Former Arizona State associate head coach Eric Musselman was hired Tuesday to fill a spot on the LSU coaching staff.
By now, the news is out and digested.
Former NBA coach and recent Arizona State associate coach Eric Musselman has been hired by LSU to fill the two-week old vacancy created when Korey McCray left the program.
I’ll have a full story on Musselman, a basketball lifer and son of a former coach in Bill Musselman, bring some schematic acumen to a staff who faced critiques on that point last season.
For now, though, here’s a transcript of the 18-minute chat I had with Musselman on Tuesday afternoon as he drove to pick up son from a camp in California.
Q: I’m sure answering this question is deja vu, but why stick with coaching at the college level as opposed to trying to work your way back into the professional ranks?
A: Our family made a decision a few years ago that we were going to change our path and go from pro ball to college. You know, my wife loves the college environment. I love it from a coaching standpoint. The players are so eager to learn and you can have such an impact not only on the floor, but also off the court. All those things have drawn me to really love being a part of a college campus.”
Q: What do you like about the player-coach dynamic and interaction appeals to a professional league?
A: It’s interesting, because my time in the NBA D-League, I always looked at my relationship with players. In the D-League, you’re dealing with guys all the time. You’re staying in all different types of hotels, and it’s more similar to college. You can have more of an impact and lifetime relationships. So that’s a same type thing: Being around guys where you’re not just with them at practice or a game. You can have a much deeper relationship. Even the guys at ASU, being around them for two years you can develop that kind of lifelong relationship. To me that’s a really neat thing.
Q: Is it sort of a middle ground then to work at that level, and does it open the path up to committing full-time to the college ranks? The guys are still hungry to learn and reach the professional level, but there’s that college amount of intimacy?
A: That’s a perfect way to phrase it. It’s a little bit in between. You really pride yourself on having an impact on someone’s life, like Gerald Green. The thing with Gerald was he needed to learn how to prepare himself for practice, prepare himself for the game, understand the importance of scouting reports. He had all the natural talent and gifts, but it was all those intangibles and he was willing to let us help him see the light. You get that aspect much more at the collegiate level than you do at the professional level.
Q: So does that open up a desire to go full bore into college?
A: I don’t think there’s any doubt that the relationships in the D-League are so much different than they are in the NBA, because you are around them off the floor. There’s only so many restaurants in Erie, Pa., when you’re on a road trip. You end up eating with guys. Those relationships off the floor become stronger, and whether it’s Gerald Green or Jeremy Lin, finding ways for those guys to reach their goals becomes really important. At the college level, to get a player to understand that if they have NBA aspirations, this is what they’re going to talk about in a draft room. I’ve done it. I’ve been in it. Your body language coming in and out off a game. Your body language when a coach is talking to you. Are you engaged? Are you a guy in warm-ups who prepares the right way? All those intangibles are things you can talk to a player at the college level and try to open his eyes to things he maybe hasn’t heard from anyone else before.
Q: You said when you get to Arizona State it was a chance to re-learn the game? You’ve said the style, learning how not to over coach and handling guys off the floor were in play. What did your two years in Tempe impart?
A: There’s so many differences between the two games on the floor that you wouldn’t know unless you’ve done both. I’ve learned a ton the last two years, and I know I’ll learn a ton from Johnny and his staff. That’s part of the thing that’s so exciting to me is to continue to learn as a coach. There’s little things, like baseline out of bounds defense is so important in college basketball. It’s much more a premium than in the pro game, where side out-of-bounds offense and defense is so vital. That’s a little thing that becomes monumental in close games. Even the way you can get emotionally up for a game is different than in the NBA. In the NBA, the emotions don’t start taking place until the playoffs. In the college game, when ASU is playing Arizona, and you’ve got a chance to knock off the No. 1 team in the country, it’s not just another game. You’re not playing four or five games a week, it allows you to get so emotionally invested in it from a preparation standpoint and with the players. All those things are different and unique.
Q: You met Herb Sendek a couple years ago at a shootaround when they were up in Berkely at a shootaround. What’s the backstory with LSU?
A: David Patrick and I are really good friends. When David was at Saint Mary’s, I was hanging out at Saint Mary’s a lot. Randy Bennett, who’s the head coach at Saint Mary’s, was the head coach at San Diego when I played there. So there’s that little Saint Mary’s tree. Randy and I are friends, and David and I are friends. That was the bridge to coach Jones.
Q: Obviously, Johnny’s not just a peer but a boss. What appealed to you about the possible working relationship and how he oversees LSU?
The more I talked to Johnny about the job, the more I got excited. And we talked about it a lot. Again, each conversation led me to feel that this was the right place. I was offered a NBA assistant’s job in basically the same time frame, and this felt like the perfect fit to me. My wife is really excited. My two sons are really, really excited. We sat a dinner table and talked about the NBA and college. We went back and forth, and it was unanimous between myself, wife and two sons. We did our own little voting, and it came out 4-0. I was really fortunate to have the opportunity I’ve had at the pro level,a nd I know I still have a lot to learn at the college level. I just want to come in and try to do anything that coach Jones wants. Camaraderie on a staff is so important, and I just feel that we’re going to have an opportunity to have that great staff chemistry.
Q: A lot of people will look at your background and say, ‘He’s an Xs and Os guy.’ You’re a coach’s son, and you’ve lived the game since a kid. What do those experiences bring to the staff? If there’s been a critique of the staff, it’s they might need someone with your kind of track record. Is that the role, or is it still to be defined?
A: I think it’s still to be defined. Coach has been great about talking about it. Eventually, roles evolved. We’ve talked a lot of Xs and Os. I’m going to learn a lot being there. I don’t know (assistant coach) Charlie (Leonard) very well. I just know David and Johnny. We’ve talked hoops, and I think everybody brings something to table.
Q: When I look stylistically, Arizona State and LSU played at pretty good clips tempo. You all were known for that at Golden State. How is the fit from a style and personnel standpoint?
A: I think it’s a perfect fit. That’s a lot of the reason it made sense to be a part of Johnny’s staff. We have a lot of similar beliefs in how the game is played. That was really important that he believes in an up-tempo style and transition baskets. From that standpoint, it’s a great fit.
Q: How much have you been able to sort of digest any tape from last year of the team? Is that the goal when you get into Baton Rouge?
A: I have a lot of catching up to do, not only with LSU. I want to dive into the other teams in the conference and try to learn their strength and weakness. I have a learning curve where I’ll have to catch up with the rest of the staff. I have been watching tape. That was part of the decision-making process. They’ve done an unbelievable job recruiting, and both of the bigs from last year have great upside. The incoming recruiting class in an exciting one. The point guard (Josh Gray) and the kid coming in from Texas (Elbert Robinson) mean there’s a lot of pieces to work with.
Q: Logistically, what’s the plan to relocate and get settled?
A: Obviously, we got all this finalized this morning. We’re getting on a plane Sunday. My son has camp until Saturday, and as soon as that ends we’re on a plane at 8 a.m. Sunday. My son will go to LSU’s campMonday. I’ll be working, and my wife will be looking for places to live.
Q: When did you all take the vote?
A: We took the vote about four days ago.
Q: Can you remember how far back Johnny reached out?
A: I can’t really even remember, but I know he’s a great recruiter because he got me. He has me sold.