Austin Walton of Newport News started his own sports agency two years ago at the tender age of 24. The venture was, and is, to say the least, high-risk.
The agent racket is Darwinian, replete with sharks and scoundrels. And rare is the fledgling with the business sense and connections to swim in these waters.
But if last week is any indication, Walton is onto something.
Thursday night his marquee basketball client was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers, and Sunday one of his two track and field clients finished first at the USA Championships to qualify for the World Championships.
“Pretty surreal, I must say,” Walton said early Sunday afternoon from his Houston base.
And that was a few hours before former Hampton University star Kellie Wells, whom he represents, won the 100-meter hurdles at the USA meet.
Prior to Wells’ victory, Walton was most jazzed about another client. Andrew Goudelock, the College of Charleston’s career scorer leader with 2,571 points, went midway through the second round of the draft, 46th overall, to the Lakers.
Two things to know.
* A 6-foot-2 guard from Stone Mountain, Ga., Goudelock can play. He averaged 23.7 points last season while shooting 45.5 percent overall, 40.3 percent from 3-point range.
* Few franchises manage the draft as well as the Lakers.
Although Goudelock is his first draftee, Walton reacted with “mixed emotions. … I thought he was going to get drafted higher.”
But Walton, a 2003 Heritage High graduate, is no fool. The Lakers? L.A.? Hello!
“I couldn’t ask for anything better,” Walton said. “That’s a great market, and you’re on TV all the time.”
Like many kids, Walton envisioned himself making jump shots on TV. He played for Heritage and in the summer for Boo Williams but was not Division I-caliber.
So Walton earned his undergraduate degree in business from South Florida, master’s in sports adminisitration from Valparaiso and law degree from South Texas College of Law.
“I knew I wanted to have a job in sports,” he said. “It was going to be coaching or the agent route.”
Walton dabbled in coaching at Andrean High School in Indiana, alma mater of former Notre Dame All-American Luke Harongody. But the nomadic life of coaching did not appeal.
“I knew I could do this because I’m a people person and I know (basketball),” Walton said.
He worked for two large agencies and two years ago this month opened his own firm, Walton Sports Management, which offers representation, marketing and financial planning.
He recruits 24/7 and, befitting his youth, does so extensively through social media. Wells and David Payne, the 2008 Olympic silver medalist in the 110 hurdles, are his sole track clients. Everyone else is basketball.
"When I started rating all the agents, he seemed like the most genuine," Goudelock said of Walton. "He was the hardest-working, and it was even better because he's young. ... I always liked Austin, even during the season when he was always messaging me on Facebook."
UTEP guard Randy Culpepper, the Conference USA Player of the Year, and Massachusetts guard Anthony Gurley, along with Goudelock, were Walton’s highest-profile college seniors this year. All three competed in the Portsmouth Invitational NBA camp in Walton’s native Hampton Roads, and Culpepper has signed to play in the Ukraine. Walton also represents Virginia Beach native and former Maryland guard John Gilchrist.
“I’d like to get into football and baseball,” Walton said, “but not until I (establish) myself in basketball. That’s my pride and joy.”
Agents and the recruiters they employ, aka runners, are viewed as a pox on many college campuses, risking athletes’ eligibility with offers of gifts and money.
“It happens in every sport,” Walton said. “I can tell you every agent that pays players. It’s well-known. …
“We just don’t pay players. I can name you plenty of players in college who already are (on an agent’s payroll). It’s hard to compete against that. But every year if you recruit 50 guys, you’ll find one or two who want to do it the right way.”
Walton’s way seems to be working. But as a competitor and former athlete, he understands longevity and endurance are paramount.
“I think this is just the beginning,” Walton said.