Lakers’ Luke Walton adjusts to role as college assistant
It didn’t take Luke Walton long to start popping up in living rooms.
The Lakers forward has jumped into his temporary job as an assistant coach with the University of Memphis, making his first home visit recently to help the Tigers recruit Alex Poythress, a Kevin Durant clone who lives near Memphis and is also considering Duke, Florida, Kentucky and Vanderbilt.
“I told him my story,” Walton said, sharing with the recruit how he went from a solid college player at Arizona to an eight-year career with the Lakers.
It has been almost surreal for Walton to be on the other side of the player-coach relationship as he waits for the NBA lockout to end.
“It’s definitely different than the NBA,” he said. “That’s why I took the job, to see the difference between the two worlds. It’s frustrating because in the NBA it’s all about basketball. You get to college, and there are so many rules and restrictions.”
Walton said he learned that coaches can never send text messages to recruits, can talk to non-seniors only once a month, and can watch recruits play but can’t talk to them or their family members at games.
For Walton, the most annoying rule limits college coaches to only two hours a week with players during the off-season. Memphis coaches work with players on the court for about 30 minutes a day, four days a week, until practices officially begin this week.
“By the time we get warm and going, we tell the kids they have to go,” Walton said. “They want to get better, we’re out here to help them get better, then they have to leave.”
Walton, 31, has two more years and $11.5 million remaining on his Lakers contract. He will return to the team if the NBA lockout ends.
Meanwhile, he has always been curious about what his post-playing career would be like, and coaching seems the next logical step.
Despite the regulations that come with his new assistant college coach title, Walton’s managing to enjoy himself.
“It’s a lot of fun to see them start growing as players in the month or so I’ve been here,” he said. “They want to do everything they can. The NBA’s the ultimate goal. They want to know as much from us as they can about that.”
Walton was hired by Memphis head Coach Josh Pastner, a former teammate of Walton’s at Arizona more than a decade ago. Former NBA and Arizona guard Damon Stoudamire is on the Memphis staff as well.
Walton has full access to the trainers and weight room at Memphis, something he didn’t have with the Lakers because NBA players are banned from using their team’s training facility during the lockout. His chronically sore back has good and bad stretches, he says, during daily workouts that include shooting, running on the court and training with the Memphis strength coach.
He stays in touch with Lakers teammate and players’ union President Derek Fisher, “half on a friend note and half to hear what’s going on with the lockout,” but Walton has been able to push from his mind the drama accompanying the probable loss of some regular-season games ... if not more than that.
“I’m always optimistic, but it’s one of those things where it’s out of my control,” he said. “I’m not going to sit here and stress about it every day and lose sleep. This coaching thing helps me. I don’t have time to think about the lockout, to be honest.”
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