Two-time NBA All-Star Reggie Theus used his west coast ties to go out and secure verbal commitments from three of the top 35 players in the nation in the past week – No. 12 Amir Johnson, No. 22 Terrence Williams and No. 35 Andre McGee.
Theus, 46, who enters his second year as an assistant at Louisville, didn't stop there – he also played a role in helping to land Kansas 6-11 transfer David Padgett, a Nevada native and former McDonald's All-American who was also considering North Carolina and UCLA. The Cardinals also have 7-foot Illinois native Clarence Holloway and 6-7 Lamar Roberson, a Louisiana native who played this past season at Compton Dominguez (Calif.) and will go to prep school next season, in the fold for the Class of 2005.
``He's one of the best hires I've ever made," Pitino said. "``I needed someone to get me into the west coast region and there was no better guy to do it than Reggie. Not only is he a great recruiter. He can also teach the game."
``It's like having two head coaches on the sidelines," said the 6-6 Williams, who completed the stellar class when he called Theus and Pitino yesterday. "What I like about Reggie is that he's so straightforward. He doesn't sugarcoat anything. He's going to tell you everything, even if it's not what you want to hear."
Theus took a long, windy road to Louisville. After playing 13 years in the NBA, he retired in 1992 before becoming a commentator and actor, starting with CBA games and eventually moving onto a cushy and versatile position at Turner Sports that included sideline reporting, game analyst and even as a studio host.
``The bottom line for me is that I wanted to get back onto the floor," Theus said. "It was the natural progression. I was just so full of information and you're busting to tell someone. I finished games and was frustrated. I felt like I was running a fastbreak and didn't get to the shoot it at the end of the break. I didn't have any decision on the outcome of the game."
So Theus decided to get into coaching. He paced the sidelines during the spring and summer with Pat Barrett's Southern California All-Stars. He was the head coach of the ABA's Las Vegas Slam. He helped Larry Brown in the summer league as an assistant coach. He even was a volunteer from 2002-03 with Cal State Los Angeles.
But it still wasn't easy for him to break into the NBA because few thought Theus would be the type to put in the long hours that goes hand-in-hand with being an assistant coach in college.
``Is a guy with a pro ego willing to do this?" Pitino asked himself before hiring Theus a little more than a year ago. "It's a long day. He's a guy who had a reputation of being a pretty-boy in the NBA and some people didn't really take him seriously because of that. But Reggie has demonstrated he's willing to do whatever it takes and pay the price to be a college head coach. I see him down there working camp, teaching 8-year-old kids."
``I'd be disappointed if he's not a head coach next year," added Pitino. "He's more than qualified right now."
McGee admitted that he probably wouldn't be headed to Louisville if not for Theus.
``I know the head coach is always real busy, so a lot of guys commit because of the assistants," said the 5-11 point guard. "Reggie's been there for me and I'm gotten pretty close to him. With him, the bottom line is that he loves working with kids. He took a big pay cut from TV and even coached AAU, so you can see how dedicated he is about coaching."
``He's just a great guy," said Chari Bell, the mother of Brighton High (Utah) standout Brayden Bell. "He can be a little intimidating at first because of his past, but he was very open from day one and I was pleasantly surprised. He's very sincere and has a personal touch."
Theus didn't even get an interview this past summer when the job at UNLV opened up and the Running Rebels eventually hired former NBA head coach Lon Krueger. However, it's only a matter of time before he's running his own program.
``I've got a great job and the most important thing to me is to help Coach Pitino and Louisville win a championship," Theus said. "If a great situation comes up, I'd definitely be interested, but I'm in no rush."