Bill Walton on UA basketball's past and present
Drew Gyorke / Arizona Daily Wildcat
Legend Bill Walton came and spoke to students on Wednesday morning. He talked about all that he learned over the years from his coaches, especially John Wooden.
ESPN analyst and NBA Hall-of-Fame basketball player Bill Walton made an appearance before students and faculty Wednesday, detailing his accomplishments and the lessons he’s learned through life. As a center at UCLA, Walton won two national championships and was a three-time Naismith College Player of the Year and is also the father of former Wildcat Luke Walton. Bill sat down with the Daily Wildcat after his lecture to discuss Pac-12 basketball and his memories of Arizona.
Daily Wildcat: While you didn’t play against the Lute Olson-era Wildcats, what’s your take on the rivalry between UCLA and the UA?
Bill Walton: It’s the signature rivalry in the western United States. When UCLA and Arizona play, it’s fantastic. Lute Olson is the 21st century version of John Wooden and what he has done in terms of building this community.
UCLA basketball was nothing before John Wooden got there, and he sold it. He built an entire world that revolves around UCLA basketball and Lute Olson did the exact same thing here. And the friendship between Coach Wooden and Coach Olson was just fantastic to witness. To have our son play for Lute Olson, it was just an incredible privilege, especially with the friendships and relationships that Luke has built because of his choice to come here.
The great coaches … they make their players better. Better basketball players, and more importantly better people. And to see what Lute Olson has been able to do here, he might have been better off if he just started his own religion. I would be a disciple.
You played in Arizona during the 1974 NCAA Tournament, what do you remember from then and what’s your impression of Tucson now?
We had a fantastic time here, we won and we had a day off between the games. We had a great Jacuzzi at our hotel — and the cheerleaders were staying at the same hotel. It was a very nice time.
But this is such a great place. I love it here, Tucson. The bike riding here and the natural environment; it’s just so perfect here.
After seeing them play twice in person, what have you seen from Arizona’s three freshman big men?
I love them and I’d like to see them more. They’re fine young men and they’re terrific talents, but they need to be more involved for the Wildcats to join the elites of college basketball this season.
There are five teams at the top for me, in no particular order because there isn’t one team that stands out. Indiana and Duke, which have unique styles that I most appreciate, the team style … and then Syracuse, Florida and Kansas.
For Arizona to join that group, its biggest challenge is on the offensive end. They need more structure, more discipline and more diversified offense. It just can’t be one-on-one dribbling by the guards and small forwards. You have to have to have a pivot presence — high post, mid post and low post. It doesn’t matter who those guys are, Nick Johnson and Solomon Hill can play that position.
Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley may be able to play that position. But if not, they need to be utilized in a constant flow where every player on the court is making a positive contribution on every possession. That’s the challenge for the Wildcats to get to the top.