SANTA BARBARA — The positive reinforcement has gushed out of Luke Walton’s mouth with frequency. Perhaps as much as when he saw Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson sink 3-pointers as a former Golden State assistant.
The Lakers’ new head coach has praised his players’ efforts in training camp. He has expressed optimism about the young core’s development including D’Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Brandon Ingram, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. Walton has embraced the concept in empowering those players to become leaders.
Walton hardly did not offer any positive feedback, however, regarding his rookies’ singing performance in a talent show open to UCSB students on Thursday night. Then, Brandon Ingram (Rihanna’s “Diamonds”), Ivica Zubac (Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies”), Zach Auguste (Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles”) and Julian Jacobs (Katy Perry’s “Roar”) all grabbed the microphone and performed something that would not prompt an invitation on “American Idol.”
“I respected the effort,” Walton said after Friday’s practice at Robertson Gymnasium. “I was not impressed with the talent.”
It turns out those players struggled with issues far more glaring than adapting to a more physical NBA or a new playbook.
Ingram dressed up in a dog costume and admittedly forgot some of the lyrics.
“I didn’t know the words,” Ingram said. “I sang the hook the whole time.”
Zubac did not just struggle with performing Beyoncé’s song. The Croatian native sparked more unintentional comedy for obvious reasons.
“Singing a song in a foreign language is impressive, Lakers second-year forward Larry Nance Jr. told Zubac in front of reporters.
“They were mocking my accent the entire time,” Zubac said, shaking his head. “I knew the lyrics. But it’s hard to pronounce some of the words. The song is so rhythmic and quick.”
Hence, Walton considered Auguste “the leader of the group.” An informal poll among the team suggested that Ingram finished last.
“I had a fun time,” Ingram said. “It showed another personality people didn’t know about me.”
Zubac did not sound as enthusiastic. He asked Lakers veteran guard Lou Williams to pick a song in Croatian. But Williams answered, “I don’t speak Croatian.” Zubac then asked the DJ to stop the song after 30 seconds of performing.
“Worst part of being Laker,” Zubac said as he stared at the ground.
Walton could feel Zubac’s pain.
After the Lakers selected Walton 32nd overall in the 2003 NBA draft, Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Derek Fisher and Rick Fox forced Walton to perform endless rookie duties that apparently has caused long-lasting damage. What did Walton have to do?
“No comment,” Walton said, smirking. “I’ve seen a shrink about it. I’ve had to block that out of my life.”