Few players have experienced the career arc quite like the one traveled by Dallas Walton.
The roller coaster ride endured by the 7-footer from Arvada has been well-documented. After two ACL surgeries on his left knee, Walton took a redshirt season as a true freshman in 2016-17. He emerged as a promising low-post force a year later, but then suffered a torn ACL in his right knee that cost Walton the 2018-19 season.
After battling back into the rotation via a sort of live-action redshirt season last year as he regained strength in his legs, Walton has, at long last, returned to the form that offered so much promise three years ago. Even Walton isn’t quite sure if this is his final run with CU, but just in case he is certain to savor the final home game of the season on Thursday night as the 24th-ranked Buffs host Arizona State.
“I knew what I was capable of and I knew could contribute on this team and get some Ws,” Walton said. “Being able to do that and produce in a variety of different ways has been very special to me. It’s been a long journey over the past five years I’ve been here, and even before I got here too, just to get to the level that I’m at right now. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It’s a very special season.”
Despite missing six midseason games due to injury and illness, it has been a season of redemption for Walton. He struggled to regain his pre-ACL form in 28 games off the bench last season, but Walton has been a dependable presence in the middle of the Buffs’ attack this year. Although he takes a slight shooting slump into Thursday’s game (4-for-17 in the past four games), Walton still is shooting .558 overall with a 7-for-15 mark on his occasional attempts from 3-point range.
One dynamic Walton has brought to the floor that was absent even during his solid 2017-18 redshirt freshman season has been Walton’s ability to get to the free throw line. Walton is averaging 2.9 fewer minutes per game this season than during his 30-game 2017-18 season, yet the 7-footer already has topped his total of free throw attempts from that season by 12. His 42-for-49 mark (.857) has played a part in the Buffs’ NCAA-best .831 free throw percentage.
“It was a lot of work between my redshirt freshman year and now, just working on my post moves and finishing around the rim,” Walton said. “That’s something I don’t think I was really too good at my redshirt freshman year. But it’s something I really put into focus after the year I had last year. Either I score or get fouled and help the team.”
Given that his redshirt season was taken in part to get stronger after his injuries at Arvada West, and then he missed the 2018-19 season to injury, Walton previously indicated he planned to petition for a sixth season of eligibility. With that process no longer necessary after the NCAA granted eligibility relief for the 2020-21 season, Walton isn’t yet ready to address anything beyond what is immediately ahead of him — the Arizona State home finale, the Pac-12 tournament, and a likely date in the NCAA Tournament.
“I have no idea where I’m at with that right now,” Walton said. “I’m just kind of finishing out the season, and right now that’s all I can think about — just finishing out the season on a strong note.”
Arizona State Sun Devils at No. 24 CU Buffs men’s basketball
TIPOFF: Thursday, 7 p.m., CU Events Center.
BROADCAST: TV — ESPN2; Radio — KOA 850 AM and 94.1 FM.
RECORDS: Arizona State 10-11, 7-8 Pac-12 Conference; Colorado 19-7, 13-6.
COACHES: Arizona State — Bobby Hurley, 6th season (103-80, 145-100 overall). Colorado — Tad Boyle, 11the season (229-141, 285-207 overall).
KEY PLAYERS: Arizona State — G Remy Martin, Sr., 21.3 ppg, 3.8 apg; G Josh Christopher, Fr., 14.3 ppg, 4.7 rpg; Alonzo Verge, Sr., 12.9 ppg, 4.1 apg, 3.7 rpg. Colorado — G McKinley Wright IV, Sr., 15.0 ppg, 5.8 apg, 4.3 rpg; F Jeriah Horne, G-Sr., 11.5 ppg, 5.7 rpg, .451 3-point percentage; F Evan Battey, R-Jr., 10.0 ppg, 5.2 rpg; G/F D’Shawn Schwartz, Sr., 8.7 ppg, 4.3 rpg.
WHAT TO WATCH: In Pac-12 games heading into Wednesday, ASU ranked 11th in the Pac-12 in rebounding margin (minus-7.1) and sixth in defensive field goal percentage (.442). Look for the Buffs to get the ball inside early with Dallas Walton and Evan Battey.
NOTES: This game originally was scheduled for Feb. 4 before coronavirus issues at ASU forced a postponement…Barring a matchup in the Pac-12 tournament, this will be the final head-to-head showdown between McKinley Wright IV and ASU’s Remy Martin, another senior guard who has made a lasting mark in the Sun Devils’ record book…Martin arrives in Boulder having posted eight straight 20-point games, matching a team record held by ASU all-time leading scorer Eddie House…Martin ranks sixth all-time at ASU in scoring (1,718) and is tied for second in assists (454)…This was supposed to be ASU’s fifth game in 10 days, but the Sun Devils got at least a brief rest after Monday’s scheduled date against Washington State was canceled due to coronavirus issues at WSU…A win by the Buffs would give CU 20 wins for the eighth time in 11 seasons under Boyle…The Buffs have won their past five home games against ASU..The Sun Devils arrive riding their first three-game winning streak of the season, defeating Washington twice before topping Washington State.