Bill Walton became emotional on live TV while sharing the story of Washington walk-on Connor Smith during Thursday’s telecast of UCLA’s 91-82 win over the Huskies in Seattle.
Smith, a senior from Wenatchee, Wash., was a standout at Wenatchee High School but health issues kept him from pursuing a college basketball career despite having scholarship offers. The 6-foot-9 big man dealt with stress fractures and degenerate disks in high school and was limited to just playing intramural sports in college, according to a story about him in The Olympian.
But after blocking the shot of one of the Huskies’ best players during a pickup game in his freshman year, Smith was convinced he could play at the top level. However, he had a serious health issue during the fall of his junior year.
As Walton related in his “Walton’s World” segment during ESPN2′s telecast, Smith spent 11 days in the hospital in Oct. 2012 to treat an internal bacterial infection in his pelvic area.
After recovering from the surgery, Smith decided to make a run at making the basketball team.
Smith got in contact with the team’s video coordinator and then with a few other walk-ons, and he was eventually invited by coach Lorenzo Romar to be a walk-on for the team. It helped that Smith was 6-foot-9, skilled, and had won MVP at Romar’s camp in 6th grade. It probably also didn’t hurt that his father, Alan, played for Washington during the ’70s.
Smith did not get into Thursday’s game, but he played seven minutes this season and even scored his first basket in a blowout win over Oregon State last month. He and Walton developed a friendship after he shared his story with Walton before a previous Huskies game for which Walton served as an analyst.
“Bill Walton and I, we’re homies,” Smith told The Olympian regarding his relationship with Walton. “Without this whole experience, I wouldn’t have ever been able to talk to people like that.”
As a big man whose career was cut short by multiple injuries, Walton could relate to Smith’s experience. In a 2010 LA Times article, Walton detailed the severe back pain he lived with that put his broadcasting career on hold. The pain was so bad Walton revealed that he contemplated suicide.
As someone who had been where Smith was, Walton knew exactly what the young man had overcome and that’s probably why he became so emotional sharing the great story.
H/T The Big Lead