Matthew Ryan (@matthewryan02)
When Michael Walz was just three years old, he began playing the sport he considers his first love: golf.
“Been doing it all my life,” he said. “It’s one of my favorite hobbies to do and to destress and get away from this hectic life.”
Michael Walz (above) is entering his senior year at Conestoga (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Growing up in Georgia, Walz played golf competitively and continued to even after he moved to Pennsylvania at the age of 14. But once Walz got to about 6-foot-6 in ninth grade, he began to focus on basketball.
“Playing golf at 6-10 is extremely difficult,” Walz, now 6-foot-11, 235-pounds, said. “It’s not easy to find clubs, it’s not easy to make accommodations towards 6-10 guys. There’s not really a lot of guys that play golf out there that are my height.”
The rising Conestoga senior still plays golf and is entering his fourth season on the varsity golf team. Even at his non-ideal size for the sport, Walz has a two handicap, meaning he averages two strokes over par.
The focus on basketball has paid off for Walz, as he publicly committed to Richmond, an Atlantic 10 school in Virginia, on July 25.
The big man started his basketball career at Conestoga off where most ninth-graders do, the freshman team. Instead of taking the traditional route and playing JV ball, Walz made the varsity roster as a 6-8 sophomore, contributing in a bench role under head coach Mike Troy. Last year, Walz, a 6-10 junior, started all season, yielding averages of 9.5 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists, and 2.5 blocks as the Pioneers finished the season with a 7-3 overall record, losing in the second round of the PIAA District 1 6A playoffs.
“Mike’s a big part of our program. As I said, the biggest part is actually him as a human being,” Troy said. ”He’s a tremendous young man, works hard every day, and pushes people to excel.”
The forward marks the first Division I basketball player to come out of Conestoga since Jake Cohen, a 2009 graduate who had a stellar playing career at Davidson and is now playing professionally in Israel.
Colleges took note of the center over the past year, with nine D-I programs offering him scholarships. He took unofficial visits to William & Mary, Drexel, Richmond, Princeton, Bucknell, St. Joe’s, and Lehigh, also visiting the latter two officially.
“First thing that I thought, man, this is the most gorgeous place I’ve ever been,” Walz said about visiting Richmond, later adding “It’s certainly a place where you say ‘I can spend four years-plus here.’”
For Walz, it came down to three schools: Lehigh, Penn State, and Richmond, which offered him June 20 after seeing him at Philly Live I. While Walz kept his options open for most of the live period, about a month after Richmond offered, Walz made his decision, telling the coaching staff on July 19.
There was never a moment where it clicked for Walz that he was going to commit to Richmond; it was a progressive decision. Through his visit, the calls with coaches and professors, the coaching staff going out of their way just to see him play, Walz and his parents ‘all thought it was the perfect school for [him].’
Walz (above, during his junior year), pulled in nine Division I offers before committing to Richmond. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
Distance from home played a large role for Walz while he was making his college decision. He wants his family to be able to attend nearly every game and have the ability to come home if he has a weekend off, while also having his space; Richmond being around five hours away fits that mold. Richmond also offered the four things Walz was looking for in a school: great academics, a place where he can win, a family atmosphere, and most importantly, a place where he fits on the court.
The small school with just over 3,000 undergraduate students is very strong academically and has a high-level business school, which Walz will likely attend. During head coach Chris Mooney’s 16 seasons as head coach, the Spiders have finished the season with a .500 record or better 12 times, and last year were ranked as high as No. 19 in the nation. Richmond’s southern culture also reminds Walz of his childhood in Georgia.
As for Walz’s fit on the court, Mooney runs a Princeton-style offense which gets the bigs involved on almost every possession, in every facet of the game. This style of play fits Walz due to his playmaking ability. He can also score inside, shoot with range, and rebound at a high level.
“They really showed me how much they value their bigs,” he said. “I’ve had coaches tell me that this is actually how they are. There is no lying in this business that they're in. So I was really sold on how they’ll incorporate me in their offense.”
Walz thinks that Richmond can really help him develop all three levels: scoring inside, in the mid-range, and from three. He also believes Richmond is the best place for him to develop into a professional player, a goal since his recruitment blew up.
Walz said that the Richmond staff wants him to become the new Grant Golden, who is entering his sixth season as a Spider. Golden, a 6-10, 255-pound center, has averages of 14.0 ppg, 6.4 rpg and 3.0 apg across his career. While Golden won’t be around when Walz gets to campus, he will likely share the frontcourt with Tyler Burton. The 6-7, 215-pound forward, currently a rising junior, averaged 12.0 ppg, 7.6 rpg and 1.1 spg last season.
While Walz plans to golf for Conestoga as a senior, he won’t pursue a collegiate golfing career. But if he ever has that itch, there’s a course near Richmond’s campus.
“If only it was possible to play both in college, I would,” Walz said. “And you know Richmond has a beautiful golf course right next to their campus. ...Coach Mooney said he’s gonna take me out there sometime.”
Golf may have been Walz’s first love, but basketball is his future.