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Luke Walton hire makes Memphis’ staff as young as it gets


Mike Miller

Memphis relied on one of Conference USA’s youngest rosters last season. It’ll have a coaching staff to match in 2011-12.

The Tigers announced Monday that Lakers forward Luke Walton will be its newest assistant coach, giving Josh Pastner’s team four coaches in their 30s. Walton, 31, joins Pastner, 33, and assistants Jack Murphy, 32, and Damon Stoudamire, 37. That’s one way to connect with freshmen and sophomores. Hire guys who could be their peers.

Is that a good thing when it comes to developing talent and building an offense that was sorely lacking last year? Remains to be seen.

Not that Pastner’s worried. All three assistants have extensive NBA playing experience or have spent at least two years working with NBA teams. That outweighs everything else.

“Are we young? Absolutely,” he said. “You’re talking experience, a guy like Damon Stoudemire, 13 years in the NBA as a player, let alone not even talking about what he did as a coach. Luke Walton’s played in four NBA finals. You can coach your whole entire life you can’t talk about those experiences.”

Besides, it never hurts your recruiting to trot out NBA guys. And Walton will be doing just that (provided the hire is approved by the Tennessee state board of regents). Pastner said he’ll be giving Walton recruiting responsibilities and get him on the road if needed. Walton’s expected to be in Memphis by the weekend, assisting in various duties. (Walton better crack the NCAA rule book.)

Given the Arizona flavor to the staff – all four coaches spent their college years in Tucson – one might expect Lute Olson to join the staff as an advisor, much like Gene Keady did with Steve Lavin at St. John’s. Pastner says the Arizona connection is merely a coincidence, though there are worse things than building an Arizona-esque program.

Walton’s a solid prize for Pastner, too. NBA assistant Tim Grgurich recently passed on the same gig, so Walton gives the Tigers another NBA presence on the bench. He reportedly has a feel for coaching, too.

The only hitch? Once the NBA lockout ends, Walton’s back with his other employer, the Los Angeles Lakers, to whom he’s under contract for the next two years. (He’s not about to leave $11 million on the table, no matter how much he wants to get into coaching.)

But Pastner’s OK with it. He wants Walton on board and with his Tigers.

“I’d be willing to take the risk to try to get the best person for this immediate year, and even for the long term,” Pastner said. “The rewards outweighed the calculated risks.”

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.