Fomer Cat Returns as an Assistant Coach
Obviously, this whole experience and coming into this as a coach has just been a dream come true. I’ve had the opportunity to work with Coach Olson, not only as a player, but now as an assistant. I couldn’t ask for anything more than to learn at the feet of a Hall of Famer. I’m really looking forward to it. I feel that I’m up for the challenge. It’s something I’ve prepared for, not just for one year, but for a while now. I really think that I’m mature enough and capable enough to step in and do an elite level job.
What does it feel like to come back to a place with so many good memories?
It’s fantastic. The support I’ve received from everybody inside McKale (Center), on campus, and just the whole community has just been excellent. I couldn’t ask for anything more. It just makes that decision to come back here to live just that much more important. It was the right decision for us. The people here have been fantastic. I knew whatever way the decision would go, that I still was loved in the community and had a place here. And we felt that.
Did you sense that having moved back a year ago?
Yes, definitely. I’m not as big as some of the other guys in terms of height, but yes, people still see my face (and respond positively). I’ve held up pretty well I guess. People are still very cordial, very nice, and we appreciate that.
Can you go back over the timeline from the time that you came back and got the job at Flowing Wells High School?
I was 30 at the time playing in Kiev, Ukraine, at the time for a European Cup team; playing well coming off an injury. I didn’t want to be out there at 35 or 36, not as a guard. I decided that this would be a good opportunity to go back. I was so close to graduating. I came back and the whole administration has been very supportive in just allowing me to come back in a good way.
I knew that with my credentials, and the kind of person that I felt I was, with a degree I could do a lot of things. I’d spoken with Coach (Jim) Rosborough about my intentions. He already knew that I wanted to live here, but I wanted to get into coaching in a more serious manner.
The Flowing Wells (High School) opportunity was absolutely fantastic. Bob Harrick and everyone over there was great. Even though I was the assistant, he gave me a lot of leeway basically to run my own program. To have this working lab in front of me with young men and seeing them progress and actually have some success was fantastic. It really helped my confidence.
What about things here at Arizona?
I knew Coach (Rodney) Tention had aspirations and dreams to be a head coach. I knew last year was a tough break for him in not getting that USF (University of San Francisco) job. I knew that he was going to get a job soon. He’s just a quality person and a quality coach. The Loyola Marymount job opened up and he jumped on it and was able to get it (April 5). That really opened the door. Coach (Olson) had expressed, as everyone knows, a desire to bring in an ex-ballplayer if the situation was correct. It was an ideal fit for me and my timing couldn’t have been better.
Do you think your name, as a former Wildcat, carries weight as you begin working with the guys?
I think the guys had a respect for me, and I felt that. It was kind of like the respect that I had for a Steve Kerr, or Anthony Cook or Jud Buechler. There was that respect. There is a guy who came in here, played well, did his things and had some accomplishments. Once I got to know them that helped to take it to the next level. I’m not trying to wow anybody or awe anybody, because that only lasts for a second. I’m really trying to dig my feet in with this and show people that I am a quality individual. I hope that resonates with people and is something they respond to.
What else do you think that you bring to the program?
I think that being a former player is a great advantage for myself in terms of selling this to kids. I can sell this just because of the simple fact that I am passionate about this University. I know everything about this University. I’m not in a new situation trying to find my way. So expressing my feelings and my passion and love, not only for the school but for Coach (Olson) and everything else will be an easy sell.
What are your first duties?
My goal is to learn something new every day. I’ve only been away from being a ballplayer for about a year. In terms of everything on the court, I feel that I have a pretty good handle on that. I know how things go here. I attended dozens and dozens of practices last season in between class, so I know how things are run in terms of that area.
Just getting to know the guys. I really just want to make sure that they are comfortable with me; that I’m tailoring workouts, tailoring myself so that they can get the best out of their ability. I think that’s going to be big.
I’m a player’s coach. I understand what they are going through. I think that one of my advantages is going to be the fact that, yes, I was a very good high school player. I felt I was a good college player, and I had some success in the NBA and overseas. I never was a great ballplayer, a hall of famer or an all-star, so I understand the frustrations that come with not getting it the first time. I know the patience that it will take to get it in the long run. I think that I can relate to them, but I have to be stern in my approach now that I’m a coach. I want to be someone that they can come to for advice.
Was returning to the University of Arizona always in the back of your mind?
Most definitely. In my own mind when I knew that I wanted to be a coach, I knew that this was going to be a 10-, 15-, 20- or 25-year responsibility. Knowing that, I always wanted to come back to Arizona. Arizona was going to be that job (for me), like North Carolina was for Roy Williams. Fortunately for me, I’m starting here, so that’s good.
How familiar are you already with the guys on the team?
Very familiar. I came to a lot of games. I was around a lot. I got to know them as people. Currently, I’m going over every tape from last year and really getting an understanding of what the guards are doing, and areas of improvement. I do know these kids, so I can hit the ground running.
When did you make the decision to be a coach?
I would say about five or six years ago. A lot of the right people, I felt, were coming up to me saying I think you’d be good at this. I think that you have a knack for this. I started talking proactive steps from there. I started attending Pete Newell’s camp in Hawaii working with big men, or working or speaking at other camps over the last five or six years. This has been a work in progress.