Will Luke be Overlooked?
Posted Jun 24 2003 1:55PM
Despite hoops pedigree, Wildcat may be a wild card come draft day
New York, June 23 - Steve Kerr has played alongside superstars such as Michael Jordan and Tim Duncan during his 15-year NBA career. He’s also shared locker rooms with the likes of Dave Johnson and Gerard King. He knows how to tell which players have 10-year NBA ability and which players end up buying one-way tickets to Yakima.
“I keep telling everybody I see that they’d be stupid not to draft him in the first round,” said Kerr, who, like Walton, attended the University of Arizona and played for Coach Lute Olson. “If you look at him compared to the other guys who are going to go in the first round, he’s a better basketball player than 90 percent of them, maybe more.
Besides pedigree, the 6-8 Walton also has solid numbers, both statistically and in winning percentage. He is one of only three players in Pac-10 history to total 1,000 career points, 500 rebounds and 500 assists, joining former NBA players Ron Lee (Oregon) and Pooh Richardson (UCLA); and during his four-year career, the Wildcats won 102 of his 129 (.791) games played.
Walton, however, saw his draft stock tumble when a sprained ankle forced him to sit out four games during his senior year at Arizona. Hampered by the injury, Walton’s scoring average fell from 15.7 points his junior year to 10.8 points, while his field goal percentage slid from .470 to .420. He did rebound to post NCAA Tournament averages of 15.5 points, 7.3 rebounds and 7.3 assists in four games. In Arizona’s season-ending loss to Kansas in NCAA Elite Eight, the “point-forward” tallied 18 points, 10 rebounds and six assists.
Walton’s value appears to have taken an upturn with a solid performance in the NBA Pre-Draft Camp in Chicago.
Placed on a team that featured Boston College’s Troy Bell and BYU’s Travis Hansen, Walton ranked second in assists (6.0 apg) and ninth in rebounds (5.7 rpg). For a player whose jumper is suspect, Walton was the camp’s top three-point shooter, connecting on 75 percent of his attempts.
“I think I played well,” Walton said. “I was put on a good team. It was a lot of fun. All the people I had been playing against for a while were out there, so we had a good time with it. I had a good couple of games out there. It went as well as I could have expected it to.”
Walton probably didn’t think he would need a strong Pre-Draft Camp to solidify his place among the 58 players selected in this month’s draft, especially following a junior year at Arizona in which he became the first frontcourt player to lead the Pac-10 in assists (6.3 apg) and was the only player in the conference to be ranked in the top 15 in scoring and the top 10 in rebounds, assists and steals. Luckily for Walton, he has his father, who became well-accustomed to persevering through foot injuries throughout his Hall of Fame career, counseling him.
“Right now, the future is unknown,” said the younger Walton. “So, he tells me it’s a hard league to crack, to get into, but he tells me to keep working hard and hopefully, I’ll be able to make it in there.”
There is one person at least who has no doubt Luke Walton will be wearing an NBA uniform for years to come.
“I think Luke, one way or the other, he’s going to be in the league for 10 years,” emphasized Kerr. “I would love to have him on our team. I think a lot of teams would love to have him.”