Friday, January 4, 2019

Bill Walton On "Hard Cuts"

Bill Walton On Hard Cuts

It was back in 1995 or 1996 that Bill Carmody, still an assistant coach for the Princeton men's basketball team, came into TigerBlog's office and announced that "the greatest college basketball player of all-time is in the men's room."

It took TigerBlog a second to remember that Nate Walton was a Princeton recruit and so his father, Bill Walton, could have been in Jadwin Gym. It was only once he thought of who the greatest college basketball player of all time probably was that he put two and two together.

You can make a serious case that Bill Walton is the greatest college basketball player ever. Playing in the early 1970s, when freshmen were still ineligible for varsity, Walton won three national Player of the Year awards while leading UCLA to the 1972 and 1973 NCAA titles, including a 21-for-22, 44-point night against Memphis in the 1973 final. As a senior in 1974, UCLA lost four times, including having its 88-game winning streak stopped by Notre Dame 71-70 and then falling to North Carolina State 80-77 in two overtimes in the NCAA semifinals, ending a run of seven-straight championships for the Bruins, who would win again in 1975.

TigerBlog watched all three of those games on TV. The game against Memphis was just a case of sheer domination. The Notre Dame game was high on drama as the streak ended. The game against North Carolina State - led by David Thompson, who was basically Julius Erving and Michael Jordan combined before he hurt his knees - is one of the two best in college history, along with Duke's 104-103 win over Kentucky in the 1992 East final.

Walton would lead the Portland Trailblazers to the 1977 NBA title, and the 1977-78 Blazers started out 50-10 before Walton broke his foot, something that hindered him the rest of his career. Included in that start was a 107-106 win over the Knicks at the Garden on Dec. 10, a game TB attended.

Walton was big and strong and the best passing big man who ever played. Were it not for the injuries to his foot, he would be remembered in the same way that Bill Russell is as an NBA player.

UCLA, by the way, would win only one NCAA title since 1975, and that would be in 1995. The next season, 1996, saw Princeton knock off the Bruins 43-41 in the opening round. Nate Walton was a high school senior then.

Nate would be a first-team All-Ivy League selection after leading Princeton's most improbable Ivy championship team ever, the 2001 Tigers, who were led by a rookie head coach (John Thompson III) and a revamped lineup after Chris Young signed a professional baseball contract, Spencer Gloger transferred out and a few other projected rotation players weren't able to play.

Despite that, Princeton beat Penn 68-52 in Jadwin Gym on the final day of the regular season to win the title. On that night, where a Princeton win meant the championship and a Penn win would have meant a tie and a playoff game, Walton had one of the greatest stat lines of all time - nine points, eight rebounds, seven assists, six steals.

As TB looks back on all of the athletes he's known at Princeton, he'll always have a special fondness for Nate Walton, a natural leader who made every player on the court better, all while also having a great sense of humor about it all.

Clearly, Walton had a great experience at Princeton. And clearly his father is extremely proud of that.

If you saw Princeton's 67-66 win over Arizona State last weekend, you heard Bill Walton's commentary on the game. Much of it centered on Nate and his time here, and the lifelong respect that grew out of it for his father as far as Princeton and Princeton basketball are concerned.

If you didn't see this week's "Hard Cuts" and didn't click on the link up top, then watch it HERE. Bill Walton's passion for life and genuine love of Princeton basketball shine through. There's nothing phony about any of it.

The current Princeton Tigers will play the second game of a Carril Court doubleheader tomorrow against Penn in a matchup of the teams that have represented the Ivy League in the NCAA tournament the last two years. The day starts at 2 with the women's game and then continues at 5 with the men's game. The 1968-69 Princeton Tigers, who went 14-0 in the Ivy League and became the first of Pete Carril's 11 NCAA tournament teams, will be honored on the 50th anniversary of their championship season.

The women's game matches the teams that have won the league each of the last nine years (six for Princeton, three for Penn) and who are the 1-2 teams in the Ivy's preseason poll. More importantly, Princeton has won seven straight and is unbeaten with Bella Alarie while Penn is 8-2 overall and ranked first in the league and third in Division I in scoring defense at 49.0 per game.

Princeton and Penn have met at least twice a year every year since 1903 in men's basketball. It is by far the greatest rivalry in the history of Ivy League basketball - and, for TB's money, the best rivalry in any sport in Ivy history. It's always special when these two get together.

It's a Princeton-Penn basketball doubleheader, which makes it one of the most special days you'll have on the Princeton Athletics calendar.

And you know who Bill Walton is rooting for in this one.

Seriously, make sure you watch the "Hard Cuts" episode. It's very special.

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