Ann Arbor — At times when he was a freshman Derrick Walton Jr. played much older.
That led to big expectations for him as a sophomore — expectations that took a hit early in the season against Villanova when he injured his toe, and completely fizzled as the season went on and the toe injury led to a foot injury which ultimately led to an early end to his season.
In Monday’s victory over Elon, Walton showed Michigan just what it was missing without him on the floor a season ago.
“Just the confidence, playing with confidence, taking ownership of the team, looking at his options,” Michigan coach John Beilein said. “That was the guy we think we always remember that was playing healthy many times as a freshman, and led us to some big wins, hit some big shots.
“That’s who he was (Monday).”
Walton led a very balanced and impressive offensive attack Monday, putting up 24 points on 8-of-10 shooting.
He was 6-of-7 on 3-pointers.
Walton was feeling it — and he was feeling Beilein’s confidence, too. Beilein has taken to telling his shooters to be aggressive, shoot when they have open looks this season.
“When your head coach is telling you right there,” Walton said, “that’s all the confidence you need. Just make sure I’m the same guy I was a couple nights ago, and just let the rest fall where they may.”
Walton added six rebounds and seven assists to his line Monday as Michigan raced out to a 2-0 start to the season.
Now the schedule gets trickier, starting with Friday night’s home game against Big East power Xavier, followed by next week’s trip to the Bahamas, where a host of storied programs are waiting, including Connecticut and Syracuse.
Michigan also has road games coming up against North Carolina State and SMU, so it would help if the Walton of new keeps looking like the Walton of old, especially with fellow guards Zak Irvin (back) and Spike Albrecht (hips) still not close to being 100-percent healthy.
“I think the first couple games is good for us to kind of find out a lot about ourselves,” Walton said. “It gives us kind of, I would say, like a sample size to go back and look at.
“We’re getting ready for the real bullets now.”