Derrick Walton Jr. on Franz Wagner: 'He's ready to make an impact'
Michigan basketball fans have probably been scouring the internet for clips and highlights of Franz Wagner since he committed earlier this month.
One person who hasn’t? Ex-Wolverine Derrick Walton Jr.
That’s because Walton spent this past season playing with Wagner and Alba Berlin in Germany, so he already knows what his one-time teammate will be bringing to Ann Arbor this year.
"I think he's really versatile, a real versatile guy,” Walton told The Detroit News this week. “He can guard a lot of different positions — one, two, three. He can shoot it and he's getting better handling the ball, so I think he's going to be good.
“There's stuff he can improve on, but he doesn't have any glaring things where you're like, ‘Ah, he needs to do that.’”
Wagner, a 6-foot-8 wing, suited up for Alba Berlin in the EuroCup and SSV Lokomotive Bernau in ProB, a lower-tier league, but most of his time was spent playing with Walton and Alba in the Basketball Bundesliga, Germany’s top league.
As an amateur on a roster full of pros, Wagner, 17, primarily came off the bench and averaged 4.6 points and 1.3 rebounds in 11.9 minutes. He shot 63.9 percent (39-for-61) from the field and 39.6 percent (21-for-53) from beyond the international 3-point line.
He also started six games, including Game 2 of the BBL championship series against Bayern Munich last month when he went 6-for-6 from the field and scored a team-high 14 points.
According to Alba Berlin’s roster on Eurobasket.com, Wagner was the youngest player on the squad and was one of only two guys who weren’t at least 21 years old. He was 12 years younger than his oldest teammate (Luke Sikma, 29) and at least seven years younger than most of the players on Alba.
"I think what's going to help him is just being professional,” Walton said. “Obviously you don't know exactly how every game is going to go, but I think he approaches it the same which pretty much made sure his role was consistent. He's very mature for his age and I think obviously that will carry over to Michigan."
Walton, who played at Michigan from 2013-17, noted it might take some time for Wagner to get used to the speed and “style and brand” of basketball played in the U.S. in addition to balancing classes at the university.
In an interview with German newspaper Berliner Morgenpost, Wagner admitted players have “a very different mentality” and are more physical stateside compared to Europe.
But the one aspect that won’t faze Wagner? The opposition.
“Trust me, he's going to fit in perfectly fine,” Walton said. “He's played against a lot of good players. He's not going to be starstruck by the competition at all.”
Wagner regularly went up against the likes of Walton, who played 16 games with the Miami Heat in 2017-18 and recently competed in the NBA Summer League with the L.A. Clippers, and former Louisville standout Peyton Siva in practice and played in a league that included former NBA Draft picks Derrick Williams (2011, No. 2 overall) and Rickey Paulding (2004, No. 54 overall).
And that doesn't include all the battles he had with older brother and first-round pick Moritz Wagner, who was known for his energetic style of play, tongue wags and pick-and-pop ability as a stretch five during his three seasons at Michigan.
“They both play with a lot of passion,” said Walton, who started alongside Moritz during Michigan's 2016-17 campaign. “Other than their personality, there's not really much in their game that's the same.
"I think (Franz) is a better shooter at this stage and I'm pretty sure Moe would say that but, overall, I think they're two different players."
Granted, Franz is entering a different situation in Ann Arbor than Moritz. Former coach John Beilein has left for the NBA and has been replaced by former Michigan star and Heat assistant Juwan Howard.
But Franz has the benefit of knowing what he's getting into thanks to his brother and Walton, who would answer any questions he had about Michigan and Howard, and has no doubts Franz’s transition won’t get lost in translation.
"I think it's more of a comfort level that he's not going somewhere where he doesn't know anything that's going to happen,” Walton said. “It's his choice but he's familiar with the culture at the school, so I think that's going to help and he's going to be a lot more comfortable and adjust that much easier because he's going to be comfortable.
“He's a very smart kid, he's well aware. He's ready to play basketball and he's ready to make an impact.”