Bill Walton Has Never Been More Energized About `The Conference of Champions'

Former UCLA Star Doesn't Miss a Thing in a 9-Minute ESPN Filibuster
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This is Bill Walton’s moment and for nine minutes on Sunday morning he was letting the entire world know about the Conference of Champions.

Perhaps not since he orchestrated the Portland Trail Blazers’ 1977 NBA championship or shot 21 for 22 against Memphis in the ’73 Final Four championship has Walton been on the kind of roll he was while appearing on ESPN’s College Game Day program.

Walton, the erstwhile UCLA star and Grateful Dead devotee, was at the top of his game. So much so, that neither host Rece Davis nor panelists Jay Bilas, Seth Greenberg or LaPhonso Ellis could get a word in edgewise.

Walton began with a rant about the NCAA setting up a bracket that paired Oregon and USC in today’s regional semifinal (6:45 p.m., TBS). Then he groused about USC freshman Evan Mobley being left off the 10-player list of Wooden Award finalists.

Throughout his segment, Walton repeatedly referred to ESPN's Jay Bilas -- perhaps the best-known and most-respected analyst in college basketball -- as “Jake,” which had the entire Game Day crew in stitches.

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Barely coming up for air, Walton went on to dissect the USC-Oregon matchup.

“The key for USC is to have Isaiah Mobley — Evan’s older brother — be the assertive force he was against Kansas,” Walton said of the Trojans’ 85-51 win over the Jayhawks. “When Kansas came in with a good team, great coach, and USC played one of the great games they’ve ever played in their program history.

“This game will be the challenge of who can be the champion in terms of today. They’re both coming off their best games of the season . . . when Oregon ran Iowa out of there. I don’t know how all these truck-stop teams get such high seedings when they just keep losing all their games.”

The seventh-seeded Ducks routed the No. 2 seed Hawkeyes 95-80.

Walton praised his alma mater, the 11th-seeded Bruins, who face No. 2 Alabama today (4:!5 p.m., TBS).

“One of the remarkable things about UCLA is that in 14 months this team has gone from nothing to being on the cusp of yet another championship, he said. "Never forget, Jake, that UCLA has the most championships of all the programs out there, three ahead of Kentucky, and then who know who’s behind them.

“We the alumni at UCLA are incredibly proud of the job Mick Cronin has done. This guy has come in and he has got the team in shape, playing hard, playing together as a team, playing to win and they improve over time and that’s the job of a coach.”

And Walton had special praise for Oregon State, whose 65-58 win over Loyola-Chicago on Saturday sends them into the Elite 8 as a No. 12 seed in just the program’s second NCAA appearance since 1990.

"While the dynamism for the Beavers is in the backcourt . . . it’s what the front court has been able to do for the Beavers, to be able to come in and dominate,” Walton said. “The real gem is (Warith) Alatishe. Alatishe, Alatishe . . . who just seems to float over the herd.”

Alatishe, a springy 6-foot-7 junior forward, had 10 points and 11 rebounds against Sister Jean’s favorite team.

“It’s like he never touches the ground. I cannot feel my feet and I don’t know where the sky is. Above us only sky,” Walton said. “When I watch Alatishe I just grin with pride and joy and hope and optimism.”

Walton then transitioned once more.

“We haven’t even talked about the women’s matchups. We’ve got Stanford, we’ve got Oregon, we’ve got Arizona,” he said. “If you’re having a bad day, watch Stanford women play basketball.

“We are Conference of Champions. There are no truck stops here. We’ve found our way to the top of the promised land, the top of the mountain.”

Davis, the host, finally had to break in, with producers no doubt thrilled with the segment but wondering when they’d fit in their next commercial break.

“Regardless of where you stand politically, I think you’ve now seen the power of the filibuster,” Davis said. “And also, not being able to feel your feet and reaching for the sky, that might be the result of something else.

“Always good to have you, my friend. We’ll try to get the Pac-12 doubters like Jake back in line.”

Cover photo of Bill Walton by Ron Chenoy, USA Today

ollow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo