Arizona Basketball

Walton 34th Arizona Wildcats athlete current head coach, 11th former Olson player

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FORMER ARIZONA ATHLETES
AS CURRENT HEAD COACHES

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Luke Walton’s hire by the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday increases the number of Lute Olson-coached players as current head coaches to 11. Walton is also the 34th former Arizona athlete who is a head coach, the third hired this year.

The other recent former Arizona athlete hires as head coaches include Damon Stoudamire at Pacific and Adia Barnes as the Arizona women’s basketball coach. Josh Pastner was hired at Georgia Tech last month after coaching at Memphis for seven seasons.

Only two years ago, I wrote a story for Bleacher Report about the aspirations of Walton titled, “Luke Walton a coach or broadcaster?”

Like his father, the love-him-or-hate-him Hall of Famer Bill Walton, who broadcasts Pac-12 games, Luke appeared ready to be behind the mic describing the action. He worked a game for Fox Sports 1 earlier that season.

“I’ve never done anything but play,” Walton said at a press conference in Las Vegas before his induction in the Pac-12 Hall of Honor. “I don’t know the direction that I want to go. I figure I will do some broadcasting and do some coaching.

“Basketball has been so fun because I love the game of basketball. Whatever is next, I’d like to have a similar passion for.”

Now he is coaching the Lakers’ franchise that has won 16 NBA titles, including two championships when he played for Los Angeles from 2003 to 2012.

At the root of Walton’s ascension to become the Lakers’ coach was his experience playing for Olson and Phil Jackson and coaching alongside NBA Coach of the Year and former Arizona star Steve Kerr the last two seasons at Golden State. He also grew up in the same household as his legendary dad.

Walton was asked what he learned in his time playing for Olson and Jackson at the press conference two years ago.

“Phil Jackson probably was the greatest coach in the history of professional sports and NBA basketball,” Luke said. “He was amazing at getting players to mold together and to play for that one common good and manage a team.

“Lute Olson, he was so good with the detail of the game that sometimes in practice you’d get annoyed with him because he would just stop and correct every little mistake. After the months and years of being with him, you didn’t make those mistakes again. So I was blessed to play for one of the greatest NBA coaches and one of the greatest college coaches of all time. They had different styles but both unbelievable coaches.”

When the Lakers fired Byron Scott earlier this week, Walton immediately became a leading candidate for the job. He will be ideal as the NBA’s youngest coach at 36 to lead one of the younger teams in the league building after the retirement of Kobe Bryant.

Walton served as interim head coach for the Warriors to open the season while Kerr recovered from complications caused by offseason back surgeries and went 39-4, including an NBA-record 24-0 start. Because of that contribution, the Warriors made him part of this week’s press conference celebrating Kerr’s Coach of the Year award.

“I’m incredibly happy for Luke,” Kerr said in a statement. “As we witnessed earlier this season, he has all of the intangibles necessary to be an outstanding head coach in this league, including a terrific understanding of the game the ability to communicate with a wide range of people. He’s certainly ready for this opportunity and I’m confident he’ll do a great job with the Lakers once our season is complete.”

Walton told ESPN.com that he loved his time with the Lakers’ Pacific Division-rival Warriors and learning from Kerr.

“I’ll forever be grateful to him, the organization and the team,” Walton said. “But I have always dreamed of being a head coach and the chance to do that for an organization like the Lakers doesn’t come around very often.”

Walton, who will remain with Golden State through the postseason, becomes Kerr’s second coaching disciple to get an NBA head coaching job. Alvin Gentry was hired by New Orleans after the Warriors won the NBA title last season.

Luke is Olson’s ninth former player to become a head coach from the high school to NBA level in the last five years.

The list includes Mike Bibby (Phoenix Shadow Mountain/2014), Kelvin Eafon (Pueblo/2014), Jason Stewart (Encinitas, Calif., Dieguito/2014), Jason Gardner (IUPUI/2014), Stoudamire, Matt Brase (NBA D-League’s Rio Grande team/2015), Kerr (Warriors/2014) and Reggie Geary (Japanese professional league/2011).

The other Olson players as head coaches currently are Pastner and Craig McMillan at Santa Rosa (Calif.) Junior College.

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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.

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