Dantez Walton’s basketball story began on the Schoonover Park courts near his Pearl Street home on Lima’s east side. It was there, as an 8-year-old, that Dantez began battling his older brother, Danyel, in daily games of one-on-one. His basketball journey has taken Dantez to two state championships at Lima Central Catholic High School, a stellar four years at Northern Kentucky University and now a professional career halfway around the world.
Walton is playing professional basketball for the Kataja Basket Club in city of Joensuu, Finland. Kataja is one of the top teams in the Korisliiga League and has finished in first place seven of the last eight years. Kataja has also qualified for the last five FIBA Cups, a postseason competition that invites the top teams from all across Europe.
Because COVID has seriously impacted the number of Americans who are playing professionally throughout Europe, Walton feels lucky to have landed the chance to continue his basketball career.
“There are a lot of really great players sitting out the season right now because of restrictions that limited rosters over here,” Walton says. “My agent did all the work. When the opportunity reached out to me, I took advantage of it.”
Walton caught the eye of professional basketball agents during his impressive career at Northern Kentucky University. He helped lead NKU to three Horizon Tournament crowns, three trips to NCAA postseason tournaments and one NIT berth.
In his senior year, Walton’s game went off the charts. “My last year at NKU changed my life,” he says. The 6-foot-6 forward began his senior season by capturing three consecutive Player of the Week awards in the conference, a feat not accomplished in the Horizon in more than a decade. He was dominating his opponents when a shoulder injury sidelined him for 11 games, but Walton finished the season strong, scoring his 1,000th point in his last collegiate game. COVID then shut down the NCAA Tournament, effectively ending NKU’s season.
Walton describes his experience in Finland as a bit of a “cultural shock.
“I like it here, but it took some time to get used to it,” he says. “There are very few cars in Joensuu, everybody walks or rides bikes.” Joensuu is located five hours northeast of Helsinki and the weather poses challenges. “The sun sets about 2:30 in the afternoon and the last couple of days it’s been minus 21 degrees here,” he says. “The food has a different taste and smell but I’m starting to like it. I do miss my mom’s fried chicken and tacos. I also miss my family and friends a lot too, but I facetime with them often so it’s not too bad.”
Walton is averaging 11 points a game and 8 rebounds as a starter for Kataja.
“Basketball here is very good,” he says. “The players are faster and it took some time for me to get used to the 24 second clock. There are a lot of older, veteran players in the league with high basketball IQs and they all play tough defense. It’s very difficult to get into the lane to score.”
Kataja is just above .500 after 18 games but Walton believes the team is getting better each game.
“We are getting used to each other and starting to figure it out and heading in the right direction,” Walton says. “We should qualify for the playoffs that begin in mid-March, and those are seven game series so there is plenty of basketball still to be played.”
Walton credits former high school teammate Martyce Kimbrough with helping him to remain focused on his goals. “Martyce was such a great leader when I played with him at LCC, and I still look up to him and value his friendship,” he says. “He finds ways to motivate and inspire me through his example and our contacts on social media.”
As for his future, Walton plans to see how far basketball can take him. “Every player who plays professionally has the dream of playing in the NBA,” he says. “I hope that I can take advantage of any opportunity to upgrade to a higher league or contract that comes my way.”
When the time does arrive for his basketball career to come to a close, Walton will have no problem making the adjustment. Academics have always been an important priority in his life, thanks to the values that his parents, Daniel and Lisa Walton, instilled in him. “My mom ran a day care center in our home, and she had a rule that my brother and I could not leave the house until all our homework was finished and done correctly,” he says. It worked. Walton’s name appeared on the dean’s list throughout his college career and he was named the “Scholar Athlete of the Season” in the Horizon Conference his senior year. He earned a degree in Organizational Management and sees himself eventually working at a non-profit agency that assists the next generation.
“I really don’t know exactly what kind of job I will be in, but I do know that I would like to work with youth and use what I have learned to touch lives,” he says.
Walton’s basketball career appears to be far from over, but when it is, I think it’s a safe bet that he will continue his success in whatever endeavor he chooses.
Reach Bob Seggerson at firstname.lastname@example.org.