ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- Following the early departure of 2012-13 National Player of the Year Trey Burke, the major question heading into Michigan’s 2013-14 campaign was who the heck is going to take the keys over at the point guard position?
True freshman Derrick Walton Jr. was thrown right into the spotlight and after some early sputters dealing with the learning curve that comes with playing college basketball for the first time, Walton Jr. settled in to have a very consistent first season.
Walton Jr. averaged 7.9 points in 26.9 minutes per game starting 36 of 37 games at the point guard spot, shooting 42.9 percent from the field and 41-percent from three-point distance.
Now heading into his sophomore season, Walton Jr. appears primed for a boost in every major statistical category, especially shots attempted per game.
As a freshman, Walton Jr. averaged just shy of six field goal attempts per game. Without the likes of Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III, both off to the NBA following two successful seasons in Ann Arbor, that leaves 20 extra shots available per 40 minutes.
And now, Walton Jr. will be counted on to take a large chunk of those field goals with added emphasis on his outside jumper.
“Range on his jump shot,” Michigan coach John Beilein said when asked what they’re focusing on with Walton Jr. this off-season. “When he first came here he was a line hugger, he would have toes on the line all the time in practice and just getting range. That was something that separated Trey Burke, Nik, Tim (Hardaway Jr.), they could shoot from really deep range and he just shot really well just now. That’s one thing.
“Obviously, getting stronger. He just had his 19th birthday so he’s really young.
“A lot of different areas but one of the biggest things now is we’re going to need more scoring and you’re going to be a big part of that.”
Coming up with some big, balanced performances last season including a near triple-double at Ohio State with 13-points, 10 rebounds and six assists in a 70-60 road win, another key area of focus will be late in games.
Afforded the luxury of playing alongside 2013-14 Big Ten Player of the Year Nik Stauskas as well as a budding star in Caris LeVert, Walton Jr. was always relied upon to take a key shot late in a game.
Beilein’s pushing his young point guard to be ready for those situations.
“What do we do at shot clock time Derrick?” Beilein said. “In the past year it was Derrick in space over there, 70-percent of the time it was get the ball to Nik or Caris or Glenn and now he’ll be making the choices, a lot of those choices, as will Caris.”
Either way, the Wolverines are hoping both Walton Jr. and fellow returning sophomore Zak Irvin can take big steps from year one to year two, something Michigan’s program has become defined on during John Beilein’s tenure in Ann Arbor.
“What’s common is that the culture’s been set here is we work really hard in the off-season,” he said. “And there’s no other culture right now and if you’re not into that culture your teammates are not going to allow it.
“So, just by working them out right now they’ve been putting great work in the last four weeks because their numbers are way above even where they were at the end of last year.”