Walton's Game is Wave of the Future

Luke Walton has been one of the better all-around players in the nation for most of the season. However, since his return from injury, Walton has been as good or better than anyone in America. Even his shooting has improved dramatically. Is Luke Walton an All-American in 2002? You decide.

Luke Walton is reason number one why shooting is overrated in basketball. His percentages won't remind anyone of Steve Kerr or Ray Allen anytime soon, but his all-around play might lead some to recall Larry Bird or Magic Johnson.

At 6-8 and 235-pounds, Walton has the size of the two NBA legends and the passing ability as well. Unfortunately, the only thing keeping someone like Duke Vitale from sharing this sentiment and actually making the comparisons publicly is Walton's lack of a reliable jumper.

That's the knock on the wonderfully versatile Wildcat junior from San Diego. That's the only knock.

Walton has the blood of college basketball's royalty coursing through his veins thanks to his father, Big Bill. He is now playing like someone who respects his lineage and he's trying to further the family tradition of excellence.

The elder Walton was twice a National Champion and twice college basketball's Player of the Year while at UCLA in the early 70's. It's important to note that Bill's third of four sons, Luke, has incorporated all that his father has taught him about the teachings of former Bruin legend John Wooden.

In fact, the basic principles of Wooden's infamous "Pyramid of Success" are staples in the Walton household.

"I grew up listening to everything my dad and (Wooden) said," Walton said earlier in the season.

Wildcat head coach Lute Olson had this to say about his junior captain: "Luke is exactly the type of player Wooden loves to watch. He's unselfish and he plays all aspects of the game."

Already considered one of the smartest players ever to play at Arizona, Walton uses his superior intelligence to offset some of his limitations as an athlete.

For instance, Walton is not overly quick yet he rarely gets beat off the dribble by his man and he can penetrate for easy scores past his usually more athletic defenders. Another example of playing smart basketball is how Walton finds ways to come up with near-double digit rebound totals every night. He is not a good leaper by present-day basketball standards but he positions himself and anticipates so well that he is always around the ball on a missed shot.

"You can never have enough Luke Waltons," Arizona assistant coach Jay John said.

On the year, Walton is averaging 14.4 points, 7.8 rebounds and 6.1 assists per game. Each of those numbers is up considerably from his career averages. His assist total leads the Pac-10 conference, an amazing fact considering he spends the majority of his time at the two forward positions.

However, when detractors of Walton want to downplay all that he has done, they always point to his shooting percentages. And for the most part, they are generally right.

Walton has been a below average three-point (.250) and free throw (.667) shooter but he is very good on turnarounds, fade-aways and leaners in the lane. All of which leads one to ask the question, "how is that possible?"

His mechanics, although somewhat slow, are relatively solid for a big man. He doesn't get much lift on his three-point attempts and that hurts his arc (and thus, his touch) and he seems to not use his legs enough at the line either. According to most coaches, these are flaws that are imminently fixable.

Wow, imagine Luke Walton hitting two or three shots from downtown per game with regularity while also making about two more free throws during a game. All the sudden no one's talking about Duke's Mike Dunleavy as America's best all-around weapon.

But for one to focus on what Walton is not great at would be like saying Babe Ruth didn't steal enough bases. Instead, it is important to look at what they can do so well.

Many college basketball pundits have described Walton as one of the nation's best passers…for a big man. If any of those so-called experts had actually seen Walton play outside of last year's national championship game they would see what has become so obvious to those who are fortunate enough to see this playmaking virtuoso play on a nightly basis.

"Luke effects the game in all areas," Olson said. "He effects it with his passing, his rebounding and his scoring, so he is certainly one of the top all-around players, not only in this conference, but around the country."

That Luke Walton is the best passer in America. Qualifications need not be made. He is what he is. Let your eyes decide for themselves whether or not you agree.

"Ever since I started playing I've always tried to be a good all-around player," Walton said. "I grew up passing because when you have two older brothers (Nate and Adam) they don't always let you shoot.

"I've always taken the approach that it's a team game and that you should do as much as you can to help the team."

Walton has done more than his share with this young but talented Arizona team. He's done more than just about anyone's share for that matter. He's the team's most vocal leader, he is the extension of Olson on the court (along with Jason Gardner), and he leads the team in rebounding and assists while placing second in scoring and steals per game.

Since returning from a strained right Achilles' tendon that sidelined him for three and a half games, Walton has led Arizona to a 4-2 record and has improved his game so dramatically that maybe the rest of the Cats ought to consider playing with their own Achilles'. Not counting a foul-plagued performance at Washington, Walton has been superb, averaging 20.8 points, 8.4 rebounds, 8.4 assists, 2.2 steals and 1.6 blocks. His shooting has even been noticeably better. He has made 4-8 threes over the last six and has shot 57% since his comeback.

Oh, and he had one of the best all-around performances in Arizona history (arguably THE best) with a 27-point, 11-rebound, 10-assist, four-steal, four-block masterpiece against USC two weeks ago. The triple-double was Walton's first as a Wildcat. It will not be his last.

Another former UCLA player of the year, this time Fox Sports Net's Marques Johnson, called Walton one of the finest players in the game and stated that he is a threat for a triple-double every time he sets foot on a basketball court.

It's really too bad that the rest of the nation hasn't taken notice of Walton's incredible progression as a player yet. ESPN is the pulse of the nation when it comes to sports and, in particular, getting recognition in sports. One small SportsCenter feature on Luke or even one small Walton tidbit from Vitale would serve to introduce the nation to the basketball genius that is Luke Walton.

Unfortunately, Vitale--the most recognizable of all voices in the college game (that's unfortunate as well, come to think of it)--is too busy talking about Duke, Jason Williams, Duke, Mike Krzyzewksi, Duke and Cameron's Crazies. When he's not talking about that stuff, he's usually talking about…well, Duke.

Recently it came to my attention by an East Coast team's fan (we'll say UConn for anonymity's sake) that the country really doesn't know how good Walton has become of late. One guy went so far as to call Walton a "stiff".

If Walton is a stiff, I want a whole team of ‘em, who's with me?

The feeling here is that not only is Luke Walton America's most improved player from a year ago but also that he is a worthy candidate for All-American honors as well. Not as a senior in 2003, but this year. Show me a guy who does more for his team and what you'll come up with is a blank piece of paper.

He won't make any of the three All-American teams this year because he is not the flashy scorer that someone like Dunleavy is, nor is he a great pure shooter like Stanford's Casey Jacobsen. The real crime will come when the eastern media votes Kentucky's Tayshaun Prince an All-American over Walton. Prince shoots 25-footers to get noticed and that's about it. Walton does everything else.

Once again, it's a case of where people need to realize how overrated being a good sho

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