Throughout the lockout, we have seen players look at overseas opportunities, playing in pro-am leagues, and even returning to college to complete their education. Breaking new ground among his peers, Luke Walton has agreed to join the Memphis Tigers as an assistant coach until the lockout ends, a story first broken by Adam Zagoria on Twitter. In a statement this morning from the university, Memphis head coach Josh Pastner left the following comments:
"Luke is going to bring great excitement and great energy to the Tigers program, and we're thrilled to have him," said Pastner. "Luke is someone who has not only played for but also learned from arguably one of the greatest coaches in basketball history in Phil Jackson. Luke's also played with and against the best-of-the-best at the highest level of basketball in the NBA, including being a teammate of one of the NBA's all-time greats in Kobe Bryant.
"Luke will be a great coach because he brings a wealth of knowledge and a winning attitude to the Tigers program. His experiences, which include playing in four NBA Finals and winning two NBA World Championships, are lessons that he can share with our players to help them grow and develop their games."
Luke is certainly familiar with the college game, as he was an All-American and finalist for the Wooden Award at Arizona, and also has experience with Pastner, who an assistant coach for Arizona during that period. While comments to the effect that Luke should retire and get a seat on the Lakers' bench were made in good fun, they also speak to his basketball acumen, something Phil undoubtedly appreciated and which he will certainly put to good use at Memphis. Memphis' only prospect of note is freshman Adonis Thomas, an explosive athlete with high basketball IQ and a good motor, who is projected for the mid-first round. Anything Walton can do to steer him in the Lakers' direction would be appreciated.
UPDATE (12:42 AM): In a phone interview with the Associated Press, Walton made some comments on his new gig:
"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.
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."
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."
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."
First, holy crap, Bill Walton. Reminds you of how good he was back then. In any case, this appears to be the best of all worlds for Luke, as he's well aware that his career is winding down, and that the end of his contract is likely a death knell for any hope he has of sticking in the league. Regardless of how Memphis performs next season, getting firsthand experience on the bench will be a valuable experience for him and a nice mark on his resume should he pursue coaching in the pros or in college following the end of his career. And although the note that he will continue to work out is endearing -- not to mention the fact that he actually has a personal shooting coach, considering how utterly terrible his stroke has looked in recent years -- one would hope that any future court time he sees are harmless garbage minutes while Devin Ebanks gets more reps to continue his development.