Comeback kid is center of attention
After two knee injuries, Dallas Walton plays star role for Arvada West.
arvada» It can be mesmerizing to watch a 7-footer dance, the blend of long limbs mimicking the branches of a tree whirling in the desert wind.
This was the scene provided last week by Dallas Walton during a moment of levity at an Arvada West practice. The Wildcats were running through their press-break offense and Walton, after catching the ball near midcourt, floated a perfect touch pass to a streaking teammate for an easy layup.
In one fluid motion, the skyscraping center bent his knees in unison, curled his arms like a praying mantis, flexed his muscles and bobbed his head — a brief,
worthy celebration of the artful assist.
Yes, Walton was having fun. He’s earned it more than most.
“I’m just ecstatic to be playing basketball again,” Walton said after lowering his spindly limbs onto the first step of the gym’s wooden bleachers after practice. “It’s something that I’ve been waiting to do for a year and a half now. That yearplus of sitting out, wanting to play basketball but not being able to play basketball, that was hard. I’m ecstatic to be back.”
There were times during the past two years that Walton, an affable, intelligent senior, wondered whether his tall basketball dreams would be left unfulfilled. The first torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, during his sophomore year, was tough. So was the rehab, the physical therapy and the countless games spent on the bench rather than on the floor.
The second tear of the same ACL, when he was weeks away from returning from the first injury, that was the setback that chased away recruiters and churned doubt.
“There were times that I wondered if I still wanted to be doing this,” Walton said.
Close to two years after suffering his first torn ACL, Walton is finally back at home on a basketball court, averaging 16.5 points, 11.5 rebounds and 3.2 blocked shots per game. He’s a skilled big man with a soft touch, as comfortable putting the ball on the floor and popping a midrange jump shot as he is catching the ball and pivoting in the post.
On the defensive end, Walton patrols the rim with the quickness of a thoroughbred whipping away flies with its tail.
“It’s amazing,” teammate Will Wittman said of Walton’s shot-blocking prowess. “Sometimes you make mistakes and your guy will go by you, and you know you have him back there to clean up the mess.”
These tools are highly coveted in a 7-footer, not to mention one who has sung in the choir, among other extra-curricular activities, and carries a 3.97 gradepoint average. That’s why Walton holds Division I scholarship offers from Denver, Wyoming and Middle Tennessee State, why he has been academically accepted to Colorado School of Mines and why coaches from the Ivy League, Big Ten and Pac-12 have flocked to Arvada to see him play.
“I couldn’t be more excited for him,” said Ronnie DeGray, Walton’s Billups Elite AAU coach. “Seeing the stuff he’s doing, averaging a double-double, seeing all the coaches calling and coming into town, I’m just happy for him.”
None of this seemed guaranteed just one year ago.
On April 20, 2014, during the spring of his sophomore year, Walton was playing in a national AAU tournament in Kansas with Billups Elite and went down with what he figured was a mild sprain, or something similar.
“I remember that night I got to the hotel room, took some pain medication, iced it and was back playing the next day,” Walton said. “Then, in the next game, I tried to make a jump for something and it just gave.”
The diagnosis came shortly after. The ACL tear would require surgery and a nine-month rehab that would go through the middle of Walton’s junior year at Arvada West, where he had transferred after his first two years at Ralston Valley.
Walton was up for the challenge. And it didn’t seem long, he said, before he was nearing a return to a team that was in the midst of an impressive season behind brothers Thomas and Luke Neff.
On Jan. 20, 2015, just a week or so away from a return to the court, Walton was doing a single-leg hop drill, in which he would bound forward off just one foot, testing the strength of his hips.
“I hit 6-foot-10 with (the noninjured right) leg, almost hit 7 feet,” he said. “So I was trying to match it with (the left) leg, just as you would to get cleared. So I hit 6-5 with that leg and I was like, ‘No, I’m going to keep going.’ I hit 6-8, 6-9. Then I tried again ... and it snapped.
“It was very clear. You could hear the snap. It was very graphic. You just knew.”
At a hospital, an MRI confirmed Walton’s worst fear: He had torn his ACL again.
“The feeling was tremendous sadness for the kid,” said Matthew Walton, Dallas’ father. “We felt horrible for him.
“For us, it was really letting him know that it wasn’t the end of the world, because at that point, as a teenager, it was the end of the world for him.”
Matthew Walton’s heart broke as he saw his son’s head drop at the doctor’s diagnosis. But in minutes, he learned the resolve burning within that son, one that hadn’t always been apparent. After all, success in school and in basketball came so easily.
“To get the news from the doctor, you could just see him sink,” Matthew Walton said. “It was, ‘Oh, my goodness, not again.’ But in the same moment he was also like, ‘OK, let’s do this. Let’s get the surgery out of the way.’ It just made me say, ‘Wow.’ ”
Dallas Walton had a long road back, but he also had a blueprint. He went through the same steps he had traveled a year earlier, attacking the process even more vigorously the second time. He was determined to prove he could come back better than ever, even as the coaches who had been recruiting him so hard had stopped calling.
He also had the benefit of what he called “an amazing support network.” DeGray and Walton’s other AAU coach, Marcus Mason, insisted Walton travel with the team during the spring and summer, keeping him around motivating teammates. Arvada West coach Jeff Parriott and assistant Dan Pierson also provided shoulders to lean on.
“We all just tried to say, ‘Hey, stay with it.’ When he’s not on the floor, when he’s rehabbing, that can be a lonely deal,” Parriott said. “So I think everybody tried to let him know that we were there with him.”
Finally, after two surgeries, two years between games, sweat poured and demons battled, Walton was ready to return to the court for Arvada West’s first game of the season — Dec. 1 against Smoky Hill. All he did was score 18 points, rip down 18 rebounds and block four shots. He was off, and he hasn’t slowed since.
Those colleges that had slinked away have picked up the phone again, burned frequent-flier miles to come to the Denver area to see the talented, dancing 7footer who has refused to quit.
“The thing I learned the most about myself is that I don’t give up easy,” Walton said. “I learned that in order to get something, you have to work for it.”
Arvada West’s Dallas Walton, a 7-footer, tries to block fellow senior Will Wittman from scoring at practice last week. Joe Amon, The Denver Post
Arvada West senior Dallas Walton (55) battles for a rebound at practice last week. He is averaging 16.5 points, 11.5 rebounds and 3.2 blocked shots. Joe Amon, The Denver Post