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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Pennell for Pac-10 Coach of the Year

    UA interim head coach Russ Pennell signals for forwards Jamelle Horne, far left, and Zane Johnson (2) to trap UCLA guard Jrue Holiday during the Wildcats win against UCLA in McKale Center on Saturday. Pennells coaching job at Arizona this season has him in the running for the Pacific 10 Conferences Coach of the Year award.
    UA interim head coach Russ Pennell signals for forwards Jamelle Horne, far left, and Zane Johnson (2) to trap UCLA guard Jrue Holiday during the Wildcats’ win against UCLA in McKale Center on Saturday. Pennell’s coaching job at Arizona this season has him in the running for the Pacific 10 Conference’s Coach of the Year award.

    All Madden — Opinion

    Coming into this season, Russ Pennell wanted to be the head coach for the Arizona men’s basketball team like a 7-year-old wants to go to the dentist the day after Halloween.

    It wasn’t defiance. It was knowing his place.

    Not that Pennell is a walking cavity, but who in their right mind would be comfortable taking over for a Hall-of-Famer right after coaching at the AAU level? How do you become the coach of a dynasty, especially when you were the second choice to take over the program, behind Mike Dunlap?

    What do you tell yourself in the mirror when four-star recruit Jeff Withey says he doesn’t want to play for you and transfers to Kansas?

    If you’re Pennell, you make the best of each and every day with what you have. It’s about turning the cliché into a well-oiled machine that runs out of necessity.

    After 26 games this season, the Wildcats find themselves in the midst of a seven-game winning streakÿand Pennell couldn’t seem more comfortable. The season is far from over and the Wildcats must still make strides to enter into the NCAA Tournament for the 25th straight year, but Pennell should be seriously considered to receive the Pacific 10 Conference Coach of the Year Award.

    Sure, he’s in the running with Washington’s Lorenzo Romar, as the Huskies currently sit at the top of the Pac-10. ASU’s Herb Sendek and UCLA’s Ben Howland are also running successful programs and Craig Robinson took Oregon State out its Pac-10 funk this season.

    But none of these coaches had to deal with a community backlash at the beginning of the season.

    Pennell did.

    None of those coaches have created a blue-collar team that has discovered a brotherhood out of the rubble that has piled up over the past two years.

    Pennell did.

    None of those coaches are working with a paper-thin roster.

    Pennell is.

    From scrubs to Cinderella – at least on the national level – the Wildcats are in the midst of their longest conference winning streak since 2004-05, after winning seven consecutive Pac-10 games. They’ve beaten Gonzaga, Washington and UCLA, which were ranked Nos. 4, 23 and 11, respectively, at the time of the defeat, along with defending national champion Kansas.

    Of their eight losses, three have come by just one point each.

    Now Arizona is even on the hunt for a Pac-10 title, maybe even more.

    This isn’t to suggest Pennell should be appointed the program’s head coach at the termination of this season. In reality, it’s probably not what athletics director Jim Livengood or UA President Robert Shelton want; they’d prefer someone with more head coaching experience and more of ahousehold name for more than the duration of this season.

    Pennell’s not thinking about that either.

    During Saturday’s shellacking of UCLA, a fan in McKale Center made an outlandish statement about Pennell’s future.

    “”If we beat UCLA,”” the fan said, “”we should hire him today.””

    If only life was that easy.

    Pennell’s answer was exactly what you would want from your Pac-10 Coach of the Year. He didn’t want to hear about that statement. His only concern was to find out how his daughter did in her gymnastics meet in Los Angeles. Then he was going to start worrying about Arizona’s game against No. 14 ASU on Sunday.

    “”That’s where my focus is,”” Pennell said, “”and I’m not going anywhere past that.””

    It’s not defiance. It’s knowing his place, as the Pac-10 Coach of the Year should.

    Lance Madden is a journalism junior. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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