Thompson rivalry inspired Walker

Before everyone wonders why I had interest in the University of Louisville before I signed with Kentucky and had a great career with the Wildcats, let me explain.

I had a brother that played against Derek Smith, who went to Louisville, in the Georgia basketball playoffs. I got a chance to watch him play. We knew Denny Crum was recruiting him. When I got to be a sophomore and junior, that's when Derek Smith was at Louisville and won a national championship in 1980. We were proud for a guy from our area of Georgia to be a part of a national championship. That's when I really first got into college basketball.

I was being recruited and looking at some schools, but that was my first big taste of watching college basketball. I remember Louisville and Darrell Griffith playing against UCLA in the national championship finals. I will never forget that. UCLA was the favorite. Crum had been an assistant at UCLA under Wooden. There was so much hype surrounding the game. They won it with great athletes. That always stuck out in my mind.

But Louisville never recruited me that hard. Instead, they went after Billy Thompson. That was fine, too, because Kentucky stepped in nicely. Thompson was ranked as the No. 1 power forward in high school, and I was ranked No. 2. We went against each other at a couple of basketball camps. Because he was going to Louisville and I was going to Kentucky, that hyped our battles even more.

Just like Frazier and Ali, Billy Thompson brought out the best in me. I had some of my better games going against him. Not necessarily because Louisville took him over me, either. He was ranked the best coming out of high school, but we always competed in high school, college and even the NBA. He always brought out the best in me.

But I didn't come to Kentucky to get back at Louisville and Billy Thompson. When I looked at the recruiting process, I looked at the tradition of those programs. Obviously, when Kentucky calls, you listen. Not to take anything away from Louisville, but Kentucky really had more tradition and, at that time, more to offer.

It was no disappointment for them to go after Billy and that left Kentucky to come after me. I think it worked out well for both of us.

The only thing I regret is 1986 when Denny Crum and Billy Thompson walked away with the NCAA championship. We were close. If we had not had to play LSU for a fourth time and got beat (in the regional), who knows what might have happened. They changed the rule the next year so that wouldn't happen.

But it was funny how me, Kentucky and Louisville intertwined. The original Dream Game started my freshman year down in Knoxville, Tenn., in the NCAA Tournament. Then the rivalry was really on.

So my rivalry with Billy Thompson and Louisville was about a lot of things. So all I can say is, God bless Billy Thompson and Denny Crum because they brought out the best in me.

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