In some ways even LSU head coach Johnny Jones didn’t know what all he was getting in Eric Musselman when he added the two-time former NBA head coach to the Tigers’ bench in mid-June.
“I’m not sure (what he will bring),” Jones said then of Musselman, who didn’t arrive in Baton Rouge full-time from the Bay area in California until the end of summer. “He hasn’t coached a day with us, and we can only go on just his background and what we think he’ll have an opportunity to possibly bring.
“Those are things like new ideas to sit down and share with our philosophies, or some of the things that he can add that would be beneficial to what we need to do from individual skill work to game-planning as well as recruiting. He doesn’t have much of a recruiting background because he hasn’t been in it that much or that long. But I think his desires and hopes are to possibly one day be a (college) head coach, so he’ll certainly need those things. Hopefully he can continue to grow in those areas as well.”
Several months later LSU has been through double-digit practices and the benefits of Musselman, unmistakably a coach’s son, are starting to resonate with Jones.
“He’s really energetic at practice. He’s very vocal and gets us going,” Jones remarked recently. “He makes sure we are talking on the floor on offense and defense. It’s something that can help the team.”
All of that comes naturally to Musselman, who readily admits “I’ve always liked to burn the energy at practice and get involved.”
From going through defensive slides with the players in warmups to dropping and doing 20 pushups with Tigers who’ve dropped passes or missed layups to even the occasional lap around the court just because, LSU’s associate head coach likes to keep it moving.
He – and Jones – are hopeful it will have a positive impact on a developing team that’s flipping the page from the Hickey/O’Bryant era.
“Probably some guys like it, some guys probably are looking at you like you’re crazy. I don’t know. You’d have to ask them,” Musselman said of his habitual practice antics. “I think that when you sweat with them and you’re in there with them, as assistants our job is to make them feel like we’re working in there with them. Guess that’s just been something I’ve kind of always done.”
Musselman, along with new student assistant Ronald Dupree – an 11-year pro who played at LSU from 1999-2003, have been welcome infusions to the staff to date, providing an extra pep in the step for the players, who already had a certain level of trust and buy-in for Jones and the returning assistants.
“I think the energy with the guys has been great, a lot of enthusiasm,” explained Musselman. “All the coaches have great energy, great passion, and the guys have been so receptive. Coach Jones has such a good relationship with them that you can feel the passion in the air.”
He’s not just the intensity guy or the high-motor-in-practice guy, though.
Musselman, who’s coming off a two-year stint as an assistant at Arizona State, was brought to Baton Rouge with the hopes his experience at the highest level of basketball would rub off on LSU, particularly in the form of in-game and late-game coaching strategies.
Speaking to that experience and the difference in the pro and college games, Musselman said, “The NBA game is just more sophisticated than people give it credit for, and the players are so smart because they’ve been well-coached and they’ve got years’ experience as opposed to a lot of the college guys. In the NBA you’re a part of so many late-game situations because of the rules and being able to advance the ball.
“Instead of playing 30 games you’re playing 82 games. And then when you’re a part of playoff situations, now all the sudden you’re getting all that experience of every playoff game – it’s like every possession is a late-game situation because of the pressure and so forth. At the end of the day it’s still basketball. The goals are the same. The three-point line is a little bit further back (in the NBA), which I think helps teams spacing offensively. Otherwise, it’s basketball.”
As for the recruiting side Musselman echoed Jones’ words from this summer, noting that’s the area where he’s got the least experience but is currently learning the most. He feels his is an ideal situation, however, being able to sponge things from Jones and assistant head coach David Patrick, considered the staff’s lead recruiter.
“It’s a huge part of the job,” acknowledged Musselman. “Coach Jones and Coach Patrick are such phenomenal recruiters that it’s good to learn from them and see different tactics and ways they deal with not only the student-athletes, but maybe the parents or the AAU coaches. That’s another area where I feel like I’ve continued to grow and learn, and being around this staff can really help me in that aspect as well.”
While Musselman tries to put it all together and contribute toward getting this LSU program under Jones over the hump and into the Big Dance, he’s happiest with the fit.
He and his wife are enjoying the sporting climate in Louisiana’s capital, one Musselman says is vastly different and more voracious than what he witnessed in Tempe, and the family atmosphere that permeates the LSU staff and team.
“When you’re with a group of guys and there’s great chemistry and a lot of trust, that’s important. Obviously my past relationship (with David Patrick) and our wives’ relationship had a lot to do with the ball getting rolling, so to speak,” Musselman continued. “Then with Coach Jones, off the floor family is extremely important. To me family is extremely important, so there were a lot of common denominators that made it click.
“I’m learning from him every day, too. Some of the drills we’ve done I’ve never seen before. With all coaches it’s about having an impact on people and also learning. As you get older you start to see that those things and then bonding and creating new relationships with people is what it’s all about. It’s really neat when you can come to work and you’re excited about the people you’re working with and coaching with. That’s how it is here.”