When Los Angeles Lakers head coach Luke Walton’s phone rang, former Interim Athletic Director Erika Barnes was on the other line. An emcee opportunity of the first ever CATSYS Awards Banquet was on the table.
“I don’t emcee,” Walton said. “I don’t like talking that much.”
Nevertheless, Walton returned to his alma mater, alongside the voice of the Lakers Chris “Geeter” McGee to take the stage and emcee the event.
“I have a lot of love and pride for the University of Arizona,” Walton said. “It’s a great way of honoring all the student athletes who have put in the hard work to represent U of A.”
Standing onstage, McGee had some pieces of advice for his fellow emcee to kick off the event.
“He’s never emceed an event in his life, but he’s already here,” McGee said. “It’s his wife’s birthday and you know what that means, he’s an awesome guy and a terrible husband.”
To make it up to her, he FaceTimed his wife and fellow Wildcat Brie Walton onstage and encouraged all of Arizona Athletics to sing her a happy birthday.
Halfway through the event, a lip sync battle ensued. When recording artist Kelly James called out Walton’s name, he seemed a tad concerned.
“I don’t do karaoke,” Walton said. “I don’t do lip sync stuff.”
After some peer pressure from the audience, Walton performed Adele’s song Hello, throwing his jacket out into the crowd and falling to his knees. A true hello to the other side.
“You are the only NBA coach in the association who would ever do that,” McGee said.
As the night went on, the normally reserved and social-media less Walton opened up. Walton even threw some jokes out to the audience, poking fun at Arizona men’s basketball head coach Sean Miller.
“Sean couldn’t be here tonight,” Walton said, joking. “He’s at home trying to learn how to beat a zone defense.”
The three-time NBA Champion and Pac-12 Conference Hall of Famer said he loved returning to the UA and was excited about the changes made to the McKale Center.
“I had so much fun today,” Walton said. “We took golf carts around and we went to Frog & Firkin. We walked around the University and bought some UA gear. Obviously, I took a quick tour of McKale Center, and it’s changed completely since I played here. It’s been really fun to see all of this.”
During the ceremony, Walton paid tribute to his former professor Donna Swaim from the College of Humanities, asking for a standing ovation. Swaim blew Walton a kiss in response.
Walton and the Lakers finished the season 14th in the Western Conference with a record of 26-56. Despite their record, he called the season joyful and enjoyed “the great group of guys” that play for the Lakers.
“I think the interim head coaching job really prepared me for what was coming,” Walton said. “I knew that taking over a young team that had only won 17 games would have a lot of ups and downs.”
When his schedule allows, Walton said he keeps track of UA men’s basketball and stays up to date with his Wildcat crew.
“I try to watch UA basketball as often as I can,” Walton said. “Obviously, the tournament I was watching. With drafts coming up, I will dive into it deeper with all the players coming out.”
For student athletes in attendance, it was a race to take a selfie with Walton.
“Just him being a former Wildcat makes it that much better,” Arizona football cornerback Malcolm Holland said. “His pedigree speaks for itself. It means a lot for someone like him to come here and support us and the school.”
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