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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Wildcats back to business

    UA interim head coach Kevin ONeill, who coached the team during Arizonas exhibition game Sunday in McKale Center, says everything is back to normal in the absence of Lute Olson.
    UA interim head coach Kevin O’Neill, who coached the team during Arizona’s exhibition game Sunday in McKale Center, says everything is back to normal in the absence of Lute Olson.

    Arizona men’s basketball interim head coach Kevin O’Neill entered a room full of media in McKale Center dressed in a full suit and tie yesterday. His attire reflected the Wildcats’ business-like attitude despite the indefinite leave of absence of head coach Lute Olson.

    But there’s no question the Silver Fox is missed.

    “”It’s just a different feeling,”” said O’Neill, who took over the No. 17 Wildcats from his perch as assistant coach Sunday before the team’s exhibition game with Concordia. “”When you’re on the floor with the cactus on it practicing, you expect Lute to be out there.””

    “”You miss greatness,”” O’Neill added. “”You miss presence, stature and wisdom. It’s a first for all of us.””

    O’Neill said Olson called him after watching the Wildcats’ 68-50 win on TV but didn’t give O’Neill any timeline on his return or any coaching advice.

    Though he’s received more phone calls and messages and has to run Olson’s meetings, O’Neill said nothing has changed basketball-wise.

    “”It’s been normal, actually,”” said guard Jawann McClellan. “”We’ve been doing the same things – watching a lot more film than when coach (Olson) was here. It wasn’t that big of an adjustment.

    “”It’s still shocking, though. We really don’t know what’s going on. We keep hearing he’s going to be back before the first (regular-season) game (Tuesday against NAU), but we don’t know. You can’t put a time limit on anybody’s personal matters.””

    Pastner, Simon pitching in

    O’Neill is not alone running the team. He said sixth-year assistant Josh Pastner and third-year assistant Miles Simon have stepped up in helping him.

    “”I had to ask Josh and Miles the other day how many timeouts we’ve got,”” said O’Neill, who’s spent the last seven seasons in the NBA. “”Josh and Miles have been very, very helpful through this whole situation. Those guys are close to the players. They’ve given me a lot of help in the last few days.””

    Both former Wildcat players, Simon and Pastner work with the guards and the big men, respectively, in practice. But their jobs don’t stop there.

    The two coaches also have a hand in recruiting, though it’s the Hall of Famer Olson who draws in future players.

    O’Neill said Olson’s absence won’t have any affect on recruiting.

    “”People have been saying for five to seven years that he’s going to retire,”” O’Neill said of Olson. “”But I haven’t gotten that sense. … I’ve heard everything imaginable that other coaches can say.

    “”The ethics of college basketball may be at an all-time low. The things people say to try to change people’s minds. That’s just part of the game. But it’s only been two days.””

    Budinger, McClellan sit out

    Forward Chase Budinger and McClellan sat out of a light practice Monday to rest up for a heavy three-hour practice yesterday, O’Neill said.

    “”It’s nothing serious,”” said O’Neill, who called the players “”banged up.””

    “”Jawann played a ton of minutes on Sunday, and I think it was in his best interest,”” he added. “”He’s completely healthy. He could have gone. If it was a game, he would have played, same with Chase.””

    O’Neill said that giving Budinger, who played 33 minutes in the exhibition game, and McClellan, who played 38, a day off in practice gave the athletes who played fewer minutes more floor time.

    “”I learned from being at the next level that saving a guy’s legs is important,”” O’Neill said.

    McClellan said that he felt fine and that his knees, on which he’s had surgery and that gave him trouble last season, were in top shape.

    “”I could walk after Sunday’s game, and that wasn’t the case last year,”” McClellan said. “”I’m doing well.””

    Injury report

    Though McClellan is making a strong comeback, not all of the team is 100 percent.

    Freshman Zane Johnson will be out for about four or five days with a head injury, O’Neill said. The injury is why Johnson wasn’t part of the 10-man rotation Sunday.

    Johnson said in the locker room after the game Sunday that he would see a doctor later in the day.

    Forward Fendi Onobun is still out with shin splints and will be re-evaluated at the end of the week, O’Neill said.

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