Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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Kevin O’Neill may not have been good enough for Arizona.
But apparently he’s good enough for USC.
O’Neill, who was the interim coach at Arizona two seasons ago and has 13 years of experience as a college and NBA coach, was named Tim Floyd’s successor at Southern Cal on Saturday.
Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon and UNLV coach Lon Kruger both reportedly turned the job down.
“We’re thrilled to have Kevin O’Neill as our men’s basketball coach,” USC AD Mike Garrett said in a statement. “Kevin is the consummate coach. He knows his Xs and Os, he’s an excellent recruiter and he is very in tune with the academic side of a player’s collegiate experience. His 30 years of experience at the college and professional levels has prepared him well for this opportunity. I love his coaching philosophy and principles: he’s a no-nonsense coach who is very detail-oriented and prepares his teams well. He stresses defense and I’ve always believed that defense wins championships.”
O’Neill, 52, takes over for Floyd, who resigned after four seasons on June 9 amidst the O.J. Mayo scandal. Floyd allegedly paid Mayo associate Rodney Guillory $1,000 in cash to help steer Mayo to the program. Mayo is now in the NBA.
If those allegations are proven true by the NCAA, USC could forfeit victories, face recruiting restrictions and lose scholarships.
Still, O’Neill fully understands the situation.
“I’m very excited about this opportunity to coach at such a great institution as USC, with its tremendous athletic and academic tradition,” O’Neill said. “I appreciate Mike Garrett’s confidence in me. I will work my hardest to coach us to a championship level every single day. I can’t wait to get started.”
O’Neill faces a major rebuilding effort at USC, which has lost eight recruits and four of their best returning players — Demar DeRozan, Taj Gibson, Daniell Hackett and Marcus Johnson — since the end of the season.
O’Neill, 52, has worked in the basketball coaching ranks for 30 years, most recently spending the 2009 season as an assistant coach and special assistant to the general manager of the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies.
He was the head coach at Marquette (1990-94), Tennessee (95-97) and Northwestern (98-00) — where his total career record is under .500 — before becoming an assistant with the Knicks (02-03) and the Detroit Pistons.
He served as the Toronto Raptors’ head coach in 2004, going 33-49.
He spent the next three years (2005-07) with the Indiana Pacers, the first two as an assistant.
O’Neill was named interim head coach at Arizona for the 2008 season when Lute Olson took a leave of absence. His Wildcats went 19-15 and made the NCAA tourney, yet some players were unhappy with his style.
“He’s a great guy off the court, but he’s bipolar or something,” one of his former players told FoxSports.com. “On the court, he’s a madman.”
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.