One night it might be T-Bey’s night, one night it might be D’Shawn (Schwartz’s) night, another it might be Evan (Battey’s) night. All of us got to stay ready and all of us to make sure when our number is called, we can produce.”