Los Angeles Lakers forward Luke Walton will round out the University of Memphis coaching staff as the third and final assistant, U of M coach Josh Pastner announced Monday.
“We’re really excited about it,” Pastner said. “You’re talking about a guy that’s been with the Lakers for eight years. He’s been part of four NBA finals, (has) two NBA rings, and has been in the huddle with (former Lakers coach) Phil Jackson, who’s arguably one of the greatest coach in all of sports.”
Pending approval by the Tennessee Board of Regents, Walton will arrive in Memphis this week and will begin working out with the team on Saturday, the first day of individual workouts.
Walton’s contract with the Tigers will be immediately voided upon resumption of NBA operations, which are currently ceased due to the league’s lockout, and he will return to the Lakers. Pastner said he's taking a calculated risk by hiring Walton but that he expects Walton to be with the team at least until December.
Walton, who has two years left on his NBA contract, played for the University of Arizona from 1999-2003 and was the 32nd overall pick in the 2003 NBA draft. In eight years with the Lakers, Walton has averaged five points, 2.9 rebounds, and 2.3 assists.
“For us, I felt that this was best for our guys right now, to have the opportunity to develop and win at a high level,” Pastner said. “You’re bringing in a guy, with the wealth of experience he’s had — it’s unmatched.”
Walton’s duties with the Tigers will primarily revolve around working with the big men on the team, like sophomore forward Tarik Black and junior college transfer Stan Simpson.
“He’s full go-ahead,” Pastner said. “I’m going to throw him in the fire. I told him, ‘This isn’t walking on eggshells.’ He’ll be in charge of the frontline guys. Bottom line. That’s why he wants (the job).
“Of course, I’ll be there to help get him going, but it’s his deal. He’s going to have to watch film with them. I’m going to hold him responsible to continue to develop those guys.”
With the hire of Walton, every member of the Tigers’ coaching staff originates from the University of Arizona; Pastner, Damon Stoudamire, and Walton as players, Jack Murphy as a student.
Walton is the son of former UCLA Bruin and Portland Trailblazer Bill Walton, who was a part of the 1973 Bruins team that defeated the Tigers in the NCAA championship game.
“The irony of it all is Bill Walton, who’s in the hall of fame, was 21-of-22 in the ‘73 game,” Pastner said. “If you remember, (late U of M guard) Larry Finch helped Bill Walton off the floor there when he hurt his ankle. It’s irony how things work out.”
Just last week, Pastner told the Memphis Commercial Appeal that he was prepared to go through the season with just two assistants on staff. He said Monday that he felt Walton was a good fit with the team.
“I’m not going to rush anyone I hire or anything I do. I’m going to take my time,” Pastner said. “I feel that’s the most important thing to do, even if it takes longer in time. I know that wears on people, it wears on me, but that’s just part of being a head coach.”