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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Catching up with former UA great, Los Angeles Lakers head coach Luke Walton

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Los Angeles Lakers head coach Luke Walton addresses the media before Friday night’s game against the Indiana Pacers. The Lakers won 108-96. 

Luke Walton is just over the halfway mark of the NBA slate in his first full season as head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. The Lakers defeated the Indiana Pacers 108-96 on Friday night after a rare two days in between games. The NBA schedule can be grueling, and time off can sometimes be hard to come by.

Luckily for coach Walton, the ol’ alma mater was in town on Thursday night facing off with the USC Trojans.

Walton attended the Arizona-USC game with current Lakers guard Nick Young who played his college basketball for the Trojans. Walton and Young had a friendly wager on the game. The bet? 

“Push-ups…how many Nick can do,” Walton said.

The former Wildcat claimed he and Young didn’t exchange any trash talk before the game, but mentioned Young was quick to quit on his Trojans.

“Nick tucked tail and ran at halftime,” Walton said. “He gave up on his troops way too early. They actually came back and made a nice game of it, but no trash talking. We had work to do today.”

The Wildcats defeated the Trojans 73-66 and improved to 17-2 on the season, and 6-0 in Pac-12 Conference play. 

Walton has seen this kind of start before. During his senior season at Arizona in 2002-2003 the Wildcats started 15-2 and won their final 10 games finishing 25-2. They would advance to the Elite Eight where they fell 78-75 to the Kansas Jayhawks.

This year’s team hopes to finish out the regular season like the 2002-2003 team, and Walton got his first real look at the Wildcats on Thursday. He liked what he saw.

“That’s really the first time I’ve seen them play a full game, but they’re good,” Walton said. “Coach Miller does a good job with them. They execute, they get after it defensively, they have some nice pieces there. It was good to see them playing like that, I’m looking forward to them taking down the Bruins on Saturday too.”

Walton’s ascension to the lead man for the Lakers has been swift since he retired from the NBA in 2013. Walton gained traction in the coaching world after he was hired by the Golden State Warriors as an assistant. During the beginning of the 2016 season, Warriors head coach (and Arizona alumnus) Steve Kerr was unable to coach the team due to medical reasons, and Walton guided the Warriors to an NBA record 24-0 start. The Lakers hired him to be their head coach on April 29, 2016.

Walton played for Lute Olson during his time in Tucson, and was influenced by a one particular part of Olson’s style.

“His attention to detail,” Walton said. “Coach was a stickler for details, it really pays off. At times it’s frustrating and you get sick of doing it but the year after the year you spend there all the sudden you notice how much easier the game is becoming for you and how much you can take advantage of other teams by focusing on all those little drills we used to do every day.”

With his strong college and NBA playing background, he has already established himself as one of the NBA’s brightest young coaches. The Lakers roster is loaded with budding, young talent but at 16-31 they remain a work in progress. 

Walton truly is the best fit for the young Lakers roster, and the team has a chance to develop in to a contender down the road. Players like Brandon Ingram, D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle are all able to relate to the young coach and they have already shown signs of improvement this season.

Walton is admittedly influenced by Olson, but apparently some players, especially Ingram, are too young to have heard of the legendary Arizona coach.

“I haven’t even heard of the name before,” said Ingram when asked if Walton has mentioned Olson to the Lakers. “I will do my research now since you just said that.”

Surely, coach Walton will bring Ingram to attention on this detail.


Follow Christopher Deak on Twitter


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