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O'Neill Wrap-Up 3/26/2008
Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
Release: 03/26/2008
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March 26, 2007

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Opening Statement

I wish we were still playing, but weˇ?re not.? I appreciate that our players did everything in their power to get us in the NCAA Tournament for a 24th straight year and did everything in their power to try to win.? The guys that are leaving ?C the seniors plus Mohamed (Tangara) ?C I couldnˇ?t appreciate their efforts more.? Although they didnˇ?t play the minutes they would like to, or thought they should, I thought those guys were great every day.? They tried to help us win.

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Our fans were outstanding this year, including our student section.? Iˇ?ve been a lot places.? Itˇ?s got to be one of the best ones in the country by far.? I appreciate the support I got from Jim Livengood and his staff all the way through the season.? Our fan base in general, I thought, was outstanding.? Obviously, there is a great future for Arizona basketball ahead.

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Do you have a favorite memory from this season?

Not really.? Iˇ?m one of those guysˇ?I enjoy the practices as much as the games.? I just enjoy the basketball part of it more than anything.? It was great getting that (NCAA) bid.? Iˇ?d prefer not to be the guy to break a 23-year streak.? Thatˇ?s probably not very good karma to break any kind of 23-year streak.? Just getting an NCAA Tournament bid after what these guys went through was an accomplishment.? Itˇ?s one they will realize later on.? Players always want to do more.? Coaches always want to do more.? They accomplished a lot more than they thought they did.

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What is the future for you?

I donˇ?t know yet.? Iˇ?m back to being an assistant here at Arizona.? I talked to Lute (Olson) yesterday.? We had a great talk. ?A very positive talk, and before you ask, I am not going into details about any of that stuff.? Iˇ?m back to being an assistant coach.? Lute is the head coach.? Heˇ?s making all of the decisions for the program and should be.? Any time you get a Hall of Fame coach back, it has to be a major league plus for the program.

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As we move forward, Lute is the guy making all of the calls.? I sat in his seat and ran the program in his absence, but he is back now and running all facets of the program.

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How would you describe your relationship with Coach Olson?

I think itˇ?s good.? Youˇ?d have to ask coach, but I think itˇ?s good.? We talked yesterday about a number of things, not just basketball.? To me itˇ?s fine.

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Is that a transition that is easy to make from head coach to assistant?

Iˇ?ve been from being an assistant and a head coach for the last 20 years anyway between the NBA and all that kind of stuff.? I had a two-year commitment to being an assistant here and I plan on honoring that commitment.? To me, if you have commitments and things work out, you should definitely honor them.? Iˇ?m planning on doing that.? I donˇ?t think itˇ?s a problem at all.

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Do you think it will be tough for the players to go back to playing Coach Olsonˇ?s style?

I coached the way that I knew how to win.? I donˇ?t think that anyone can coach anyone elseˇ?s style.? Like if I tried to coach (former Temple coach) John Chaneyˇ?s style, I donˇ?t think that would work.? If I tried to coach (current Houston Rockets coach) Rick Adelmanˇ?s style, that wouldnˇ?t work.? You have to coach what you are comfortable with.? I realize that was a big change for the players in some respects, but when I looked at our team I thought the style we played gave us the best chance to win and thatˇ?s why I did it.? And thatˇ?s why I would do it all over again with the personnel we had.

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As personnel changes, style changed.? Whoever you work for as an assistant, whatever that coach says goes.? I coached under Lute for three years in the 80ˇ?s, so I donˇ?t see ay problem with that at all.

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Any regrets?

No.? No. None.? I regret we didnˇ?t win more or go farther.? I think anyone would regret that as they went along.? Iˇ?ll say it again.? I just feel bad for the players because they didnˇ?t expect the situation that transpired.? Neither did I.? I came here to be an assistant for a couple of years and then who knows what.? I didnˇ?t have any idea I was going to be an interim head coach.? We were all kind of thrown into this thing.? It just wasnˇ?t what anybody planned or expected.

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What kind of evaluation do you have now that the season is over of filling the shoes so to speak?

Iˇ?ll leave that to you guys, but I can honestly say I think I did the best job that I could under the circumstances.? I believe that if we wouldnˇ?t have had major, major injuries we would have won more games, but if cows had puppies there would be a milk shortage (laughter).? Thatˇ?s basketball.? You can say a lot of ifs and buts.

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I did the best job I could.? I did the best job I could by the players, by the university, by the community, by Lute, by Jim, by whoever it was.? You guys make the evaluations.? You guys get paid a lot to do that.

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Will you have any input on Jerrydˇ?s (Bayless) or Chaseˇ?s (Budinger) situation?

Iˇ?m giving any of the players space right now.? If those guys call me, Iˇ?ll give them my opinion.? If they donˇ?t, Iˇ?ll understand that.? They are probably getting so many opinions right now that itˇ?s unbelievable.? Thatˇ?s up to them and their families to talk to the proper people in the NBA and see whatˇ?s best for them.

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I think every player nationwide should probably come back that is an underclassman.? Nobodyˇ?s quite ready for it until they get there.? Those are decisions that people have to make.? O.J. Mayo has to make his decision.? These guys have to make their decisionsˇ?all those guys.? (Michael) Beasley has to make his.? There will be some guys make decisions to leave that nobody will believe for whatever reason, but I believe thatˇ?s everybodyˇ?s own personal decision.

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Youˇ?ve said before that if a guy is solidly in the top 10, then heˇ?s got to go.? Is that still the case?

If you are a top-10 pick, itˇ?s pretty hard to improve your stock to be honest with you.

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Who do you believe?

All you have to do is get on the phone with 10 G.M.s (general managers) in the NBA, they are going to tell you what they think.? Those guys arenˇ?t going to lie to you.? An agent might lie to you.? Your friend you play beer pong with (laughter) might tell you, ˇ?hey, I think you are a lottery pick,ˇ± or whatever it may be.? What it gets down to is this, if I wanted to buy some farm equipment, I might go talk to 10 farm dealers and try to get the right opinion.? I would tell any player, not just ours, that is thinking about leaving, GMs are not going to lie to you.? They donˇ?t gain anything by you coming to the league not ready or not prepared.? You see it every year.? There will be someone in June sitting in that green room with their mom and dad crying and their AAU coach crying going into the second round.? I would tell anyone to call GMs to find out why you would be pick five, 18 or whatever it might be, and you have to call a number of them because they all have opinions.

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Do you think the NBA buzz about Jerryd or Chase changed any over the course of the season?

At different times I heard a lot of different things.? It changes depending on what team you talk to and what their needs are.? Some teams may need a point guard.? Some teams might not need a small forward.? Thatˇ?s something those guys have to find out for themselves.

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Did you have fun this year?

I had fun coaching the guys.? Yeah.? Coaching to me is fun.? I like the practices and games part of it.? So, yeah, I had a great time.? I plan on doing this for another 25 years at some level at some time.

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Do the terms of the contract mean that you will stay?

I think everyone should fulfill their contractual obligations until they choose otherwise or are told otherwise, so Iˇ?m planning on being here.

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What about the succession plan?? Is that still in place?

I think youˇ?d have to talk to Jim about that.? But as I sit here today, I plan on being the next coach, too.? Luteˇ?s planning on fulfilling his contact (through the 2010-11 season), so thatˇ?s a long ways off before that happens.

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Iˇ?ve been treated very fairly by the university, very fairly by the fans, very fairly by the administration.? There are a lot of great people here.? A lot of great people that work in McKale (Center), a great coaching staff here.? The people who work around the arena are wonderful people, so I canˇ?t say enough about how well Iˇ?ve been treated.

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Are you still in the midst of your own personal evaluation?

Yes. I think everybody does that until you get away from it for a while.? Iˇ?ll at some point go to Chicago and talk to my agent, which I do every single year no matter if I have six years left on a contact or six days left. He and I always get together some time mid or at the end of April to talk about things.? Iˇ?m in no rush to do anything.

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Did you grow more as a coach because of the unusual circumstances of the season?

To me, when you quit growing as a coach, you might as well not coach anymore.? I thought for me personal growth-wise, I had a real growing year where there are challenges and you deal with the challenges on a daily basis.? When I told the players in the Phoenix airport that Lute wasnˇ?t coming back for the year that was kind of a, quote, pinnacle moment I guess because when you are an interim coach ?C and I havenˇ?t been one before ?C interim means a short period of time.? So to be an interim coach for a whole year at a program of this magnitude I thought was both challenging and a great learning experience.

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Have you heard from any colleagues about the job you did this season?

Yeah I have.? I heard from guys that I didnˇ?t even know liked me to be honest with you and from guys that I donˇ?t like to be honest with you (laughter).? There are certain guys that I talk to all the time:? Jeff Van Gundy, Rick Carlisle, Tom Izzo.? I hear from (Bob Huggins) Huggs on and off depending on what time of day or night it is (laughs).? I talk to a lot of guys.

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Will you watch basketball with those guys still in it?

? I might watch those guys play, but Iˇ?m certainly not glued to March Madness.? Iˇ?m not going to the Final Four.? I didnˇ?t lose anything in San Antonio the last time I was there.? I watched the Spurs play the Mavericks on Sunday.? I enjoyed that.? Iˇ?m trying to get away from it a bit right now.

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Was the pressure all that you expected this season being in the interim role?

Iˇ?ve coached in the NBA where there is pressure every single day.? As it got closer to the end of the year about whether we were going to make the tournament or not make the tournament, I thought like I had ˇ?streakˇ± written on my forehead for the longest time.? It wasnˇ?t any more pressure than I assumed it would be, but there was pressure to live up to certain expectations, as there always is going to be here.

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How good do you think the defense was at the end of the year?

I thought we were average.? I thought we had some real good stretches defensively.? Our overall stats are deceiving because we played such a tough non-conference schedule.? We donˇ?t get a chance to hold Bethune-Cookman to 23 percent or Bemidji State to 12 percent.? I would have liked to see us be under 42 percent for field goals against, but we werenˇ?t.? The one thing I will say is that these guys learned to play man-to-man defense.? Whether they are able to do it at the level they would be a year from now, I donˇ?t know.? They wonˇ?t be surprised by anything they learn at the next level.? They will know what blitzing means, two men removed, how to hedge, so they know that.

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I would hope that every year your team gets better defensively.? Lute will be the head coach, so he will determine what defense we play and how we play it.

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If something did come open for you, how would you approach it?

I donˇ?t know.? I think you should always listen to everybody job-wise.? It doesnˇ?t make sense not to listen.? When I was the head coach at Marquette and left to go to Tennessee, I talked to seven other schools prior to making my decision to going to Tennessee.? You hear from people all the time.

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Would you want to be a college head coach somewhere else?

I donˇ?t know.? It depends on the situation.? If someone called me and offered me $3 million to coach the Charlotte Bobcats, Iˇ?d do that.

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I like both.? Iˇ?ve never said that I donˇ?t like college.? Iˇ?ve said I love the NBA.? I love the number of games, but there are some things in college that are great, too.? Itˇ?s my first time being back around the college game and I enjoyed it.

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Every situation isnˇ?t like Arizona where the arena is full all the time and those kind of things.

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Whatˇ?s been the reaction of the casual fan to you over the last week?

Itˇ?s been good.? Like I said, I appreciate the support I got from the community.? My wife and I appreciate the support from the administration.? We couldnˇ?t ask for more to be honest with you.? The community didnˇ?t take a vote and say we want Kevin to be our coach.? The circumstances just happenedˇ?to all of us.

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Tomorrow is the 20th anniversary of Arizona beating North Carolina in the regional final to advance to its first Final Four.? Do you have any thoughts on that team?

That was obviously a great moment.? In fact I had dinner last night with Tom Tolbert and Matt Muehlebach and we were talking about that.? That team was a special team.? All teams are special in their own right and go through special circumstances.? For Arizona to get to the Final Four for the first time was obviously a really special time.? We also regret to this day that we didnˇ?t win it, but we didnˇ?t.? That was a very, very special win for all of us.

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