"On defense I make a point of knowing where all my guys are, all the time," says Walton, "so when I get the ball, even while facing the basket, I am thinking about the fast break. I know Henry [Bibby] is over here, and Keith [Wilkes] is close by and Larry [Farmer] is at least within 10 feet of me. When I'm trailing the play and see everything materialize in front of me—wow! That pleases me the most."
From the fourth through the eighth grade at Blessed Sacrament school in San Diego, Walton played whatever sport was in season under Frank Graziano, a fireman whose only pay for the long hours he spent with the kids was gasoline money. It was Graziano who taught the Waltons and their friends the basics of basketball and who convinced Walton, at the end of his eighth-grade year, to forget high school football (he was an end) and concentrate on basketball. As an eighth-grader, Walton was playing defensive center for Blessed Sacrament, and offensive guard, too, because he was Graziano's best ball handler.
Before his sophomore year at Helix High, Walton underwent an operation to repair torn cartilage on his left knee. Because of the tender knee, and his lack of overall strength, he spent most of his sophomore year on the junior varsity. Near the end of the season Coach Gordon Nash promoted him to the varsity, but he played in only six games and did not start any of them. "For a sophomore with no experience he rebounded pretty well," says Nash.
Between his sophomore and junior years Walton grew from 6'1" to 6'7" and Helix turned to a high-low post offense featuring Bill and Bruce. The brothers formed an odd couple. Bruce began the season at 6'5" and 283 pounds; Bill, two inches taller and a full 100 pounds lighter, was so frail that he was unable to play a complete game without resting. "He would simply get too tired," says Nash. "When that happened, he'd tell me and I'd take him out." His build often made Bill a target for opposing hatchet men who were not aware that the behemoth at the other post was his big brother.
"When they would begin to rough up Bill, I would look at coach and he would give me a nod," recalls Bruce.
"Yes," says Gloria Walton, "then when the referee wasn't looking, Bruce would give the player an elbow and let him know that the skinny guy was his kid brother."
"After that," says Bruce, dreamily, "they wouldn't rough up Bill anymore."
In Bill's junior year Helix had a 29-2 record and won the CIF championship of the San Diego section, which includes more than 50 area schools. Between his junior and senior years Bill kept growing, to 6'10�", and his stamina improved. Long bicycle rides around San Diego helped, but also, he says, "I was getting older and smarter. I put on 15 pounds, and I learned not to waste so much energy on the floor."
Early in his senior year it was obvious that Walton was an extraordinary prospect. As Helix ran up a 33-0 record and another CIF championship, he averaged 29 points and 24 rebounds, hit 70% of his shots and was beginning to demonstrate the many skills that he uses so well at UCLA. Nash and the Waltons were inundated with letters and phone calls from college recruiters. Those who came to La Mesa to see Bill always got the same response from Ted Walton when they asked to take the family out to dinner: no thanks. The more fortunate, however, were invited to dine at the Walton home. "It's a tradition we began when Bruce was being recruited for football," says Ted. Adds a friend, "Ted has a lot of character. He didn't want to feel obligated to the recruiters in any way." So Notre Dame's Johnny Dee and USC's Bob Boyd ate at the Walton table, and so did John Wooden. The Waltons served Wooden a favorite family dish—roast and potatoes—but no one will say whether he had to sing for his supper.
After his senior season Bill announced that he was going to UCLA. "I felt they offered the best combination of academics and athletics," he says now. He also knew that Lee and Wilkes, two high school stars he admired, were on their way to Westwood, and that helped him decide.