Luke Walton discusses Jason Gardner, his former Arizona teammate

From 1999-2003, Lakers head coach Luke Walton played basketball alongside Jason Gardner at the University of Arizona. Gardner, a 1999 IHSAA State Champion at North Central High School and Indiana’s Mr. Basketball his senior season, is now the head coach at IUPUI.

Speaking after shootaround Monday as the Lakers prepared to face the Pacers, I asked coach Walton if he had any good stories about his former teammate.

“Yes,” he replied.

Care to share any of them?

“No.”

Ahh, the kind of teammate you want to have, one who has your back and isn’t willing to spill the beans. Well played.

Walton, however, later added that Gardner was “one of the best teammates I ever had. Quiet leader. A bunch of knuckleheads on our team, he kept us all in line. He was a calming force for us.”

On top of those two, 11-year NBA veteran Gilbert Arenas, a three-time All-Star, was part of the freshman class and even roomed with Gardner, whose number was retired at Arizona in 2005.

“Him and Gilbert Arenas lived together, which was a lot of challenges in its own right for Jason,” Walton said. “But he was the player if we needed a game-winning play, he was the one that was going to make it for us.”

The Wildcats advanced to the championship game of the NCAA Tournament in 2001 but they lost to Duke by ten. Walton said Gardner, who just completed his fourth season at IUPUI, planned to attend Monday’s game.

“Whenever I come to town, as long as the schedule allows it, we get together, sit down, talk hoops, his team and my team.”

Additionally, Walton, one of the more media-friendly coaches in the NBA, revealed that he considered Gardner for a vacancy on his staff last summer, but Gardner wanted to remain the coach of Jaguars.

“We actually even brought him out when we were interviewing for coaches this past summer but he felt like it was best to stay here in Indiana.”

Miles Simon was hired. Half of Walton’s assistants are Arizona grads: Jesse Murmuys, Jud Buechler, and Simon. And his associate head coach is Brian Shaw, the former Pacers assistant who Larry Bird hoped would return to Indy and serve in a similar capacity on Nate McMillan’s staff in 2016. But Shaw chose to remain out west in L.A.

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