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William F. Reed
March 06, 1972
A shy young man with a huge appetite, UCLA's superstar feeds the Bruins' fast break and feasts on their foes
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March 06, 1972

Big Bill Loves To Eat 'em Up

A shy young man with a huge appetite, UCLA's superstar feeds the Bruins' fast break and feasts on their foes

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Bill is not an introvert, but he is careful about his friendships. As Bruce says, "I'm the kind of guy who likes parties where there are 25 screaming guys and 25 screaming girls, but Bill is not like that. He prefers smaller parties, with only five or six close friends." Bill spends a good deal of time alone in his room, reading, listening to records, studying. When he does go out, a frequent destination is Sepi's, a small sandwich shop near the campus that Walton calls "my favorite place." There he likes to eat a submarine sandwich or two and rap with the guys who make them. Much of Walton's free time is taken up by his girl friend, Susan, who is more than a foot shorter but just as quiet. To protect her privacy, neither she nor Bill will reveal her last name.

Between now and the end of the season, Walton's main concern as a player will be keeping himself healthy. As his reputation has grown, so has the physical punishment under the boards. After the Southern Cal game (won by UCLA 81-56 with Walton holding USC's two centers to a point each), he was sore all the next day. Also, the grueling Pacific Eight schedule is beginning to take its toll on Walton's knees, in which he has a severe case of tendinitis. For a while, Walton's special treatment—heat packs on the knees before practice and games, ice afterward—kept the knees relatively free of pain. But in January, when the Bruins had to play Stanford on a Friday night and Cal on a Saturday afternoon, the pain returned.

"I really messed up my legs that weekend," says Walton. "I need more than 15 hours between games to be ready to play again. The pain didn't go away for quite a while. Then I got something wrong with my big toes. The tendons were torn in them from jumping. As a center, I don't do that much running but I do a lot of quick jumping. It was so painful that at first I had to have cortisone shots for my toes. I also started taking medicine to reduce inflammation. I began getting it the Thursday before the USC game. It was supposed to be for my toes, but it helped my knees, too. I felt really fine against USC."

Some UCLA fans are worried that Walton may decide to turn pro before his career at UCLA is finished. It is no secret that representatives of the ABA's Miami Floridians are thinking about moving their franchise to San Diego and that the presence of Bill Walton would do wonders for them at the box office. A Floridian official showed up at the Walton household one day and was talking in terms of a $1 million deal. But it would be surprising if Walton left UCLA before his class graduated. One thing Ted Walton instilled in his children is a belief that projects should be seen through. Long ago he refused to let Bruce quit Little League in midseason, or allow any of the children to stop taking music lessons before they finished the eighth grade. Now, although Bill Walton is more or less his own man, he has not forgotten his father's principles. Besides, he wants his education. Finally, it is not likely he would let down his teammates, who also are his closest friends, even for $1 million.

"It's really a lot of fun to play with the guys we have," says Walton. "If I had played on last year's team, I know I wouldn't have liked it. But I want to play with these guys as long as I can. I don't want to play with some guys who are 40."

Walton family dinners are rare occurrences now because the older children are not often home at the same time. But when Ted and Gloria come to UCLA for a game, they get together with Bill and Bruce at a restaurant. At one recent breakfast meeting, Bruce ordered eggs sunny side up. When they arrived, they were over easy.

"Hey," said Bruce, aggressive as usual. "These aren't sunny side up."

"Well," retorted the waitress, "turn 'em over."

Bill laughed, and so did Ted and Gloria. For a moment, it was just like old times.

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