Monday, August 22, 2011
Updated: August 23, 10:04 AM ET
Luke Walton to join Memphis bench
By Andy Katz and Diamond Leung
Los Angeles Lakers forward Luke Walton is about to land a job during the NBA lockout as a college assistant coach for the Memphis Tigers.
Walton, 31, has two years remaining on his contract with the Lakers and would remain a Memphis coach until the NBA season resumes, according to the school. Memphis coach Josh Pastner has recommended Walton join the staff, and his hiring is pending approval of the University and Tennessee State Board of Regents.
"It's going to be that opportunity to find out how much I'm into coaching and kind of get a lot of experience from this opportunity, to where I think most players don't get to do anything like that until they actually retire," Walton told The Associated Press in a phone interview.
Before being drafted by the Lakers and spending eight seasons with the team, Walton led Arizona to an Elite Eight appearance during his senior year in 2003 while Pastner was an assistant coach under Lute Olson.
Walton has made clear his priority is still as a pro player, but he enjoyed his taste of coaching high school players during a camp earlier this summer.
"When this came, I just think it's a golden opportunity to not only help the kids in Memphis but also to explore (coaching)," Walton said.
"I had a great time doing it and I think obviously I wanted to play basketball and I love basketball, but unfortunately for every player there comes the end of his career and it's just something I've been thinking about."
Pastner said he's looking forward to adding Walton's experience.
"I didn't coach or play in the NBA so I wanted to add someone who did," Pastner told ESPN.com's Andy Katz on Monday. "Luke has learned under one of the greatest coaches in Phil Jackson and played alongside Kobe Bryant.
"The risk is if the lockout ends early but I'm willing to take the risk to give our guys the best chance to win and Luke does that. He has won two rings and been in four NBA Finals."
Walton said Pastner assured him he'd have access to all the Tigers' trainers and equipment so he can continue working out. He plans to bring his personal shooting coach with him, and knows there are other pros to work out with in Memphis.
He'll earn a paycheck -- "obviously not what I was making in the NBA but still a very good living" -- but had other incentive to try it instead of seeking a low-paying playing job overseas, which he didn't think made sense given his injuries in recent years.
"It's an opportunity not about just finding a job with the lockout going. It's a lot bigger for me," Walton said. "It's huge as far as learning about coaching ... gives me the best opportunity possible to stay physically fit and physically ready."
Pastner said Walton has to follow NCAA rules but didn't need NCAA approval.
"He won't be a volunteer, he will be an official coach under contract," Pastner said. "He just needs board of regent approval."
Walton couldn't check with the Lakers for permission because of the lockout rules, which he wanted to do because "obviously my loyalty and my career still lies with them first," he said.
"My focus and main goal is as an NBA player," Walton added.
He did talk it over with his Hall of Fame father, Bill, who has his own history with Memphis. Bill Walton scored 44 points on 21 of 22 shooting to beat then-Memphis State 87-66 in the 1973 NCAA tournament championship.
"Obviously he knows and really likes the coaching staff over there and Josh," Luke Walton said. "He wasn't huge on me leaving Southern California to go to Memphis and do this, but he realized that it's a great opportunity and just like in every other thing I've done in my life, he said he'll stand behind me and support me."
Pastner has an NBA-centric staff with former Grizzlies assistant Damon Stoudamire and Jack Murphy, who was an advance scout with the Denver Nuggets.
And Pastner hired noted NBA workout guru Frank Matrisciano to be his strength coach.
"The only one who doesn't have NBA experience is the head coach," Pastner said. "Luke is very excited. He wants to coach."
Memphis lost two assistants in the offseason -- Willis Wilson to Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Glynn Cyprien to Texas A&M.
Andy Katz and Diamond Leung cover college basketball for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.