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Commentary: Gonzaga big man Drew Timme has a big fan in the big redhead, Bill Walton

Jan. 11, 2023 Updated Wed., Jan. 11, 2023 at 10:14 p.m.

By Dave Boling For The Spokesman-Review

Watch Drew Timme and you’ll witness an expanding repertoire of basketball moves, high-percentage shooting and a creative dismantling of defensive schemes designed specifically to stop him.

In such high-traffic close quarters, with so many leapers aloft, he’s a baseline Baryshnikov weaving to the hoop, exuding joy in the process.

Maybe it’s a product of aging eyes, but when Timme’s game is at peak efficiency, I see parallels to the play of a young Bill Walton in his UCLA days.

So, who better to address the status, progress and potential of the senior Gonzaga forward than the master himself – Bill Walton?

In a phone interview this week, Walton was effusive. Perhaps his natural state.

“I love Drew Timme,” Walton said. “He’s an exuberant force of nature like few others. He plays with boundless enthusiasm, he’s got an incredible skill level, he’s got a mind that separates him from the crowd. He’s so mobile, light on his feet; he has the creativity of a genius and he has a very vivid imagination. And he’s super fun. What’s not to love?”

Exactly, there’s nothing not to love.

Timme is again in consideration for player of the year honors, averaging 21.8 points a game on 61.5% shooting for the No. 8-ranked Zags.

Before his  successful but injury-plagued NBA career (Finals MVP 1977, NBA MVP 1978), Walton powered the latter stages of the UCLA dynasty of coach John Wooden, averaging 20.3 points in his career, while the Bruins went 86-4 in his three varsity seasons.

The Zags are 104-10 in Timme’s three-plus seasons.

Walton has been a television commentator for years, known for his wide-ranging non sequiturs and hyperbolic allusions. He flirts with the metaphor of basketball being life, or maybe it’s the other way around, but from his comments it’s clear that he sees life as a bigger place, and beautiful, where everything is connected and a basketball bounces through it.

“I love Gonzaga basketball,” Walton said. “What (coach) Mark Few has done there is just exhilarating; it makes you feel good about the world and feel good about our future, that we have a chance.”

You’ll notice some long quotes because he’s the famously voluble Bill Walton, and when he starts riding that stream of consciousness to the rim, you’d be a damned fool to step in and try to draw the charge. But sometimes clarification is necessary.

Wait, you’re talking about Gonzaga basketball’s influence on the future of the world?

“When you watch Gonzaga basketball, they epitomize all that’s good in the world in terms of their style, their culture, their identity, player development, physical fitness, the volcanic-eruption starts, the constant fast breaks … and Drew Timme is the personification, the embodiment of that.”

And on a personal note: “Our job as human beings is to try to make other peoples’ lives better. Drew Timme has made my life better …”

Timme has made your life better?

“Sure, the enjoyment of watching him and learning what’s possible out there. He’s not afraid to try things that have never been done before – his footwork, his moves. He’s the best of the best, the change of pace, change of direction, and how he’s got a dream of how everything is going to work out.”

You can translate his dreams in life by watching him hoop?

“Oh, gosh, yes, don’t you? He’s very much like the Spokane Falls, he just keeps coming, and even the hardened lava cannot stop him or make him change direction. It’s fabulous.”

More than ever, Timme is facing double-teams and combination defenses, which create new challenges every game. Walton dealt with this for years. Was it exhausting?

“It’s inspiring, not exhausting,” he said. “It’s not a burden, it’s a privilege. When the other team makes the commitment to double-team you, you’ve done your job. He’s such a team player; he selflessly dedicates his game, his life, his spirit, his soul, his heart to the betterment of Gonzaga basketball. What more could you ask? It’s perfect.”

Walton also cited Timme’s passing and clutch play in big games, even though, at 6-foot-10, he’s sometimes at a physical disadvantage against elite frontcourts.

“He’s going up against guys who often have a lot more going for them in terms of size and strength and power and muscular development,” Walton said. “He’s playing most games against the winners of the genetic lottery.”

The only thing still missing for Timme, Walton said, is a national championship. Yes, Walton knows a great deal about those, winning two and once losing in the NCAA semifinals.

What the Zags might need from Timme to get a championship this season is the kind of performance that Walton fashioned in the 1973 title game against Memphis State. In the gold standard of big-game perfection, Walton scored 44 points on 21-for-22 shooting from the floor.

Some NBA analysts have questioned Timme’s fit at the highest level. Walton sees nothing but further success.

“Absolutely. He could play on any good team I’ve ever seen because he can be both a lead player and a complimentary player in the same game. I never see an out-of-control ego getting in the way of the team goal, never see selfishness. I see a man who has a purpose-driven life in the glorious celebration of all that life presents to a young man.”

After advocating the lofty causes of common sense, fairness, human decency and kindness in the world, Walton offered perhaps his highest compliment of Timme.

“He just seems like a really good dude, a really cool dude, a guy you want to say, ‘Hey, man, let’s go play some basketball and let’s have fun doing it.’ ”

Just picture that, the two of them shooting around, trying out moves, talking about basketball and facial hair, the power of flowing rivers and well-executed fast breaks, and everything else that flitters into their curious minds.

Wouldn’t you pay to watch them, and hear the glorious celebration as they explore the stages of life for great post players?

Maybe it wouldn’t actually make the world a better place, but it would be great entertainment.

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