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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Will Kevin O’Neill be Arizona’s defensive savior?

    Roman Veytsmansports editor
    Roman Veytsman
    sports editor

    Arizona’s knight in shining armor came in the form of a balding 50-year-old man with a sport coat and no tie.

    As Kevin O’Neill sat down to talk with Tucson’s media yesterday, he faced a barrage of questions regarding expectations rarely placed on an assistant coach. Adjectives like defensive guru and savior of the defense have already been flying around like leaves on a windy day.

    Fair or not, O’Neill has found a “”niche,”” as he put it at the press conference, on the defensive end of the floor.

    This isn’t anything new for O’Neill. He’s faced the pressure of coaching for several Division I teams as well as the unenviable task of coaching the Toronto Raptors at the time. He also coached with head coach Lute Olson at Arizona for three years (1986-89), and his son still lives in Tucson.

    Known as a fiery motivator throughout his coaching career, O’Neill will need to make a lasting impact on the toughness of the team.

    And after seven years at the NBA level, O’Neill doesn’t think he’s much different from the guy who yelled and cursed so loudly at Tennessee that people said they could hear him 30 rows up.

    “”I don’t know if I really have changed,”” he said. “”Many people have tried to make me grow up and have not been successful. I wish I could say I’m a lot more mature. I’m not.

    “”The things that haven’t changed about me that I would never want changed is I love the game of basketball, I love coaching, I want to do it for another 25 years and my hope is my love of the game will never change.””

    O’Neill said players at the NBA level are no different than college players. At the NBA level he said he couldn’t get in the faces of players but he has “”no problem pushing guys at any level.””

    “”The important thing is that our players push themselves and push each other and we push them and they push us and we all are pushing in one direction,”” he said.

    One aspect of O’Neill that Olson hopes won’t change is his knowledge of defense. Though not yet quite sure of his role, O’Neill said he figured he’d be involved in the defense.

    “”I’ve always been a guy that thought that defense wins championships and wins games,”” O’Neill said. “”I think that holds true in most every league you play in, no matter what level it’s on. I would say that I’m a defensive-oriented guy first, and I would hope that our team will be a very good defensive team.””

    Whether O’Neill will be the successor for Olson when he retires is unclear. O’Neill said he has not discussed the matter.

    “”I’m not sure I have a long-term future,”” he said.

    Either way, he figures to play a prominent role in Arizona’s future, for at least the short term.

    But ultimately, no matter how loudly O’Neill screams and yells, or what type of scheme he puts in (he said he’s a man-to-man coach), it will still be up to the players to change the defensive culture at Arizona.

    “”Some guys are just naturally tougher than others; let’s face it, that’s just the way it goes,”” O’Neill said. “”You have to set down an expectation level of what’s tough and what’s not.

    “”If you’re ducking out of charges you’re not very tough. If there’s a loose ball on the floor and our jersey is not on it, we’re not tough enough.””

    – Roman Veytsman is a journalism senior. He can be reached at

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