Zach Walton wasn’t even supposed to be the one taking the shot.
The clock was winding down on overtime in the Nov. 10 men’s basketball game between Drexel University and Abilene Christian at the Daskalakis Athletic Center in Philadelphia. The score was tied 83-83, and Drexel had the ball with a chance to hold for the final shot.
But the Dragons’ final play didn’t go as planned.
“We had a play called for a different action, but we couldn’t get the ball exactly where we wanted it to go,” Drexel coach Zach Spiker explained. “Zach tried to get the ball to our point guard, but he couldn’t.”
“They were denying Cam (Wynter) the ball,” Walton recalled. “I had the ball in my hands, time was running out, and I knew it was a tie game, so if I missed we were going to another overtime.”
But Walton didn’t miss. He calmly pulled up at the top of the key and drained a 3-pointer to win the game and send the home crowd into hysterics.
— David Malandra Jr (@David_Malandra) November 10, 2019
It was just another highlight moment for a player who was determined to make his way to an NCAA Division I school. Indeed, the former Edmonds Community College star is proving that a player from a Snohomish County community college can go on to success at college basketball’s highest level.
“I think I was pretty prepared (for the D-I level),” Walton said. “(Edmonds coach Kyle Gray) has had some good players, and he put me in the right situations so I’d be ready when I got here.”
The list of men’s basketball players from the county’s two community colleges, Edmonds and Everett, who were recruited to NCAA Division I schools over the past decade is short. The two main names are Shaquielle McKissic, who played at Edmonds in 2009-10 and 2012-13 before averaging 10.8 points per game over two seasons at Arizona State; and Derek Brown Jr., who played at Everett from 2014-16 before averaging 6.3 points per game over two seasons at Portland State.
So Walton is in select company, and he’s making a bid to top that list. Through Drexel’s first 14 games the 6-foot-6 senior guard/forward averaged 12.4 points and 3.7 rebounds per game. He ranked third on the team in scoring, with the three leaders all in the 12-point range, and his 19 3-pointers tied for second. His performances include a 32-point outburst in an 86-74 victory over Bryant on Nov. 20.
”I think he’s having a solid season,” Spiker said of Walton. “He’s come up big in moments where we needed him to come up big. He has that ability, and I think he has a chance to do some pretty special things this year.”
This is what Walton envisioned when he first came to Edmonds from the tiny town of Morton in 2015. He was a star for the Tritons, being named the NWAC North Region Freshman of the Year in 2015-16 and then, after missing the 2016-17 season because of a knee injury, earning first-team All-North Region honors in 2017-18.
During this time Walton caught the eye of then-University of Washington assistant coach Paul Fortier, who moved to Drexel in 2016. Fortier recruited Walton to Drexel, and Walton’s D-I dreams came true.
But Walton’s dreams had to be put on hold. Last year Walton was just finding his stride, having moved into the starting lineup, when he suffered a broken bone in his right (shooting) wrist after landing awkwardly following a layup. He’d played just seven games before his first season at the D-I level came to an end.
“It was very challenging,” Walton said about sitting out the rest of the season. “I would go on all the road trips and I was at every practice, knowing I couldn’t be out there. I was showing support from the sidelines, but I would much rather have been on the court helping.”
Walton had surgery last December to insert a pin and screw in his wrist, and although the pin has since been removed, the screw remains. He wasn’t cleared to resume full contact until June, and he said the wrist sometimes feels a little tight, though it doesn’t affect his play.
Walton began this season back on the bench for the Dragons, though he was playing starter’s minutes. Spiker made what was apparent official when he moved Walton into the starting unit on Dec. 15 against South Florida. Walton responded with 21 points in an 81-61 defeat.
Walton and the Dragons went into Monday night’s home game against the University of North Carolina Wilmington at 0-1 in the Colonial Athletic Association and 7-7 overall. The last time Drexel went to the NCAA tournament was in 1996, and the goal for Walton and the Dragons is ending the wait for a March Madness return.
“We just want to hang a banner, win a conference championship and play in the NCAA tournament,” Walton said. “That’s been the goal my whole life, everyone wants to play in that tournament.”
And Walton has shown that going through Snohomish County can be a route toward trying to achieve those goals.
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