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Pennell link has some Devils pulling for Wildcats

Consider it a test case of loyalty. Do you root for a friend or against your rival school?

Arizona interim basketball coach Russ Pennell spent six years as an assistant at Arizona State, and furthered his ties in Sun Devil country by running a basketball academy in Gilbert the past four years.

He said he heard recently from several of his former ASU pupils, such as Shawn Redhage, who is playing professionally in Australia, Justin Allen and Kyle Dodd.

“You know what they say?” Pennell said Tuesday.

“They say, ‘I cannot believe I’m cheering for U of A.’ But they all say, ‘As soon as you’re gone, never again.’ ”

Pennell laughed.

“There’s always that disclaimer with it,” he said. “Some of them will go as far (as) to say, ‘Well, I’m really happy for you, but I’m not happy for UA.’

“They stay true to the Sun Devils.”

Another one of Pennell’s former players, Kevin Kruger, said the Arizona-Arizona State rivalry “is not always as black and white as people think it is.”

“This is an unbelievable opportunity for him,” Kruger said of Pennell.

“Do I wish it would have been somewhere else? Maybe. I’m not going to cheer for Arizona, but I am going to cheer for him. I’m glad he’s doing well.”

Kruger said he caught about the last five minutes of Arizona’s second-round victory over Cleveland State, pulling up the game live on the Internet.

“I wanted to see his reaction at the end because I know exactly what that feeling is like,” said Kruger, who reached the second round with ASU in 2003.

“He deserves it. He really is the epitome of what you want in a college coach. You’re not going to get a lie. He’s exactly what he is, and he does exactly what he says.

“At ASU, when he talked, everyone listened. He wasn’t going to degrade you. There were no politics, no mind games.”

That is why so many former Sun Devils will tune in to watch Arizona play top-seeded Louisville on Friday. It might be through clenched teeth, but, thanks to Pennell, they’ll root for the Cats.

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