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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Assistant coach Pennell unofficially begins new role

    Assistant coach Pennell unofficially begins new role

    Arizona Cactus Classic

    Newly hired Arizona men’s basketball assistant coach Russ Pennell hardly wasted any time before indulging into his job.

    In fact, it only took Pennell a mere two hours after arriving in Tucson from Phoenix to begin scouting nationally-ranked high school basketball players at the kickoff of Friday night’s Arizona Cactus Classic in McKale Center.

    Hired on May 5 to replace UA assistant Miles Simon, Pennell embraced his last opportunity at scouting high school superstars before officially beginning the job.

    Since NCAA rules prohibit coaches from recruiting at this time period, Pennell took advantage of the layover between his last job as head coach of the Arizona Premier AAU basketball team and Monday’s official start in Tucson.

    After UA head coach Lute Olson announced his hiring, Pennell withdrew his team from the Cactus Classic, which concludes Sunday afternoon.

    Beginning next week, Pennell will prepare and meet with the Wildcats to ensure stability amidst a time of assistant coach turnover.

    “”I think initially it will cause maybe some confusion by the players, maybe some apprehension,”” Pennell said. “”But I think what it allows is almost a fresh start for everyone.””

    Last year’s interim head coach, Kevin O’Neill, took a fundraising role with Arizona athletics after UA head coach Lute Olson announced his return from a season-long leave of absence.

    Simon’s contract was not renewed for the 2008-09 season and UA assistant Josh Pastner also left the program to accept an assistant position at Memphis amidst speculation that Olson would hire Denver Nuggets assistant coach Mike Dunlap as his associate head coach.

    “”He’s had some good coaches here, but I think it’s going to be a good situation and you’re going to probably see a staff that’s a little bit older, maybe more experience, and that maybe what Coach has in mind at this particular point in his career,”” Pennell said.

    By hiring a more experienced staff, as opposed to the 30-year-old Pastner and 32-year-old Simon, Pennell believes a fresh start will revive a program that missed its first 20-win season since 1986. Arizona finished 19-15 overall and 8-10 in Pacific Conference play.

    “”I think last year was one of those unfortunate situations that nobody could predict and probably might not ever happen in another 50 years,”” said Pennell, 47. “”The timing was bad on every part. I just think what you have to do when you come out of a tough controversial type situation is come back to stability.

    “”Basics on the floor, the way you conduct yourself – just things with the players and fans where everyone can just say: that’s what I remember Arizona basketball being.””

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