Sometimes the road to the NBA isn't always as smoothly paved as it was supposed to be for college players.
As for Derrick Walton Jr., that would be the highway he was forced to take.
After being highly recruited out of Chandler Park High School to Michigan, Walton fought injuries and simply didn't reach some expectations in his first three seasons with the Wolverines.
To start last season, it didn't look like much would change for the Michigan senior point guard.
While Walton did put up huge numbers throughout his career (1,471 points, 563 rebounds, 498 assists), he couldn't push his team to the next level by being a leader.
Then something clicked. Things changed. Walton emerged as not just one of the best point guards in the conference, but in the country.
The 6-foot-1 guard totaled 15.5 points per game and just under five rebounds (4.8) and assists (4.9) per game in his senior season, seeming to get his team to play at a higher level as well.
He shot 42.2 percent from 3-point range as a senior, which if you watch the Golden State Warriors is obviously big in the NBA.
He also led the Wolverines to a Big Ten Tournament Championship (where he was named the tournament MVP) and to the Sweet Sixteen before losing to Oregon on Walton’s last second shot that came up just short from advancing them further in the tournament.
It's safe to say Walton earned the attention he received at the end of the season, and also put his name on the NBA market as a much bigger value.
However, in today's world of college basketball, the “one-and-done” player is what everyone looks for in the NBA draft. In the opinions of many, younger is better and shows quicker development of a skill set that can be molded by NBA coaching staffs.
Walton had to be patient and work his way into the numbers he ended his senior season with.
The Michigan graduate now has worked out for nine NBA teams, with his most recent being today for the Detroit Pistons.
Walton is a Detroit native himself, and after all of the other workouts did help him be prepared for today’s drills, he said his experience at Michigan is still a huge part of what he did on the floor today.
“If you sat into a Michigan practice, a large percentage of it is shooting and skill work,” Walton said to the media before he headed out to New Orleans this afternoon with potentially two more after that before the June 22 draft. “You get into settings where it’s not five people in the gym or it’s not five-on-five and all you’re based on is skill stuff. I wouldn’t say I have the upper hand but I think I’m extremely prepared.
"I think Zak (Irvin) and all the other guys who went through it would say the same. It’s different terminology but it’s kind of the same. Your body just forms to it. I think I was extremely prepared for these type or workout settings.”
Walton has now worked out for Brooklyn, Houston, Indiana, Miami, both Los Angeles teams, Utah, Charlotte and most recently Detroit. For the most part, he's been showing off what he did in his final season as a Wolverine compared to the first three.
“A lot of teams are bringing me in and I think I’m wowing them even more,” he said. “They’ve seen me shoot well and my stats do speak for themselves but them seeing me shoot on consistent basis and a large-scale number, I think it’s eye-popping for them.”
In order to get more attention from his hometown professional basketball team, he will need to show his ability to shoot just as much as his skill with passing the ball.
Today, Walton worked out against fellow Big Ten point guard out of Maryland, Melo Trimble, who he has battled with over the past few seasons.
To Walton, it didn't matter. He just approached it the same way as he has in the first eight workouts: to get the job done.
The Pistons only have a No. 12 pick in the NBA Draft this season, and Walton might be a second-round pick if drafted at all, but he knows they have their eyes on him along with the other teams he worked out with.
“I take every one extremely serious,” Walton said. “I want to do this for a living so I take it serious. Overall it’s been a great experience. I got a chance to go out to L.A. and that program and organization is about winning and you come to an organization like this. Just traveling and seeing so many venues and meeting the people that you meet has been fun. Overall I think I’m helping myself a lot by playing the way I’m playing within them.”
While Walton doesn't know where he sits for sure in the mind of these NBA teams, he continues to go out and give them everything he has.
At the end of the day, that's all anyone can ask of themselves in whatever profession they chose to do.
In Walton’s case, working hard at basketball has only been bringing him closer to reaching the exit of the highway he started on: a chance at the NBA.