Bad back will keep Bill Walton at home instead of at Final Four to cheer on UCLA Print
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Thursday, 03 April 2008 12:31
NCAAB Headline News


 SAN ANTONIO (AP) -Bill Walton won't be in his usual seat at this weekend's Final Four cheering on his beloved UCLA Bruins.
The former center who starred on John Wooden's national championship teams in the early '70s has been laid up for more than a month because of a pinched nerve in his back and an aching hip.
``His back is all jacked up. He's going through a tough time right now,'' his son Luke Walton said Thursday. ``He can't go into the arenas and sit in those chairs. He definitely can't get on a plane. He said that's the most painful thing. He can barely get into a car right now. But he said he's getting better. Slowly getting better.''
Walton is following the Bruins' run through the NCAA tournament from his San Diego home. He's been off the air from his ESPN job doing NBA commentary.
``Sadly I am down and out,'' he wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press. ``Go Bruins.''
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SUMMER SCHOOL: The NCAA and coaches are looking into a new, 3 1/2-year program for basketball players that proponents believe would increase graduation rates by allowing players to complete big chunks of coursework during summer school.
NCAA president Myles Brand said the concept is based on the success many players have had starting coursework the summer before they start their freshman years. It would expand the program and place them in summer school after their freshman and sophomore years.
``It looks like those student-athletes who stay around ... during the summer do better academically and are in a tighter program,'' Brand said Thursday at his annual news conference before the Final Four. ``They may take less credits during the school year, but more during the summer.''
The plan is part of ongoing efforts to improve schools' academic performance rates. Brand said last year, 40 percent of Division I basketball schools faced sanctions under the NCAA's APR program, but that has declined to 17 percent this year.
He credited changes in the transfer rules - notably, a new rule that forces players to be academically eligible before they transfer - as a key to the improvement.
One of the biggest detriments, he said, is the high turnover rate in the coaching ranks, which often leads to players leaving, too. He said 18 percent of coaches left their jobs in the last two years.
The 3 1/2-year plan does present problems: What would players who complete their degree in 3 1/2 years do for the final semester, which would likely be their senior season? Brand suggests they could start work on a master's degree. And how would rules for coach-led practices change? There are specific windows during which coaches can run organized practices and the schedule would have to change.
``We'll have to balance that,'' Brand said.
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THE X-FACTOR: You heard it here first: The key to Memphis' Final Four will be No. 20, sophomore Doneal Mack.
So says Memphis coach John Calipari.
Talking Thursday about how the Tigers will replace suspended backup guard Andre Allen, Calipari began throwing out names. When he got to Mack, Calipari said, ``My prediction is he will be the difference in this tournament. He will be the guy we're all talking about.''
In that case, here's what you need to know.
A 6-foot-5, 175-pound shooting guard from Charlotte, N.C., Mack has 13 points and 15 minutes this tournament - with 10 of each coming in the opening round blowout over Texas-San Antonio. That might be why Calipari is trying to pump up his long, lanky lefty shooter.
Mack has proven capable of doing much more, leading the team with 66 3-pointers and scoring a career-best 23 points against Pepperdine.
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LEADING THE WAY: D.J. Augustin of Texas won the Bob Cousy Award as the nation's top point guard.
The sophomore led the Longhorns to a school-record 31 wins and the Big 12 Conference title before they lost to Memphis 85-67 in the South Region final.
Augustin averaged 19.2 points and 5.8 assists in the Big 12. He recorded better than a 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio, averaged 1.2 steals and shot 78 percent from the free throw line.
Augustin was chosen from 16 finalists among NCAA Division I, II and III schools nationwide in voting by 30 coaches, Hall of Fame members, sports information directors and media.
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AP Sports Writers Eddie Pells and Jaime Aron contributed to this report.
 

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