The Coast News Group

Jay Paris: Walton’s hoops heaven will have a North County slant

Bill Walton was making his U-turn at Swami’s and maybe that’s where he had his self-realization.

“I’m excited and proud that we will be celebrating so much more than basketball,’’ he said.

Walton loves many things and riding his bike along Highway 101 and hoops are high on that list.

That’s why he lent his name, energy and enthusiasm to the Bill Walton Basketball Festival at Petco Park.

This basketball lollapalooza will feature San Diego State and the University of San Diego squaring off Dec. 5. But that’s just icing on a hoops cake that Walton is ecstatic to help bake.

“This weeklong festival of life is basically the second-biggest, no-brainer in the history of the world,’’ Walton said. “We have all these things coming together and an opportunity to do things for students, athletes, children and the economy. It’s going to be an absolutely thrilling week.’’

Which promises to have a North County flavor throughout its Nov. 30 through Dec. 5 run.

“I’ve heard from a lot of schools and club teams already,’’ Padres President Mike Dee said.

While the college game fills the marquee, prep squads and other youth programs are included. That’s what makes the event so cool, as kids will play on the same hard court as the college sharpshooters.

Dee should know. It was on his watch in Boston that the 2010 Frozen Fenway was born. Leading up to the collegiate doubleheader, the rink was overrun with tykes, adults and anyone else with blades wanting to experience athletics in a big-time setting.

That’s also the vision for the Bill Walton Basketball Festival.

“Even before plans for the college basketball game were finalized, we envisioned the court setup being utilized for more than just one day,’’ Dee said. “This is going to be a week full of unique opportunities for groups throughout the community.

“We plan on having practices, club teams, adult leagues, really it’s basketball 24-7.’’

In North County, where high school hoops is performed at the highest levels, that’s an invitation to contact Dee. Don’t tell him your source, but he can be reached at [email protected]

Or just tug Walton’s arm when you spot him cycling on North County’s coast. He makes the trek to Swami’s on weekdays from his home hugging Balboa Park, proudly declaring it among the most beautiful rides in the world.

“We’re going to make it fun,’’ Walton promised. “That’s the goal of sports.’’

Walton had a blast en route to two CIF-San Diego Section titles at Helix High, two NCAA titles at UCLA and one each with the Trail Blazers and Celtics. But the 1977 NBA MVP’s ever-present smile beams brightest when extolling the impact athletics has on youth.

Maybe that’s because Walton never really grew up, despite being 6-foot-11.

“Our mission is to have the most fantastic event ever and have all these young children involved say, ’Yeah, I want to play sports,’’’ Walton said.

Maybe they’ll meet a future coach at a Bill Walton Basketball Festival clinic.

That’s how Walton was introduced to UCLA’s John Wooden, hanging on his every word as a kid at a USD event in the early 1960s.

“I am proud, privileged, honored and humbled to be a volunteer for this incredible situation where people are going to come together in our city and play basketball in Petco Park,’’ Walton said.

Like Walton preaches, it the second-biggest, no-brainer ever.

The first?

“Solar energy,’’ he said.

Combine that with the Bill Walton Basketball Festival and it’s a sunshine daydream for this devoted Deadhead.

“The Padres have done their job,’’ Walton said. “The rest is up to me.’’

Contact Jay Paris at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at jparis_sports.