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Out of the shadows

Given all the recent publicity surrounding the men's basketball team's rise in the polls, it isn't too surprising that a Princeton player is seen in the opening sequence of SportsCenter.

The logical choice might be senior center Steve Goodrich. Maybe junior guard Brian Earl. But certainly not sophomore forward Nate Walton.

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Against Dartmouth Friday, Walton was impressive, scoring seven points and grabbing five rebounds. His best move of the night, a baseline drive and spin-move capped off by a left-handed jump hook, was featured on ESPN that night.

But it hasn't always been this easy for Walton.

Great expectations

As his freshman season began, Walton was considered to be a frontrunner for Ivy League Rookie of the Year honors. But Walton never played a significant role on last year's team, his only playing time coming when the game was already decided.

"I think a lot of people doubted me after last year, after coming in pretty highly recruited and not doing much," Walton said. "It was disappointing."

However, it wasn't that Walton was playing that badly. He just never got much of a chance to play, since the Tigers already had two proven reserves, center Jesse Rosenfeld '97 – who currently plays professionally in Israel – and senior forward James Mastaglio.

Most of the hype around Walton was probably related to his basketball lineage – Nate's father is Bill Walton, a member of the National Basketball Association Hall of Fame and currently a commentator for NBC.

Chip off the block

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"My whole life, very rarely has basketball been mentioned toward me without my dad's name being involved," Nate said.

Surprisingly, Nate doesn't consider his father to be the primary influence on his life.

"I look at my father as my dad," Walton said. "I don't look at him as the Hall of Fame basketball player. He's definitely never pushed (me and my brothers) into (basketball). He just says that if we're going to do it, do it 110 percent."

"My mom was the most influential person in my life," Walton said. "She's pretty much instilled the values that I have toward things."

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Basketball is a family affair in the Walton family. Nate's older brother Adam started his college career at Louisiana State, but has since transferred to Cal-Poly Pomona. Luke, the third of the Walton children and a senior in high school, is a finalist for the McDonald's All-American and will play for defending national champion Arizona next year. The youngest sibling is Chris, a six-foot, eight-inch sophomore at University High School in San Diego, where all of the Walton brothers have played.

"We like to talk about who scored the most points," Nate said. "Adam originally scored some number of points as a sophomore (in high school), and after I scored that, I was quick to remind him that I scored more than him. Then Luke went on and passed mine, so Chris has been trying all year to break Luke's record."

The brothers' scoring battles are a prime example of Nate's competitiveness, evident in the Tigers' practice sessions.

Nate, along with most of the other Princeton reserves, is part of the Tigers' "white" team, which battles the "black" team, consisting of the starting lineup, in practice. The white team not only provides the Princeton starters with tough practice competition, but also allows the younger Tiger players to learn the Princeton offense and develop their skills.

Time to step up

With the recent season-ending injury to sophomore center Mason Rocca, Walton's role off the bench has become even more crucial. He is now Princeton's sixth man, the first player off the bench if any of the Tiger starters get into foul trouble.

Despite Walton's improved play and increased playing time, he still has the same ideals that his mother instilled in him years ago.

"I start every year off no matter what, since I've been playing organized basketball, with the intention of winning the championship," Walton said. "It's the same this year and it hasn't changed and it was the same last year. If I don't win the championship this year, I'm going to be disappointed."

If Walton is able to continue the level of play he has displayed over the last 10 games, during which he has provided valuable minutes off the bench, Princeton's chances of winning a national championship are only that much better.

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