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Citizen Staff Writer

Reggie Geary tells basketball recruits that Arizona is a great place to be. It has tradition. Improved facilities. A reputation of being an NBA factory.

He works on recruiting every day. Tuesday, he was in Phoenix to see a game. Friday, between Arizona games against UCLA and USC, he will recruit in the Los Angeles area.

He has been to Florida, to Texas and all over the West to watch games, meet coaches, establish some sort of connection, create some kind of file that is waiting for when a new Arizona head coach steps through the door in a few months.

It’s as the current boss, interim head coach Russ Pennell, puts it. “You can get people interested in this place, but then you get the magical question,” he says. “OK . . . who’s the coach?”

Because of that, Geary’s job is nearly impossible. He can only set the table, can’t answer that magical question, other than to say that Arizona is going to get a good one.

“It takes a little bit of imagination and trust,” Geary says, “but if you can see through all that, this is a great, great opportunity.”

Geary, a defensive ace when he was a guard at Arizona from 1992-96, is the program’s link to the past, a true blue Wildcat. He is also the link to the future.

Since coach Lute Olson’s sudden retirement in late October, with the future of the coaching staff – the whole program – in limbo, Geary has been in charge of the entire scope of recruiting.

He’s doing it because it has to be done.

He’s doing it because Arizona’s new coach will desperately need to salvage something for next year’s freshman class after three committed recruits – all of whom had established good relationships with Geary – bailed this fall in the wake of Olson’s retirement.

Geary also is doing it for Geary. His recruiting relationships make him valuable. The better he is at this part of the game, the greater the chance the new coach will keep Geary on staff.

At this point, Geary is willing to play a little offense.

“Anytime there is a transition like this, where people are uncertain of the future, it’s easy to just say, ‘It’s some other guy’s problem,’ ” he says. “But I have no problem in saying I want to be here.

“The team could potentially struggle for a year or two – maybe not – but I want to be here for that as well. Being a true Wildcat, in my mind, is not just being there in good times, it’s being there in bad times and getting this program to where it wants to go.

“I want to be a part of that.”

• • •

Geary, 35, didn’t have to be here at all. He had been the head coach of the Anaheim Arsenal of the NBA’s Development League for a season and a half, compiling a record of 36-39.

But when Olson called in the spring, Geary jumped at a chance to get into the college game despite a false start the first time around.

Olson hired Geary as an assistant in June 2005, but Geary was squeezed out later that summer and moved to an administrative position when Olson brought in Miles Simon as an assistant.

“Anytime you leave a head coaching job, you don’t treat that lightly, and I didn’t,” Geary says.

“In the D-League, I was definitely making a really good name for myself as an up-and-comer. When coach Olson called, obviously I was interested. I had an opportunity to sit down with coach on a few occasions, and he looked good. He looked like he had two or three more years.”

He didn’t. When Olson retired because of health reasons, Mike Dunlap, the lead assistant coach, declined to be the interim head coach. The job quickly fell to Pennell, although Geary admits he would have liked to have been considered, given his experience in the D-League.

“But I told coach Pennell from day one that you would never for one second have to worry about my loyalty or how hard I will work, not only for this university but for him,” Geary says.

“I pride myself on my professionalism. Russ is a great guy, and so is Mike, so it’s been a really good relationship.”

During games, Pennell often confers with Dunlap, who is in charge of the defense. Geary relays observations, too, and, according to Pennell, keeps track of certain stats – such as how the opposition is shooting when Arizona is in its 2-2-1 press.

“Reggie is kind of a guy who is behind the scenes,” Pennell says.

“He is good about pulling kids aside and talking to them. Reggie is closest to their age, and not that far removed from being a player . . . Reggie does a nice job with the guys individually, just spending some time with the guys in the office.”

The most important part of his job right now is the recruiting.

• • •

Arizona is almost certain to lose juniors Jordan Hill and Chase Budinger to the NBA after this season.

Given the uncertain coaching situation, it would be no surprise if there are transfers.

The Wildcats will need whatever reinforcements they can find for next season. Then the new coach will have to put on a full-court press for a must-have monster class for the 2010-11 season.

The immediate problem is that about 140 of the top 150 high school players have already signed or are committed to sign in this spring.

Geary is working to keep Arizona in the picture for the few remaining top high school prospects available for next season, including 6-foot-7 forward Victor Rudd of Henderson, Nev., and guard Darius Smith of Chicago.

Geary is scouring the prep schools and junior colleges, too.

“We’ve had to open our net a little bit, maybe more than in past years, for available talent,” he says.

Whatever happens after this season, whether he gets thanks or credit, Geary will have put in the legwork and the groundwork for a crucial stage of Arizona recruiting.

If he stays in the college game, he will make somebody a heck of an assistant coach next season. Preferably here.

“You just hope that someone comes in and doesn’t have his staff all in mind, and that he will give Reggie a crack,” Pennell says. “We’ll see.”

Anthony Gimino’s e-mail:




Age: 35

Job title: UA assistant coach

UA career: 1992-96

NBA career: 1996-98

UA highlights: Helped team to 1994 Final Four. Holds record for career steals (206) and is sixth in assists (560).

Notable: Geary coached two years in the National Basketball Development League, and also spent a season as an assistant for the Flowing Wells High School boys team.

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