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With little coaching experience, Theus takes over Kings

6/20/2007 - NBA Sacramento Kings

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Reggie Theus scored the first basket
in the history of the Sacramento Kings nearly 22 years ago -- and
the club put the ball back in his hands Wednesday.


Kings owners Joe and Gavin Maloof formally introduced Theus as
the franchise's 21st head coach at Arco Arena after signing him to
a three-year deal. With a natty suit and a TV-star smile, Theus
vowed to return excitement and wins to a once-successful team that
fell apart last season.


"I've come full circle. This is an amazing dream to be sitting
here," said Theus, who played three high-scoring seasons in
Sacramento after the club's move from Kansas City to California's
capital.


"I remember flying in for the first time over the rice fields
and the farms, and I was reflecting on that as I flew in today. The
only time I can remember having this feeling is the day I got
drafted."


Theus replaces Eric Musselman, who won 33 games in his one
tumultuous season. He succeeded Rick Adelman, who led the Kings to
eight consecutive winning seasons and playoff appearances,
including the 2002 Western Conference finals.


Most of the veterans who made up last season's squad are under
contract for next season and beyond, including Ron Artest and Mike Bibby. Sacramento, which has the 10th pick in next week's draft, is
expected to shake up a roster that stagnated last year.


Though most NBA observers think the Kings are in for a few more years of hard times, Theus seemed overwhelmingly eager to attack
their weaknesses -- and he had some firm opinions about last year's
struggles.


"There's no doubt in my mind this team could have and should
have won more games last year," he said. "We have to create an
identity. Right now, there's no identity to this team."


The Kings dominate public discussion in this one-sport town, and
fans are wondering what the club will become under Theus, whose
short coaching resume gives few clues to his style. Will he emulate
Adelman's up-tempo style, or will he take another shot at
fulfilling the Maloofs' desire for a defensive powerhouse, as
Musselman failed to do?


Perhaps Theus' playing career provides insight. The shooting
guard had a reputation as one of the most notorious gunners of the
1980's, but still played solid defense and frequently finished
among the NBA leaders in assists -- including third in the league
during Sacramento's inaugural season.


"There's really only one way to play the game, and that's up
and down," said Theus, who already spoke to Artest and Bibby by
phone in the 24 hours after getting the job. "Defense is an
important aspect, because there was none here last year. ... The
game is supposed to be fun, and I don't think it was fun here last
year."


Theus will learn how to be an NBA coach on the job. He went
41-23 over the last two years at New Mexico State in his first
significant head coaching job that didn't take place on a
Saturday-morning sitcom.


Theus made no secret of his desire to get back to the pro league
while in the college ranks. But even after interviewing with the
Charlotte Bobcats and then wowing the Maloof brothers and top Kings
executive Geoff Petrie last week in Las Vegas, Theus didn't expect
to get his wish quite so quickly.


"I was very surprised," Theus said, glancing down the dais at
Petrie. "He's got a great poker face. I don't know where it
turned, but I don't think I was the main guy for a while."


The Kings waited two months to name a successor to Musselman,
who was fired April 20. Stan Van Gundy nearly accepted the job
before choosing the Orlando Magic two weeks ago, and the Kings' top
brass gave lengthy interviews to five candidates. Theus, Kings
assistant coach Scott Brooks and Lakers assistant Brian Shaw were
the unofficial finalists.


"He wants to be here," Joe Maloof said of Theus. "Other
people didn't want to be here. We want a coach that's proud of
Sacramento and wants to coach this team, and he does."


Petrie cited Theus' relative youth and energy as decisive
factors. His ties to Vegas -- as a star at UNLV -- and New Mexico,
the Maloof brothers' home state, also helped.


"He has a great charisma and energy," Petrie said. "He has a
love for this franchise and a real affection for this community."


Before two seasons as Rick Pitino's assistant at Louisville and
his time at New Mexico State, Theus stayed close to the NBA as a
television analyst for nine seasons -- when he wasn't playing coach
Bill Fuller on the television show "Hang Time," that is.


Theus claims he always had a soft spot for the Kings and the
powder-blue uniforms he wore proudly back when the well-traveled
team wasn't much to be proud of. Now that bad times have returned
to Sacramento, Theus believes he can turn the tide.


"Most of my background is on the NBA level," Theus said. "I'm
going to be able to utilize what I've done and what I've learned.
You've got to figure out what's best for the guys you've got in
uniform."