Louisville assistant 'has the total package'
LAS CRUCES, N.M. -- Louisville coach Rick Pitino predicts Reggie Theus will soon be one of college basketball's dynamic head coaches.
New Mexico State University is banking on it.
The Theus era officially began Monday when NMSU introduced the soon-to-be Pitino former assistant as the Aggies' new head coach.
"He has the total package," Pitino, who has Louisville in the Final Four, said in a prepared statement issued by NMSU. "He's got great charisma, is a terrific teacher and he has two of the most important things it takes to be a head coach: he's very dedicated and he can bring in great players."
What Theus doesn't have is a long resume of major college coaching. But neither the Aggies nor Theus think that will be a problem.
Theus said the two seasons he spent as Pitino's chief recruiter have prepared him for his first Division I head coaching job and he plans to borrow from Pitino's play book.
"I'll be taking a page out of a lot of his books," Theus said.
Theus made a quick stop in Las Cruces Monday for the official announcement of his hiring. He planned to leave later Monday to rejoin Louisville as it prepares for the national semifinal game against Illinois on Saturday in St. Louis.
"It's been a great week. I've gone through a gamut of emotions," Theus said. "It's been an unbelievable journey to get here."
Theus, 47, said he's looking at several candidates as assistants, but for the moment his mind is elsewhere.
"Right now my task at hand is to help the University of Louisville win a national championship," Theus said.
The former NBA All-Star with the Chicago Bulls said he is confident he can restore the NMSU program to the level it reached in the early 1970s under former coach Lou Henson and in the early 1990s under Neil McCarthy.
Theus said he has been assured by the school's leadership that he will get the support he needs.
"We don't want ordinary players, we want extraordinary people," Theus said. "Back when I was playing [with UNLV] this school had a great reputation."
Henson, who retired in January after not being able to coach this past season because of health problems, turned around a mediocre program in the late 1960s and led the Aggies to a Final Four in 1970.
McCarthy, who ultimately was fired prior to the 1997-98 season, took the Aggies to five straight NCAA Tournaments from 1990 through 1994. Included in that run was a trip to the round of 16, where the Aggies lost to UCLA in the regional semifinals in Albuquerque.
During that five-year period, the Aggies went 123-35 under McCarthy.
Henson, who had just finished spending 21 years at Illinois, was rehired following McCarthy's ouster.
Henson led the Aggies to the NCAA Tournament in 1999, when they lost to Kentucky in the first round.
NMSU is coming off back-to-back losing seasons, including a 6-24 record last season under interim coach Tony Stubblefield. That is the Aggies' worst season since 1966, the year before Henson initially took over the program.
Stubblefield took over after Henson contracted viral encephalitis last September and became partially paralyzed. Henson was 21 wins shy of becoming only the fifth coach in Division I history to win 800 games.
"We're on a journey that's committed to excellence in everything we do," school athletics director McKinley Boston said of the school's latest hire. NMSU hired Hal Mumme, former coach at Kentucky, as its head football coach in December.
Theus was given a five-year base contract with a salary of $189,000, which with other benefits kicks it up to a guaranteed $230,000 a year.
Theus, who confirmed Saturday night that he had accepted the NMSU job, joined Pitino's staff in 2003. Before that he was a volunteer assistant for a year at Cal State Los Angeles. He also was head coach of the Las Vegas Slam of the ABA during the 2002 season.
Theus, who played for Jerry Tarkanian at UNLV from 1976-78, spent 13 years in the NBA with Chicago, Kansas City, Sacramento, Atlanta, Orlando and New Jersey. He was a two-time All-Star with the Bulls in 1981 and 1983 and is one of only five players in NBA history to score at least 19,000 points and have at least 6,000 assists.
Theus said he plans to employ an up-tempo offense and full-court pressure defense. He also promised plenty of discipline.
"There has to be a balance of tough love and hugs. A pat on the back and a kick in the butt," he said.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press
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