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Rivera: Didn’t all this happen last year, too?

A year later, the Arizona men’s basketball program is in the same position.

At this time almost to the day, Lute Olson was on the verge of hiring Kevin O’Neill as his top assistant coach, optimistic he’d be the guy who would help be “the hammer” to his nail.

It seemed as if it would work. Olson was optimistic, and although O’Neill could not speak to the media until the job was filled, fans were hopeful O’Neill would make UA a more physical and defensive team.

“Kevin would have a great shot (at getting the job),” Olson said on April 24, 2007. “He’s been here before and has that experience. He knows me. He knows what to expect.”

As everyone knows, it didn’t end well. O’Neill is no longer on the coaching staff, reassigned as a special assistant until his contract runs out June 30.

And now former Arizona State assistant Russ Pennell is expected to be named Olson’s assistant May 1, replacing O’Neill. The opening has been posted, and UA must take at least a week to announce the hire.

If there are any more moves happening in the program, I wouldn’t be surprised – such as incoming transfers, new recruits or coaching moves.

More could come this weekend while UA coaches are in Las Vegas recruiting. Who knows?

It’s been that crazy and nonstop, and it is just April. We’re still shy of five months before practice for next season begins.

But it’s as if last season never happened – almost like the old “Dallas” television show, where someone went to sleep and woke up exactly where they left off.

Olson is optimistic, putting his seasonlong leave of absence to deal with an unexplained medical condition behind him.

He’s hopeful sophomore Chase Budinger will return to the program after declaring for the NBA draft earlier this month. The forward has until mid-June to back out.

There’s some thought UA’s potential lineup of Budinger, Jordan Hill, Nic Wise, Jamelle Horne and top-recruit Brandon Jennings would be competitive among the elite. But we hear that every spring.

Time will tell come October, but there never seems to be a dull moment.

Steve Rivera’s e-mail: srivera@tucsoncitizen.com

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