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BILL WALTON: Calling the Shots

March 15, 1992|Steven Herbert | Times Staff Writer

Bill Walton, one of college basketball's most legendary players, is fast becoming one of the sport's top announcers. He served as an analyst on Prime Ticket's UCLA coverage this season and will have a similar position when CBS carries the NCAA tournament, beginning Thursday.

As a Bruin center from the 1971-72 to 1973-74 seasons, he was the catalyst for the team's record 88-game winning streak and national titles in 1972 and 1973.

The game was much different then. There was no 45-second clock, three-point shot or Big East Conference. Only 24 teams--and no more than one from a conference--were invited to the NCAA tournament, 40 less than today.

Television coverage of college basketball was different, too--much scarcer than today. The bulk of UCLA's games were aired on a delayed basis at 11 p.m. on KTLA. This season, the Bruins made appearances on NBC, ABC, ESPN, Prime Ticket and KCBS.

Walton, who also serves as part-time analyst for KCOP'S Clipper telecasts and for Dallas Maverick games, discussed college basketball then and now with Times Staff Writer Steven Herbert.

How far do you think your alma mater will go in the tournament?

I've been on record all year saying this team is good enough to win the whole thing, and it will be disappointing if they don't.

Is college basketball a better game today than when you played?

Pretty much everything is better--the players, facilities, the coaching, the travel. Playing on every different day of week is tough. It takes away from the players' (academic) aspects of their lives.

Do players talk more trash on the court today?

There have always been trash talkers. I think television over-amplifies the trash talking. I think TV also over-glorifies the dunk shot.

(When Walton played at UCLA, the dunk shot was illegal in college basketball.)

Are there too many regular season games on TV?

No, because it's great live entertainment, and there are a lot of good games and good teams out there. Each team has its fans. One thing that's really changed is that it has become much more of a national game than a regional game. You have these big cross-country events in the middle of the season, like Duke coming to play UCLA.

Has the growth of the tournament watered down the regular season?

The growth of the tournament has been great. It was wrong when USC had great teams and was unable to go to the tournament because it was second in the conference to UCLA. It has taken something away from the importance of the conference championship, but if you're going to have playoffs, let's have a bunch of teams come and play.

Why hasn't there been a dominant team this season?

There are a number of reasons. Guys who leave school early (for the NBA)--you have freshman eligibility where guys want to play right away. Guys are very concerned about their own playing time so they won't go to a team where there's competition for a spot.

At some schools, you would have players two or three deep. Those players who are really good who don't get the playing time will transfer to other schools just to get the playing time. You certainly can't fault them for that.

If you're going to have a really solid team, you have to have players top to bottom. You can't win with just a couple of players. That was one of (former UCLA Coach) John Wooden's real strengths--the top to bottom abilities of all the players. He just taught them how to play basketball brilliantly.

How would you assess your progress as an announcer?

Learning and developing.

How much are you enjoying it?

I love it. I just want to do more games and bigger and better games and eventually championship games.

Any secrets behind your success?

I love working hard. That's what really gets me going, is knowing how hard I have to work to get good at something. As a player, I would spend all my time working at it, not knowing it was work because it was so much fun. Fortunately, I'm still able to have that in my life. I work so hard at (announcing), but it's still something that I love.

A criticism of your announcing work is that you say "Let them play" too much, criticizing the referees' calls. How do you respond?

I think sometimes the referees call it too close. Basketball is a tough and physical game played by big people who are running full speed. There is going to be some amount of contact. I prefer it when the referees call violations when contact causes a change of possession, instead of calling little ticky-tack fouls.

I don't always agree with the referees' calls, just like I don't always agree with the players' decisions, the coaches' decisions or management's decisions. In broadcasting, I try to broadcast what I see.

The NCAA men's basketball tournament airs on CBS from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 9:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday and from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday. The tournament continues through April 8.

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