USA TODAY Sports’ Dan Wolken previews the NCAA championship game, which will be a frontcourt-heavy battle between UNC and Gonzaga.

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Leave it to Bill Walton to offer a unique take on the Final Four.

Saturday, after watching South Carolina lose to Gonzaga and North Carolina beat Oregon, Walton told USA TODAY Sports, “I’ve spent more time this week in my life thinking about South Carolina than my entire first 64 years. And the question that keeps popping into my mind is, ‘Why are there two Carolinas?’

“The impact and effect that that has on our country, on our world, on our lives, in a place like California, is immense.’’

Walton, the retired basketball star who’s doing commentary for Westwood One, declined to comment on President Donald Trump, who picked up 24 electoral votes by winning North Carolina and South Carolina. But he did say, “We’re going to keep fighting. We’re going to keep doing everything we can. As the song goes, ‘Fire on the mountain. It takes all you’ve got to stay on the beat.’”

Those song lyrics belong to Walton’s cherished band, The Grateful Dead, and on Saturday Walton sounded grateful for many things. Such as Przemek Karnowski, Gonzaga’s bearded 7-foot-1, 300-pound center who scored 13 points and grabbed five rebounds in Gonzaga’s 77-73 victory against South Carolina.

“I love beards,’’ Walton said. “I wish I could grow one.

“I love the way Karnowski plays. I love footwork, I love skill and I love passing and I love offense. And he does all that stuff.

“He’s a great foundational player. Super fun. He’s different, and I respect and appreciate diversity.’’


Walton also is a proud dad, especially grateful that his son, Luke, is coaching the Los Angeles Lakers — even though Bill made it clear he’s bummed out the Lakers are 21-55, the second-worst record in the league.

Speaking of dads, Walton shared his thoughts on LaVar Ball, the headline-generating father of UCLA star Lonzo Ball.

“I’ve never met LaVar,’’ Walton said. “But I learned years ago, I learned this from John Wooden and Thurgood Marshall, never to get in the way of a dad from doing what he’s going to do to help his son.

“He’s making his choice and that’s his choice. And who I am I to say anything about that? He wants what’s best for his son and it’s his choice. And it’s still America.’’

Slight pause.

“We hope,’’ he added with a chuckle. “God help America.’’

Walton expressed more confidence in the state of college basketball than the United States, with the season culminating Monday when North Carolina plays Gonzaga in the national championship game.

“It was a great year,’’ he said. “I loved this year in college basketball. These two teams that are playing for the top spot on Monday night, they represent a lot of good things out there.’’

But most of all, Walton seemed to be grateful for his life.

“Never been busier, never been happier, haven’t been this healthy since I was 13 years old,’’ he said. “And having the time of my life.  I don’t deserve it, but I’m not going to turn it down.”


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