Give pause before going nuts about coaching search, praise for unlikely Sweet 16 team
INDIANAPOLIS – Patience, now. The University of Arizona men’s basketball team just went through two basketball seasons like no other team in the history of college basketball. And, you know what? The Cats came through just fine.
Kentucky should be so lucky.
Never mind – if you can – UA’s 103-64 loss to Louisville in the Sweet 16 on Friday night. It was bad. It always had the chance to be bad. That is what top-seeded Louisville, with relentless depth and heartless pressure, can do.
“I’m going to say that’s the best team I’ve played – T-E-A-M,” said sophomore Jamelle Horne.
“They have individual stars at certain times. But those guys definitely love each other as a family. You can tell when they’re on the court.”
So be it. It’s over. It was definitely fun while it lasted.
Pull back from the game and look through the wide-angle lens:
“Regardless of the outcome, we held the line,” said associate head coach Mike Dunlap.
“The tradition of this program is intact, and we didn’t embarrass anybody in terms of the circumstances and guys quitting. We got to the NCAAs in a very turbulent time. I told them, ‘Don’t you dare lose your voice’ (about that).”
Now, after back-to-back seasons of interim head coaches, it’s all up in the air again.
Arizona basketball gave its fans a treat this season, extending the school’s NCAA Tournament streak to 25 and then advancing past the first weekend for the first time since 2005.
Fans might need to return the favor next season.
And, who knows, the year or two after that.
No one has any idea what the coaching staff or the roster is going to look like next season. You can guess, though, that the roster will be thin and inexperienced.
Juniors Jordan Hill, Chase Budinger and Nic Wise all have NBA draft decisions to make. Those could come in a week or a month.
Other defections or transfers are always possible in the transition to a new coach.
There is a best-case scenario here, but let’s just say that if you’re expecting Hill and Budinger to go out for UA’s opening tip next season, coached by Rick Pitino, you’re living in a dream land where the stock market is still at 14,000.
As for that new coach, the guess here is that something will happen quickly. Like next week quick. And, yes, that means the new guy is no longer coaching in the NCAA Tournament.
“That’s my guess,” Dunlap said of the timing of an announcement. “They have had a lot of time to figure it out.”
The new coach will have to hit the ground running because the mess of the past two seasons cost UA the bulk of its past two recruiting classes.
Arizona has survived a lot, but how can it continue to survive that – with, likely, another patchwork recruiting class on top of that?
Only one player has committed to UA for next season – lightly regarded 6-foot-7 forward Tremayne Johnson, who didn’t even play this season at Los Angeles Community College.
The new coach could decide to pull that scholarship offer.
For his part, interim head coach Russ Pennell will quietly bow out of the picture. He said he’ll clear out his office, so he isn’t in the way of the new coach.
Pennell isn’t and never was in the running to be the full-time head coach.
He knew it.
It was, in a way, a blessing, freeing him and the coaching staff to simply focus on getting the team through the season intact.
“When we first started this, I thought we were fragmented,” said Pennell, who took over in late October for retired Lute Olson.
“We had guys who kind of did their own thing. They weren’t bad people, but nobody had ever really taken the time to maybe show them that you could be a family, you could be unselfish, you could care for one another, and you get things accomplished.”
Pennell might be otherwise occupied in another job next season, but a Russ Pennell Day at McKale Center sounds like a good idea.
That would bring a smile in what could be an unavoidably long, long rebuilding season.
The program, however, has earned everybody’s patience.
In the days leading up to the Sweet 16 game, senior Fendi Onobun implored his young teammates to completely embrace the moment.
“You don’t know, you might not be here next year. Don’t get used to this,” Onobun said.
“Even though the past 25 teams have been here to the tournament, it doesn’t mean the 26th will. The 26th might be the hardest of them all.”
It almost certainly will.