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Rookie Walton Quickly Earning Trust

Times Staff Writer

Luke Walton was one of the most versatile players in college basketball last season, a forward who could control the game and pass as well as anyone.

The NBA doesn’t care about what you did in college. Increasingly, it doesn’t even care if you went to college at all. Physique comes first. Then brains. The great players are blessed with both. Intelligent, agile small men have to fight to stay in the league, but there will always be a roster spot for an oafish 7-footer.

At 6 feet 8, 235 pounds, Walton isn’t exceptionally large for a frontcourt player. He isn’t as quick as the backcourt players. His knowledge of the game enticed the Lakers to select him in the second round of the 2003 draft, and it has caused Coach Phil Jackson to occasionally turn to Walton in games.

“He’s doing pretty well,” said Jackson, who usually doesn’t have much use for rookies. “He had the ball more in his hands when he was a college player. We like to get the ball in his hands and give it to him when he has the opportunity. Guys trust him a little bit.”

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At Arizona, Walton would look to attack as soon as he got the ball. He’d work his way into the lane, draw a double-team and find a teammate for the open shot.

“Now I catch the ball, I just try to see where people are going,” he said. “I’m a lot more passive now than I would be if I was in college. It’s a lot less instinctive. I’m trying to get a feel for it, and trying to get comfortable out there.”

He played with such future NBA players as Richard Jefferson and Gilbert Arenas at Arizona, so the NBA athleticism isn’t a shock. But the strength is.

“In college, they’re athletic, but they’re still skinny, growing,” said Walton, who has 46 points and 27 assists. “These people out here, they’re grown men. You have to outthink people, get around them, as opposed to college where you could just back ‘em down and overpower young guys.”

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Sights

Karl Malone on the cover of the February issue of Men’s Fitness magazine, which dubbed him “The NBA’s Fittest Man.” In the interview he describes his workouts that include up to 2 1/2 hours of cardiovascular work and 100 reps with the dumbbells.

He also discusses his desire to be a movie action hero (with lots of guns and explosions), his pro wrestling experience and his black toenail polish.

Sounds

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The unmistakable voice of Jesse Ventura, the former governor of Minnesota, former pro wrestler and former TV analyst for everything from pro wrestling to the XFL. At halftime of Timberwolves’ games, he usually makes his way to the media dining area, where he dispenses his view on the game to anyone within earshot.

Here’s what he had to say during the Lakers’ loss to the Timberwolves Tuesday night: “It’s so abundantly clear who the MVP is on the Lakers. When you remove [Shaquille] O’Neal they aren’t even close to the same team ... McMahon.”

(OK, maybe not.)

Faces in the Crowd

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Adam Sandler, Kenny Lofton, Jan. 4 vs. Clippers.

Kirby Puckett, music producer Jimmy Jam, Tuesday at Minnesota.

Shannon Sharpe, Wednesday at Denver

Christina Aguilera, Ludacris, Friday vs. Atlanta

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In a Word

“Chaotic”

Jackson’s prediction for Kobe Bryant’s first game at Denver since his arrest on a sexual assault charge in Eagle, Colo., last summer. There were loud boos, a few signs and derisive chants, plus a crowd of 30 reporters awaiting Bryant at his locker afterward, but no major incidents.


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