Follow the Leader: L.A. Coaching Questions and Answers

School’s Out, But Not For Long

University of Southern California Athletic Director Mike Garrett can breathe a little easier this week. Garrett happily announced Kevin O’Neill as USC Men’s Basketball Head Coach Saturday afternoon.

O’Neill returns to the college ranks to replace Tim Floyd. Floyd suddenly resigned on June 9 amidst NCAA investigations surrounding his involvement in barred recruiting practices. Floyd allegedly delivered cash to a man who helped convince former Trojan O.J. Mayo’s to sign with the program.

O’Neill brings with him a strict coaching principle. Although his 171-180 in 12 seasons as a head coach is not the most impressive, he found recent success in a stint with Arizona and helping prime a young Memphis Grizzlies team at the NBA level.

“He stresses defense and I’ve always believed that defense wins championships,” Garrett said of O’Neill. “His 30 years of experience at the college and professional levels has prepared him.”

The detail-oriented coach returns to the Pac-10 after serving as interim coach at Arizona in 2008 when it appeared Lute Olson was gone for good. There, O’Neill felt the pressure behind 23 consecutive tournament appearances (the nation’s longest active streak).

O’Neill has a similar burden to bear at USC, a program that has won at least 20 games and made the tournament each of the last three seasons. These are both school records.

Clearly three seasons fails in comparison to twenty-something. But this is a noteworthy achievement at a school known for its football program.

Moreover, if the NCAA proves Floyd did give money to Mayo’s handler, USC could be facing sanctions and forfeits of victories and scholarships. This would be another wound for a program that has already said goodbye to several key upperclassmen and eight recruits.

We’ll see what kind of defense O’Neill draws up if that happens.


Episode XI?

Shortly after the Lakers became NBA Champions, Kobe Bryant was asked about his future with the team. He deflected the question and diverted one that followed: “What about Phil? Do you think he’ll return next season?”

Kobe left that question “up to Phil” but has finally brought some clarity to questions surrounding his own return. Kobe will be back.

“I’m not going anywhere,” he said. “I know I ain’t going nowhere, so it’s just a waste of our breaths just talking about it.”

Bryant has the opportunity to terminate the last two years of his contract and become an unrestricted free agent July 1. He’s been with the Lakers his entire NBA tenure and could pull a longer deal if he opted out. Kobe is 31 in August but appears to have plenty left in the tank.

Lakers Coach Phil Jackson is another issue entirely. Although his key player will return next season, Jackson said his health would dictate whether he returns for an attempt at his 11th NBA Championship.

Jackson, who turns 64 this fall, said he’d decide about next season after he sees his physician. Jackson has undergone two hip replacement surgeries since 2006. He missed two games this season due to pangs of plantar fasciitis.

Jackson signed a two-year contract extension last season but holds an option on the second year. The contract contains a date by which he is required to tell the Lakers if he plans to return General manager Mitch Kupchak said the team is willing to give Jackson the time he needs to see a doctor, but the date is fast approaching.

Jackson said he is “feeling good.” Of course, he did announce this en route to the “Tonight Show”. I know David Letterman always makes me feel better.
Not really.

Start signing those “Get Well Soon” cards, Laker fans.

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