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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Pennell hired as UA assistant

    If everything had gone according to plan last season, Russ Pennell doesn’t think UA head coach Lute Olson would have ever called him a few weeks ago to gauge his interest in an open spot on Arizona’s coaching staff.

    Instead, nothing went according to plan in a year interim head coach Kevin O’Neill was supposed to play bad cop to Olson’s good cop.

    “”But unfortunate things like that happen,”” Pennell said about a year that started with Olson’s season-long leave of absence and ended with O’Neill being relegated to a fundraising role with drama aplenty in between.

    That chain of events led to Olson’s announcement of Pennell as the newest Arizona assistant coach yesterday, about a week and a half after Pennell told his AAU team he would be taking the spot on the UA coaching staff formerly held by O’Neill.

    “”We’re happy to be adding a coach like Russ to our staff with his wealth of experience,”” Olson said in a press release. “”He is an outstanding coach, a hard worker and a wonderful family man.””

    Pennell said the opportunity to work with a Hall-of-Fame coach like Olson at “”a very storied program”” like Arizona that he called one of the top five or six in the nation was “”just too good a chance to pass up.””

    UA athletic director Jim Livengood and Olson looked at a number of candidates before deciding Pennell would be a “”great fit,”” Livengood said, a decision Olson ultimately made.

    Livengood said he likes Pennell’s experience and his reputation for working with young people.

    “”That’s a great combination for a college basketball coach,”” Livengood said.

    Pennell, 47, spent two seasons under head coach Eddie Sutton at Oklahoma State, six seasons at Mississippi under head coach Rob Evans and another six years under Evans at ASU.

    After leaving the Sun Devils in 2004, he opened the Arizona Premier Basketball Academy in Phoenix and now coaches the Arizona Premier AAU team. Pennell said it will be “”bittersweet”” to leave Arizona Premier and the relationships he built there.

    Pennell described himself as an “”old-school guy”” who has been around the game his entire life being the son of a high school basketball coach of 48 years. Pennell said he has a great “”grasp of what’s going on”” in basketball and builds strong relationships with his players.

    “”I’m pretty demanding but I’m fair,”” Pennell said. “”I’m not a guy who will belittle you. I always attack the actions. I think kids respect and respond to that.””

    Pennell added he thinks it’s a fair assessment to call him “”pretty intense,”” as those who have worked with him have described him as that.

    “”Russ is a very good hire for the program,”” said UA assistant coach Josh Pastner. “”He is a really, really good guy, very, very, good coach, been around a long time. He will be very, very good for the program. We’re very fortunate to be able to get him on our staff.””

    Pennell also brings the strong rapport he’s built with many of the top middle and high schoolers in the state of Arizona, including prized class of 2011 point guard Matt Carlino. The Wildcats offered Carlino a scholarship as a seventh grader, a year before Rivals named him the nation’s top eighth grader.

    Carlino said he has a “”really close relationship”” with Pennell that’s “”pretty special”” after working with him the past three years at his basketball academy and playing for his AAU team.

    “”I would hope (my relationships) would help a lot,”” Pennell said of recruiting his former players. “”I’ve got a pretty good rapport with them. Like I told every one of them, they’ve got to get better, got to keep working on their game. I told every one of them if they’re good enough at that level, ‘Believe me I’m coming to your house,’ I want to recruit them.””

    Pennell’s ties to Phoenix – particularly his six years as an ASU assistant before working as a Sun Devil radio analyst last year – led him to joke that he will be the most unpopular man in Arizona because ASU fans will call him a traitor and Arizona fans won’t accept him.

    But with no emotional ties or players he coached left in Tempe, Pennell’s ready to put his intense attitude and basketball knowledge to the test in Tucson.

    “”My loyalty is who I’m working for and sometimes people don’t understand as a coach you’re a professional,”” Pennell said. “”If someone with the Suns gets traded to the Spurs that’s the way it works.

    “”My loyalties will not be divided.””

    And 1

    The hiring of Pennell won’t be the only addition made to the Wildcats’ coaching staff, as Arizona will only have one returning coach from last year’s staff in the event Pastner decides to stay.

    Livengood said “”that goes with the territory”” after the type of season Arizona had.

    “”A lot of really good programs have people leaving,”” Livengood said. “”It’s no different than what (head coach) John Calipari is doing at Memphis, losing two assistants. We’re kind of beyond that age where people stay at one program …. Am I worried? I’m always worried, I want continuity, but I think freshness is also good.””

    Pennell’s first day had originally been scheduled for this upcoming Monday so he could coach in this weekend’s Cactus Classic in McKale Center, but Pennell contacted tournament organizer Jim Storey Saturday night to take his squad out of the competition.

    “”With me taking the job I kind of felt like it might be more of a circus around me (that would) take away from the players and put some undue pressure on them and I’ve got guys who can’t play at full strength,”” Pennell said of his banged-up squad. “”I felt it was best for everybody.””

    Still, UA fans won’t miss out on seeing Carlino, as he will play for Pump N’Run Elite in the tournament.

    Pennell expects to attend the event Friday night.

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