FORT WAYNE – Amid the media hubbub of Christian Laettner doing his thing as the new assistant coach with the Mad Ants, another wearing the team’s black practice jersey quite familiar with the NCAA tournament all but went unnoticed Monday inside the Concordia Seminary gym.
Travis Walton, whose point guard leadership took Michigan State to the 2009 national championship game, stood off to the side while his new teammates ran through offensive sets. Every so often, Walton would get into the mix just to get his sneakers wet, but then he’d return to the sideline where he watched and learned.
But when the Ants (9-14) play at Rio Grande Valley (15-9) on Wednesday, the 6-foot-2 Walton will be more than an observer.
With point guard Walker Russell Jr. being called up to the Detroit Pistons, the Ants were in need of a back-up point behind Tory Jackson, and found one in Walton, who led the Spartans to four consecutive NCAA appearances from 2006-09.
He had started the D-League season with the Dakota Wizards but was released in late December when forward Tommy Smith returned to Dakota after being released from the Golden State Warriors’ camp.
In nine games with the Wizards, Walton averaged 4.8 points, two rebounds and an assist in nearly 20 minutes.
He had previously played in Switzerland and Germany but returned to the United States to give the D-League a try.
Because Fort Wayne is his second D-League stop, he feels that he’s better prepared than before.
You kind of know what’s going on and you know what to expect, said Walton, who was a three-year captain at Michigan State. When you first go, it’s kind of like being a freshman in college. Once you come back a second time, you know the ropes.
Walton’s presence was overshadowed by Laettner’s first appearance in Fort Wayne.
The former Duke All-American, two-time NCAA champion and 13-year NBA veteran was recently named as the assistant coach with the Ants.
I’ve been champing at the bit to be a coach for two years now, so this is just a dream come true, said Laettner.
I love doing it. If they said, Go eat lunch and come back and practice again,’ I’d do it again. This is so much fun for me.
Note: The Ants’ 6-11 center Jarrid Famous sat out practice with a knee injury and is doubtful for the Ants’ next three games.