During the 2011 NBA Lockout, players did different things to stay busy. For Luke Walton, that meant beginning his coaching career.
Walton joined the staff at the University of Memphis as an assistant under Josh Pastner, who Walton knew from his time at Arizona where Pastner was also a player as well as an assistant coach. Walton remained an assistant until the lockout ended.
On Saturday night, Walton returned to Memphis as a head coach for the first time, on the same floor where he began his career on the sidelines. Before the game, Walton reflected about his time with the Tigers, noting that he didn’t get to work with players as much as he would have liked via Bill Oram of the OC Register:
“I didn’t get to spend as much time working with the players as I would have liked,” Walton said before the Lakers’ 103-100 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday at FedEx Forum. “A lot of it was spending it in the office, recruiting and things like that. It was a good experience to see that side of it. But as far as working with the younger guys, I don’t think how it’s set up right now is best for a lot of these young players.”
NCAA rules allowed Walton to only work with players for 30 minutes, twice per week. Though he enjoyed the experience, Walton says the time there made it clear that coaching in the NBA was his preference:
“The time I spent and was allowed to be with the players on the court, I really loved,” Walton said. “But because of all the other stuff, it was nice to realize the NBA was probably the way I wanted to go instead of college.”
The Lakers franchise, as well as its fans, are certainly happy that Walton decided to go the NBA route as he has jumpstarted the re-building effort for this franchise with his ability to get the most out of this young roster.
Walton has gotten plenty of praise from coaches around the league for the job he’s done, including new Grizzlies coach David Fizdale. It all began in Memphis for Walton, but it’s Los Angeles where he is leaving his mark.