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Tuesday, April 11, 2006 | Luke Walton decided he’d been away from San Diego for too long, so the third-year Los Angeles Lakers forward is coming home after purchasing a summer residence in Rancho Santa Fe.
It’s something Walton can afford, like a lot of NBA players, but unlike a lot of pros he plans a working vacation the last week of June.
Walton and Richard Jefferson – Luke’s best friend from college, Arizona teammate and NBA colleague with the New Jersey Nets – went in together on their summer home. It allows them to spend the offseason in San Diego and host what they promise is a hands-on youth basketball camp – the Luke Walton and Richard Jefferson 2006 Summer Basketball Camp June 26-29 at Francis Parker School.
Well aware that many pro athletes lend their name to a camp and then make a token appearance, Luke emphasized he and Richard will be on the court with the campers all week.
“We’ve been going to basketball camps our whole lives, so we know what it takes to have a good camp,” Luke said. “It’s fun to be out there with the younger kids. We want to be teaching everyday and helping them get better. We want to share our basketball knowledge.”
What’s most interesting to me is Luke is filling in the only gap the Walton name lacked as the First Family of San Diego basketball.
It’s a history that touches every level, beginning with patriarch Bill Walton launching at Helix High his Basketball Hall of Fame career at UCLA and in the NBA. Bill even came home to play for the San Diego Clippers, signing as a free agent, although his chronic foot injuries prevented him from lifting the franchise before Donald Sterling hijacked the Clippers to Los Angeles.
All four of Bill’s sons played high school basketball in San Diego and continued their careers in college: Adam, LSU and Pomona; Nate, Princeton; Luke, Arizona; and Chris, San Diego State.
Luke became a second generation All-American at Arizona and then a second generation NBA player with the Lakers.
Chris, serving as Luke and Richard’s camp director, stayed home to grace San Diego State with the Walton name.
Luke, Chris and their cousin Kam, who played at Harvard, led University of San Diego High to the 1998 CIF State Division III title. Lincoln, Horizon and USDHS are the only San Diego schools to win a boys state title in basketball.
When Luke was a high school athlete playing in elite national camps and club tournaments, he didn’t like hearing that San Diego basketball lacked the reputation of San Diego football, baseball or other sports.
“We take a lot of pride in San Diego,” Luke said. “Where ever we went, people were talking trash about San Diego. We’re excited about having a camp in San Diego because there are more players coming out of San Diego than ever. (La Costa Canyon High senior) Chase Budinger, with his skills, is the next big player to come out of San Diego.”
The day camp is for boys and girls ages 7 to 18 and includes Walton and Jefferson offering 25 scholarships to campers who need assistance. With their Arizona ties, they started a camp two years ago in Tucson and have worked out the bugs of running a camp.
“We have the same belief that giving back to our community is a part of our responsibility as NBA players, and our camp allows us a platform, if you, to accomplish these goals,” Jefferson said. “Plus Luke and I enjoy spending the week with the campers, seeing them develop new skills on the floor and getting a chance to interact with our fans on a more casual level than during the NBA season.”
The camp features guest speakers in addition to the drills, with a guest separating the morning and afternoon sessions. One guest is Bill Walton, who offered some hyperbole you might be familiar with on his TV broadcasts, saying, “It will be the greatest summer basketball camp in the whole history of the NBA.”
You might chuckle that it couldn’t be too hard for Luke to line up his Dad as a guest, but actually this marks something of a coming out for Bill. He has gone to great lengths to stay in the background during his sons’ high school and college playing days so they could build as much as possible their own basketball identity.
Luke also has involved his mother, Susie, in the camp by designating a portion of the camp proceeds to her non-profit organization, Families Forever. Susie drove the four boys – wearing out several cars along the way – to their games and camps as they grew up and developed their skills.
“The camp is going to be a lot of fun,” Luke said. “We knew we wanted to do the camp a couple of years in Tucson before we tried it in San Diego. We’re planning to do it every summer.”
Tom Shanahan is voiceofsandiego.org’s sports columnist. He is the media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions. You can e-mail him at