Walton Jr. "rewarded" by No. 39 ranking

Derrick Walton Jr. found out through a vibration from his phone. Sitting in class at Chandler Park Academy on Thursday afternoon, he quickly checked the message, clicked the link and found out the work he put in over the past two seasons had panned out.

He was the No. 39 player in the country in the initial 2013 ESPN 100 and the No. 9 point guard in the nation, rocketing up 11 slots in the point guard rankings and entering the national conversation for the first time.

“A couple of my teammates were in class and they were wondering what I was looking at,” Walton Jr. said Thursday afternoon. “When I told them, they were happy for me.”

Rankings have always been personal for Walton Jr. even as his parents, family and coaches told him not to worry about it. They told him that if he did what he was capable of, improved how his father and high school coach Derrick Walton Sr. instructed him to, that it would all fall into place.

Over the past six months it has. He led his high school team to the state quarterfinals and was selected to represent the United States in the Albert Schweitzer international basketball tournament in Germany.

Then during summer basketball, he had standout performance after standout performance for the Michigan Mustangs, culminating in his ranking Thursday.

“I just think it is a long time coming,” Walton Jr. said. “I’ve been playing really will over the past couple of years and was expecting to be rewarded by rankings. But at the same time, you keep trying to improve.”

He also figures he’ll receive the same type of attention on the court as he did after he decided to play for Michigan last summer. He noticed players seemed to target him more and play harder against him after that decision.

So he figures it’ll be the same way again the rest of this summer. Not that he minds. With a strong ranking already, Walton Jr. isn’t going to let up. He worked too hard to reach even this point.

And there are still more spots to climb.

“Of course I’m going to celebrate it,” Walton Jr. said. “But my goal is to always strive for the best. Thirty-nine is good, but I’m striving to be even higher.”

Walton was the highest of three Michigan 2013 verbal commits in the ESPN 100, as he was joined by No. 61 Zak Irvin (Fishers, Ind./Hamilton Southeastern) and No. 65 Mark Donnal (Whitehouse, Ohio/Anthony Wayne). Many of the players in the 100 have yet to make college decisions, but Michigan is the only school with three verbally committed players in the rankings.

The fourth member of the Class of 2013, Austin Hatch (Ft. Wayne, Ind./Canterbury) did not play last season as he recovers from injuries suffered in a plane crash almost a year ago. Even though he didn't play, he is still ranked as the No. 11 player in Indiana.

Walton Jr. said the rankings showed something about his future teammates -- and his future coaching staff led by John Beilein.

"It says a lot about the four of us," Walton Jr. said. "But more the coaching staff at Michigan to be able to draw four guys that are top players to the same program.

"That’s a good job on their behalf."