Zach Walton (above) is one of two transfers on the Drexel roster expected to step right in and play big minutes. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)
Zach Walton is not sure how the Drexel staff got in contact with him.
The junior guard had never been to the East Coast heading into this spring, playing his high school ball at Morton High School and spending three seasons at Edmonds Community College, both in the state of Washington.
All he knows is that this offseason he got a phone call from Dragons’ assistant Paul Fortier, who played and coached at the University of Washington, and after continued conversation with Fortier and coach Zach Spiker and a visit to Philadelphia to check out the campus, the 6-foot-6 wing ended up at Drexel.
“I don’t really know how they found out about me, but he called me, and I was interested right away,” Walton said.
Walton, who said Idaho was the only other Division I school he visited, is one of two new transfers set to play a major role for the Dragons this season, along with Navy transfer James Butler.
Butler, a 6-foot-8 forward from Fairfax Station, Virginia, had a little more connection with program before transferring last season. When coach Zach Spiker was at Army, he recruited Butler, who said he might have ended up at West Point had it not been for its location in New York.
“I reached out to some schools that were recruiting me before,” Butler said of his transfer. “I didn’t make it a big thing. When I saw Coach Spiker had interest in me, I pretty much knew this was the place I wanted to go.”
Walton, at the ‘3’, and Butler, at the ‘5’, have a good chance of cracking the starting lineup after the departure of Tramaine Isabell (21 ppg), Sammy Mojica (11.1 ppg) and Austin Williams (9.4 ppg).
The Dragons return two starters in guard Kurk Lee (12.4 ppg) and forward Alihan Demir (10.7 ppg) in addition to sixth man Troy Harper (10.1 ppg). Other than that forwards Sam Green (4.7 ppg) and Jarvis Doles (3.3 ppg) are the only returning players who averaged more than 10 minutes per games last season. Green played in just six games after his season was cut short by a knee injury.
Drexel does not have a go-to scoring option after Isabell’s transfer to St. Louis. Walton averaged 20.8 ppg and 9.4 rpg at Edmonds CC last season and could be someone the Dragons rely on to score this season. After spending time with the Dragons, he said going up against the size and physicality of the Division I level will be the biggest adjustment he has to make.
“He can score it all different levels,” Spiker said. “He can shoot it, he can drive it, he can pull up. He’s got a good game to complement a hole we need to fill...I don’t know that it has come (from him), but, someone’s got to score.”
Butler appeared in just four games and saw 25 minutes of action at the Naval Academy before transferring to Drexel. Spiker described the 6-foot-8, 248-pound forward as super solid and said you never have to question his effort.
The Navy transfer said he scores his points mostly on offensive putbacks. He also has a consistent jump shot in the midrange that he’s working to extend to the 3-point arc and can score with a jump hook in the post.
Butler’s biggest contribution will be his rebounding and interior defense. The Dragons have a big hole to fill in replacing Williams. Last season, Williams ranked eighth in Division I with just under three blocked shots per game and fifth in the Colonial Athletic Association with 8.5 rebounds per game.
“I think he knows I’m a hard worker, and I like to crash the glass and I bring a little toughness to the game too,” Butler said. “I think that’s what my role is here. I think the program needed a little bit of that.”
Isabell, Harper and Demir made an immediate impact as transfers last season. Walton and Butler will need to do the same this year for the Dragons to progress in Spiker’s third year.
“I think we’ve got a fresh group, so many new faces, we’re on that innocent climb and I want to stay in that climb and just put our head down and go,” Spiker said.