The last six months have been a flurry for Zach Walton.
Walton, a 2015 Morton High School graduate and former Timberwolves’ star basketball player, helped Drexel men’s basketball reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1996. After scoring eight points and hauling in five rebounds in 26 minutes during a first-round loss to No. 1 seed Illinois, the fifth-year senior needed to figure out his next move following his college career.
He already earned a bachelor’s degree in entrepreneurship and innovation in 2020 and needs to complete just three classes to earn his master’s degree.
He would spend the next four months traveling between Philadelphia, where Drexel is located, and Washington, where most of his friends and family were. He would also use that time in Washington to stay in shape, working out with G.A.M.E. Winner, an AAU program based in Longview. Despite using up all his collegiate eligibility, Walton knew he wanted to continue his basketball career.
“I’ve always wanted to play professionally since I was a child,” Walton said. “Once I started playing basketball, that’s what I wanted to do and I was able to make it happen.”
Walton signed with an agent in the beginning of July, who soon found a couple teams interested in the 6-foot-6, 205-pound guard/forward combo who averaged 10.5 points and four rebounds per game while shooting 47% from the floor and 40% from long range.
But it was Walton’s former AAU coach, Josh Wilson, who told Walton about Ehingen Uprising, a professional basketball club based in Ehingen, Germany. Wilson had played for Uprising his first pro year and still had connections with the team as the former assistant coach, Nico Drmota, is now the current head coach.
“They were looking for a player that plays my position and does what I do,” Walton said. “Josh told them about me, they contacted me and we just agreed on a contract from there. It was a quick move.”
Walton signed the contract three weeks ago.
It’s been a long journey for the kid who moved to Morton in fifth grade. Walton was a key cog in the Timberwolves’ back-to-back state championship run in 2014 and 2015. He broke the state tourney’s three-game scoring record and helped MWP go 55-0 since taking over as a starter his junior year. He finished his senior season averaging 20.3 points and 7.8 rebounds per game on 57.6 shooting.
From there, he signed with Edmonds Community College in Lynnwood, averaging 20.8 points and 9.4 rebounds per game as a sophomore.
He played just seven games for Drexel as a junior in 2018-19 due to an injury. As a redshirt junior in 2020, he was third on the team in scoring with 12.2 points a game. Now, after helping Drexel reach March Madness for the first time in 25 years, he’ll get a chance to make his mark overseas.
He hopped on a plane to Germany Aug. 4 to begin his next journey in life. He had to take connecting flights from Las Vegas to Minnesota to Amsterdam to Stuttgart, Germany.
“It honestly didn’t hit me until I was flying out here,” Walton said. “It was the flight from Minnesota to Amsterdam, when we were taking off, that I was like, ‘Damn, I’m really about to be overseas right now. This is crazy. There’s no turning back now.’”
Walton met most of his teammates during a team retreat in the mountains on Aug. 6 and had his first practice on Aug. 9.
“We all have a little relationship already,” Walton said.
Most of his new teammates are Germans but there are a few from other countries who recently wrapped up competing for their national teams and will arrive shortly. He has teammates from Canada to Indiana to New Zealand.
He’s still adjusting to his new life in Germany. Everything is different from the U.S., from how the buildings look to how people talk.
“I have a hard time understanding people sometimes,” Walton said. “Thankfully, all my teammates speak English so they make it easy to translate some things for me. But I’m enjoying it and I’m still trying to get used to the food a little bit and find stuff I like.”
There’s a McDonald’s close by but he can’t even order that because everything is in German. His favorite German food so far are döners, popular meat sandwiches found among street vendors.
His first preseason game was on Sunday and Uprising will have 10 more before its first regular season game on Sept. 18. The league takes place entirely in Germany and Walton is looking forward to proving himself against professional competition.
“I’m excited about the opportunity to come over here and showcase that I can play basketball at this level,” Walton said. “I know a lot of people don’t get that chance coming from a small town like Morton. I’m just excited I can do that and put on for the town and show people I can do it.
“And show the kids, especially, that you can make it even though you’re in Morton. I’m just excited to go out there and play, get this experience and hopefully build something so I can sign more contracts in the future.”