Arizona State basketball Patrick Finley: Assistant says rivalry has muscle, man

2013-03-07T00:00:00Z 2014-07-08T15:33:07Z Arizona State basketball Patrick Finley: Assistant says rivalry has muscle, manPatrick Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 07, 2013 12:00 am  • 

On his first day as a Continental Basketball Association general manager, Eric Musselman, all of 23 years old, made nine trades.

He became the Rapid City Thrillers coach the next year. By 28, he'd won 100 games as a CBA head coach and spent one season as an assistant under his father, Bill, with the Minnesota Timberwolves.

In 2002, at 37, he became the NBA's youngest head coach when he was hired by the Golden State Warriors.

Four years later, he spent a year in the same role with the Sacramento Kings.

Along the way, he served as an assistant with the Magic, Hawks and Grizzlies, and the head coach of two NBA D-League teams.

He coached the national teams of the Dominican Republic and, last year, Venezuela. (Hugo Chavez once called after a big win.)

A Basketball Lifer, capital letters intended, Musselman had never coached in college until Arizona State's Herb Sendek hired him as an assistant in September.

Which means that, until the Arizona Wildcats traveled to Wells Fargo Arena in January, he'd never coached in a college rivalry game.

Like, ever.

"You're talking about a full house, the anticipation leading up to the game all week, the practice preparation of a full week instead of two or three days," Musselman, who helps oversee the Sun Devils' new faster-paced offense, told me Wednesday. "The actual environment is the equivalent to a NBA playoff game."

He liked it so much, he's flying in his two sons from the Bay Area to be in attendance Saturday, when the Sun Devils play the UA at McKale Center.

"It's a completely different environment than what you experience at the NBA level," he said. "The passion of both universities makes it really unique.

"There are only so many rivalries like this one across the United States."

Sendek wanted an assistant with NBA ties. Musselman, the 2011-12 Coach of the Year with the Los Angeles D-Fenders, had wanted to crack the college game since being fired by the Kings in 2007.

After leaving Sacramento, he needed a break - "It was the first job I had where I felt I had failed," he said - but couldn't stay away from the sport.

Living in the Bay Area, Musselman spent more time with his kids and met his second wife. Personally, it might have been the best three years of his life.

He worked as a television and radio analyst and blogged, but still needed to see practices, to talk shop.

"That was the first time in my life I didn't have a gym to go to, ever," he said.

"When my dad coached at University of Minnesota, my mom would drop me off for practice when they practiced from 3-5, even though that was in second or third grade."

Randy Bennett at St. Mary's let Musselman stop by practice whenever he wanted. He went to shootarounds at Cal, too, and traveled to watch practices at Kansas, Southern Miss and Western Illinois.

Musselman interviewed with search firms across the country, probing college interest, before coaching the Reno D-League team starting in 2010.

"There are so many good people out there, coaches that opened their doors," he said.

He feels he can relate to the rigors of Sendek's job, having served as a head coach before.

"Everyone always says when you slide 12 inches over to the head chair, it's really hard," he said. "It's both. Both those require adjustments."

Now 48, he'd like to run a college program one day, but is "real happy working for Coach Sendek," he said.

Besides, there's work to do.

Unlike in the NBA, the Sun Devils can make the playoffs with a hot week, starting Saturday and ending at the Pac-12 tournament finale in Las Vegas.

"The slate's clean after our game against the Wildcats," he said. "We're all back to square one."

Contact reporter Patrick Finley at pfinley@azstarnet.com or 573-4145. On Twitter @PatrickFinley

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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