Kevin O'Neil press conference quotes

After weeks of speculation Kevin O'Neil was finally announced as the new Wildcat assitant coach. Here are his comments to the media.

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Opening Statement

It's great to be back here.  I've been gone several stops in the last 18 years.  I feel like it's an honor and a privilege to be back here working with Lute (Olson) and working at the University of Arizona.  I'm excited about the possibilities of it – competing for national championships is something this program has always been about.


Having been in the NBA for the last seven years, I had the opportunity in the past year to explore some college things, and be involved in some college situations, but when it came right down to it, the only one that I really had any interest in was this one.


I'm appreciative of Coach Olson for bringing me back here and appreciative of the opportunity to coach at such a great place in a great town.


The team seemed to lack a bit of motivation.  What can you bring to try to motivate these players?

I've watch some of the game films and I watched a lot of games on TV.  This is the first year that I really had a chance to sit and watch college basketball.  I think it's important that any team that is going to compete for league championships and national championships needs to play with a high level of intensity.  I'm sure our guys will do that.


What made you decide to come back to the college game?

I was undecided as to whether I would come back to college or stay in the NBA.  Frankly, I had some other opportunities in the NBA that I could have pursued, but the thing that really intrigued me was the coming back to Arizona.  If I was going to come back to college basketball, it was going to be at a place of Arizona's caliber, and preferably at a place where I know people.  This was a good opportunity that happened at the right time.


Do you now see your long-term future in college?

I never ...I'm not sure I have a long term future (laughs).  The way that I've been in the business, I've moved – I was in the college ranks for a while, and then in the NBA you move quite frequently.  For me, I just try to take this thing one season at a time and see what it brings.  It would be nice to get a feel for college basketball again, to see if it's what I remember it as.  Unfortunately, it probably is (laughs).  I don't have any long-term plans to be honest with you.  I want to coach for another 25 years.  That's my only long-term plan.


Are you ready to get on the recruiting trail and all of that good stuff?

I don't mind recruiting at all.  I never did mind recruiting as long as you are recruiting at a high level.  At times I've gotten tired of recruiting.  Al lot of times it depends on where you are recruiting to.  I won't mind that at all.  I've traveled way more during the NBA season than you travel in college.  To me that won't be an adjustment at all.


How much do you think your NBA experience will help you in recruiting?

I think, unfortunately, every kid thinks he's going to play in the NBA.  If you went to any lockerroom and said how many guys think they are going to play in the NBA, I think a lot of hands would go up.  The thing that players don't understand is that it very difficult to play at that level.  It's very, very difficult to achieve at that level and even more so.  I think it will help.  I think kids want to talk about the NBA.  They want to hear the NBA.  I don't think it will hurt.  I don't think it will make the ultimate decision.


What can you bring from that experience in the NBA to this program?

I just think I got to be a whole lot better of a coach.  It's been often a misnomer that NBA coaches don't ‘really coach.'  You make a lot of decisions in every NBA game.  There are 14 to 18 timeouts depending on the TV stuff.  There are all kinds of decisions down the stretch.  If anything, I've become a better coach in the last seven years and would hope that I could learn more and become a better coach and learn more this year.


The thing I could say to anyone at this level that is true at the NBA level is that no matter you coach at or play at, if you don't do it to the hardest of your ability, you are not going to be successful.  I've now been fortunate to coach on every level as a head coach and an assistant.  I have learned that if you don't play hard every night and every practice, you will not be successful.  If anything, the NBA made me realize that more than anything.


Defensively, is it a change in the scheme or the mentality that is needed here?

I haven't really talked to Lute specifically about that.  I've always been a man-to-man defensive guy.  I've always been a guy who felt that defense wins championships and wins games.  I think that holds true in most every league you play in no matter what level it's at.  I would say that I'm a defensive oriented guy first.  I would hope that our team ends up being a very good defensive team.


How have you changed since the last time you were in a role here?

The things that haven't changed about me that I really would never want to change is that I love the game of basketball and I love coaching.  Like I said, I want to do it for another 25 years.  It's my hope that my love of the game would never change.  This past year was a test for me.  I wasn't coaching for the first time in 27 years and it was really difficult for me.  It happened at the right time.  My mom passed away in December, so I was able to be there for that.  I think the basketball gods were kind of looking out for me and now it's time to get back to work.


How much of an adjustment will it be to be an assistant coach on this level?

I've learned over the course of my time in the NBA that it doesn't matter if you are a head coach or an assistant coach.  It matters who you are working with and what program you're at.  Assistant coaches dictate often times how much you win and how much you lose.  They are a big part of winning and losing just like the head coach.


Will it bother my ego to be an assistant in college?  Not one bit.  I don't want to be an assistant in college at Northbrook College, you know what I'm saying?  This is a unique situation, obviously, for me to come back to the college ranks as an assistant because it's someplace that I have a great love for and a guy that's coaching that I have great respect for.  So that's why I'm here more than anything.


Do you get the sense that people feel that you are the "big fix?"

If they do, I hope they are right.  I don't know what's been wrong.  I haven't been associated with it.  To me, there isn't much wrong, to be honest with you.  How many straight NCAAs (tournament appearances)?  Twenty-three.  If that's wrong, I think we'd all take that.  I just hope that I can add something to help the team be better every help Lute do a better job and help the university win.  I don't really see myself as a fix.  I just hope I can contribute in ways that are positive.


How did this come about?

It was toward the end of Arizona's regular season or maybe the Pac-10 Tournament.  Coach just asked me what I was doing...what was going on.  Stuff like that.  Then I didn't hear from him at all for a long time.    I had a chance to talk with him a couple of other times.  It just went from there.  I talked with several people.  A guy that I have great faith in, Mark Bartlestein, who has been my agent for a long, long time.  I spent a lot of time with Mark talking about this, talking with my wife Roberta about it.  It was an opportunity to do this for the first time in a long time.  You don't get out of NBA contracts.  You have to be out of them (laughs) in order to take this opportunity.  It just kind of came about in passing.


During this year, I explored a lot of things in college situations.  I talked to some people about their jobs.  I was offered a few jobs.  But I wasn't determined to go back to college.  I want to reiterate that this is one of the few places that I would come to be involved in college basketball.  I think the reasons are obvious.  I appreciate what Lute did for me.  He got me a start, got me the Marquette job.  He has been instrumental in a lot of my successes.  More than college basketball per se, it was Arizona basketball that caught my attention more than anything.


What about your future beyond Lute Olson?

That has never come up.  That's never been talked about with myself with Lute or with (athletic director) Jim Livengood.  That's not part of the equation as far as I'm concerned.  The only part of the equation that I'm really concerned about do we get better this year...go farther.  (Succeeding Lute) has never been talked about at all.


Have you had a chance to speak with Jim Rosborough?

I have not.  I don't think that's my place because I wasn't involved in that.  I have the utmost respect for Jim Rosborough as a coach.  I think he's had a great career of coaching basketball.  I think he was a big part of this program for a long, long time.  I have not spoken to him and at some point, I'm sure I will.  I'd like to.  I worked with him at Tulsa when I was there (1985-86) and have a lot of respect for what he's accomplished and helped the program accomplish over the years.  He's been a big part of the successes.


What do you make of the comparisons between Sean Elliott and Chase Budinger?

I just saw Chase on TV a few times.  He's obviously a very talented guy.  You always hear comparisons of players to players.  If he ends up as good as Sean, he's going to have one heck of an NBA career.  I've always stayed in touch with Sean.  I think the world of him.  That guy had a great career and accomplished many things outside of playing basketball that all of us would be proud of doing.  If Chase ends up like Sean, then we have a hell of a player.


What's the biggest difference with working with NBA players and those in college?

I didn't find any difference.  When you got NBA players in individual work, I thought they worked much harder than any of the college guys ever worked out.  The NBA has its own set of problems also and those are well documented.  For the most part, players are players at any level.  If you demand of them, work them hard and have expectations of them, I think they will try to meet them.  I really didn't notice a big difference between the NBA and college guys.  I enjoyed working with guys on both levels.


How does toughness factor into competing in this conference?

I think naturally as a team we'd like to get tougher.  You always want to be more hard-nosed.  I have great respect for what the rest of the coaches in this league have done.  This is a great basketball league.  It's our job to be competing for Pac-10 Championships and national championships.  That would be our goal.  Anything I can do to help, I'm going to give my best effort and put in the time and work as hard as I can to help us get better.


Do you expect to have autonomy over the defense?

You guys all know Lute well enough to know that no one has autonomy except him (laughs).  He didn't hire me for my looks or my offensive prowess or any of that.  I've been fortunate to have had a good niche in the NBA and in college of being a good defensive coach.  That would be something that I would think that he would want to get input from me on among other things.  Yes, defensively, I'm sure I'm going to be involved with that stuff.


Are you still the firey practice coach who is not afraid to get in anyone's face?

That changes in the NBA.  You don't get in anyone's face in the NBA.  You basically coach hard.  I didn't have any problem ever telling NBA players what I thought should be done or what's expected.  I have no problem pushing guys at any level.  I think that's important.  The important thing is that our players push themselves and push each other.  We push them and they push us and we all are pushing in one direction.  That's going to be the important thing for us.  You do things hard.  That's something that I would like to think that I would always bring to the table is an intensity to do things the right way and the hard way.


How do you make a team tougher?

Some guys are just naturally tougher than others.  Let's face it.  That's just the way it goes.  But I think you have to set down an expectation level about what's tough and what's not.  If you are ducking out of charges, you are not very tough.  If there is a loose ball on the floor and our jersey isn't on it, then we're not tough enough.  There are certain measures of toughness that we all can see.  It's easy to tell which team is tougher often times on the court.  Changing that or improving that are a cultural mentality more than anything.  A lot of guys talk tough.  The guys you should worry about are the guys who don't talk at all and they just knock your socks off.  Those are the guys that are really tough.  Being tough mentally is as important as physically.  If you are tough mentally, you will do the right thing every time.  A consistency in intensity and toughness would help any team get better.

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