College Hoops: Zach Walton Signs With Drexel
BIG TIME: After Standout Sophomore Season With Edmonds, MWP Product Moving Up to Division I
By Aaron VanTuyl
The big moment came on Tuesday morning, when ESPN’s Jeff Goodman reported on Twitter that Drexel University had landed Zach Walton, a 6-foot-6 swingman out of Edmonds College in Washington.
Walton, of course, knew he was headed to Drexel. Still, an ESPN breaking-news item about a former Morton-White Pass ballplayer was a first.
“I didn’t even know that was going to happen,” Walton said. “I woke up to that tweet, and I was like, ‘Dang, it’s really happening. I’m here, and I gotta finish.’”
Now three years removed from his days tearing up the Central 2B League and the State 2B tournament, Walton — who officially signed his National Letter of Intent on Wednesday — is ready for NCAA Division I basketball.
“I feel like I’ve been ready for this, and I am ready,” he said. “It’s what I’ve been playing for every day of my whole life, just to play at this stage and show people I belong here. I’m more excited than anything.”
Walton helped Morton-White Pass to back-to-back undefeated state championship seasons in high school, winning the AP’s 2B Player of the Year award as a senior. He set a three-game State 2B tournament scoring record as a senior, highlighted by 34 points in MWP’s championship-game win over Liberty, and averaged 20.3 points, 3.2 steals, 7.8 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game in his final prep year.
He settled on Edmonds Community College in Lynnwood to continue his hoops career.
“I just really had a lot of faith in the coaching staff, and they showed a lot of faith in me,” Walton said. “I decided I should trust them. It was a winning program, and I just really like it up here.”
Edmonst head coach Kyle Gray said his staff knew from the outset that Walton had the potential to play at the D-I level.
“We were focused that he could get there,” Gray said. “We knew he wasn’t quite there yet, but he had that goal the whole time. That was the goal and the whole plan.”
As a freshman, Walton scored 13.8 points with 5.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists a game to earn North Region Freshman of the Year honors and help the Tritons to a NWAC Championships Sweet 16 appearance.
He got off to a hot start in 2016-17, only to see his season end with an injury in the Tritons’ fourth game. He broke off nine millimeters of cartilage on the side of his knee, requiring arthroscopic surgery and a six-month recovery period and six weeks on crutches.
Gray said Walton had improved tremendously between his freshman and sophomore seasons.
“He worked so hard in the offseason. He put in the time and really was ready to go, and he had to do it all over again and did,” Gray said. “To his credit, he didn’t get too flustered, and he got out there and made it happen.”
The silver lining was a renewed focus and an appreciation for his own health. Now, Walton says, he doesn’t take anything for granted — not the team’s yoga and stretching sessions, weightlifting or his own diet.
“I thought it was like a blessing in disguise,” he said. “I got to come back this year even better and stronger.”
The led into his sophomore season, in which he earned a North Region All-Star first team spot.
“I think it went pretty good. It started off really great, and we just kind of hit a slump in the middle and didn’t get out of it,” he said. “It’s probably one of the most fun years I’ve had playing basketball. It was just a great time, actually, even though we came up short.”
Edmonds returned the Sweet 16, losing to Linn-Benton, 81-72. Walton scored 24 points with 13 rebounds, both game-highs, in his final game. The Tritons went 20-10 and finished third in the North Region. Walton, though, averaged 20.8 points a game (eighth in the NWACs) and 9.4 rebounds a game (fourth), though his 28.6-points-per-40-minutes was fourth in the entire conference.
He had a had a handful of four-year schools interested, but hadn’t heard from any Division I programs by the time his sophomore campaign tipped off.
“I just felt like I had to go out there and prove myself again, and just follow the coaches’ plan,” he said. “I just trusted in them and they trusted in me, and we got it done.”
On the court, he’s essentially an upgraded version of the star swingman he was in his MWP days; he’s stronger, smarter, and Gray has helped him improve his shot.
“Him and I spent a good deal of time just working on the fundamentals of his shot, just fine-tuning everything, and then just catching up to the speed of the game,” Gray said. “He did, and by the end of his first year he was really starting to take control.”
He heard from Drexel, a member of the Colonial Athletic Association located in Philadelphia, right before the NWAC playoffs started. The Dragons went 9-23 last year (3-15 in CAA play), and last reached the NCAA tournament in 1996, when they beat Memphis in the first round.
He liked Philadelphia and believes in the coaching staff, as well as the opportunities presented on the academic side.
“When the ball stops bouncing and everything, Drexel’s a great university,” he said. “The coaches there have a lot of connections and want to see me succeed.”
He’ll have two years of eligibility remaining to play in Philadelphia with Dragon head coach Zach Spiker. A press release from Drexel’s athletic department said Walton will add depth at the small forward position.
“Zach fits the system of values we are building for Drexel Basketball,” Spiker said in the press release. “He has a high level of appreciation and respect for our process, which is important to us as we continue to build and reinforce a positive winning culture. He understands our program’s vision and is excited to be a Drexel student-athlete.”
Gray, too, is excited to see Walton on the court at the next level.
“He wants to get to the D-I level, but the end game is for him to succeed there,” Gray said. “I think Drexel, especially, is going to give him that opportunity to really do well, and I’m excited for it.”