New Arizona men’s basketball coach Tommy Lloyd was formally introduced to Wildcat Nation on Thursday afternoon during a press conference held on the McKale Center court that he’ll be pacing in a few months.
The 46-year-old Lloyd comes to Tucson after 20 years as an assistant at Gonzaga, where he was part of a program that has become the premier one out West and which has made two appearances in the NCAA Tournament championship game in the past five years, including 10 days ago against Baylor.
Here’s what Lloyd had to say during his introductory press conference. You can watch the full thing at the bottom of this article.
On why he finally decided to leave Gonzaga: “For those of you that know my story, and don’t, it’s well documented, I was a longtime assistant at Gonzaga 22 years, and I loved every minute of it. I had a contract to be the next head coach there, you know, life was good. I never really got into playing the job hunting game, or where do I want to coach, at least publicly. But in my mind and my heart, I knew. This is the only place I would ever leave Gonzaga to come, to be the head coach at University of Arizona. As it became a reality, it’s something I’ve wrapped my arms around, and I can’t wait to start this adventure.
“I never let any of those, when people reached out to me, get too far. Because for me, there was no decision to make. When I heard the names of the schools pursuing me, you’re flattered, but I knew at that time I was at the right place and it was Gonzaga. I invested every ounce of my being into Gonzaga. What separated Arizona is really simple, it’s Arizona basketball. This place is phenomenal. I’ve been watching this place rock for 40 years since when I’m five, six years old waking up on Saturdays watching NCAA games. For me to have the opportunity to be a head coach at a place like this, basically on the West Coast, it was a no brainer for me.”
On Gonzaga coach Mark Few: “This guy gave me a chance. I mean I literally showed up at his doorstep, (he) had no idea who I was, and gave me a chance when I was young and he was just starting out as a head coach, his first year as a head coach I showed up and asked if I could help. And I was there by his side every day. I was really kind of antsy and wanted to get going in this profession because I thought I could do it, and I was probably a little overzealous, and I just remember he told me one time ‘hey relax, I got you. You remind me a lot of myself.’ And I never forgot that. I want to thank him for giving me the opportunity to work at Gonzaga and preparing me for this opportunity. The way he treated me, and the freedom he gave me, he’s prepared me to be a head coach, there’s no doubt about it. And to him, I’ll always be indebted.”
On getting Few’s blessing: “Of course I was nervous when he first found out. I mean, you’re talking about a guy that’s a Hall of Fame coach, and built a small Catholic school in Spokane into a national powerhouse. I get emotional talking about it because, when we first talked, we were in the weight room down at Gonzaga, it was just he and me and he was like, ‘are you kidding me?’ He’s like, ‘who would have thought five years ago that we’d have played in two championship games, and Arizona would want Gonzaga’s assistant coach to be their head coach? He told me, if you can get that job you gotta take it. Trust me, he’s never told me that before. He was amazingly supportive, as was the administration. Mike Roth, our AD, I was also nervous talking to him. He told me, not only is it the right thing for you, to go to the University of Arizona, we’re going to celebrate it at Gonzaga. Those guys made it easy for me to make a hard choice to leave, and I’m thankful for that because they’re great people.”
On John Stockton: “He’s been a significant mentor to me and a great friend to our family, and he probably doesn’t realize this, but every time he talks I hit the record button in my mind and remember everything he says because it’s just straight wisdom. He has probably no idea how much he’s impacted me because I’ve never really shared that with him. My son Liam was fortunate enough to be coached by him. It’s not one specific thing. It’s just that, when he talks, I listen, because there’s a lot of wisdom there. A lot of people have a lot of wisdom, and I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to tap into some of his.”
On Liam, a freshman guard at Grand Canyon: “I’m fired up for my son. I’m going to get to go to some of his games at Grand Canyon now, he plays right up the road. Super proud of him.”
On himself: “I hope you guys find that I’m a people person. I’m a uniter. I’m a person who wants to develop relationships and help people get on the same page. I looked forward, and I’ve met a ton of them already, but to meeting and getting to know the people who make Wildcat athletics and the university go.”
On Arizona’s basketball history: “I understand the tradition and the passion that surrounds the Arizona basketball program, and I smile when I say that. I know, I know I’m following four decades of incredible success and great coaching. From Lute Olson, who I was fortunate enough to visit with a few times when he attended coach Few’s cancer events. Just how he was an icon and I know I’m telling you guys that, but you have to understand, as we were building the program at Gonzaga, Arizona was the standard. It’s a program we’ve always looked up to, always admired, enjoyed competing against. The amount of respect we have for this place is second to none. To Sean Miller, who I’ve respected as a friend and a competitor for the last decade. I look forward to connecting with Sean at some point, and hopefully utilizing him as a mentor. You’re talking about a guy who was recently here for 12 years as a head coach, had incredible success, and he has worn the shoes that I’m about to wear. I definitely want to connect with him, and would love to use him as a mentor, as I embark on this journey.”
On the fanbase: “In competing against Arizona, I’ve witnessed in this building the full force of Wildcat Nation bearing down on an opponent. I’ve seen the fans show up in full force in Maui. I’ve seen them walking the streets in San Diego, where they beat the Zags in 2014 in the NCAA Tournament. And I’ve always been impressed by the following, the passion, and it’s something that I’ve wanted to be a part of a part of. I remember our historic game in the 2003 NCAA Tournament, a crushing double-overtime loss ... in Salt Lake City.”
On the alumni, many of which wanted a former player to be the next coach: “I give you guys my word. I’m going to honor this place with every ounce of my being. I want to connect the University of Arizona. I don’t want it to be era, I want it to be about one amazing basketball program, and everybody’s proud. I know the value of former players sitting at home watching their team play on TV, and the pride they feel when they watch that. I want to give those guys everything I got. I don’t have to be the guy they wanted for this job, I’m okay with that, they should be pushing their teammates. If they were doing anything other than that I’d probably question them. But moving forward, I can’t wait to wrap my arms around them, ask them to help me on this journey, and do anything I can to move this program forward.
On putting the program first: “I understand today the spotlight is going to be on me, but I can’t wait to move forward in the spotlight goes off me, and it goes back on the greater good of the entire program in the university. I want to be a small part of our journey forward. I don’t want this to be about me. I’m not worried about coaching victories next to my name. I’m worried about coaching victories for the University of Arizona. I’m not going to look for credit, I just want to be a part of it. I don’t got all the answers. I’m ready and willing for you guys to assist me. And ultimately, let’s get this program back to where we’re raising another national championship banner in McKale. That’s my dream. I’m going to give you everything I got. I’m not going to be perfect, but I know I’m in the right place today.”
On finally beating Arizona while at Gonzaga: “University of Arizona was the standard bearer for Gonzaga. Coach Few always did a great job of, as he built that program out of nothing, of emulating a few programs. Arizona and Duke were the programs that that Coach Few chose to emulate. So, for us to get to a point where we’re not only competing against, and then had some success and won a few games against Arizona, I mean, yeah, it was an amazing accomplishment. But at Gonzaga, maybe it’s a weakness of ours, and I’m gonna have the same attitude here, it’s always now and next. You beat Arizona? Great, that was now, what’s coming next? And that’s how we always approached it.”
On meeting his current team for the first time: “The first thing I did today is I met with the current team. It’s really important that I meet with those guys because we’ve got to hit fast forward and develop some relationships. College basketball is crazy these days with player movement, so I want to meet these players, get them to know my vision, get to know them, know about their families, so we can do the best part moving forward, creating win-win situations.”
On what style of play he expects to have at Arizona: “The formula to competing for national championships and Final Fours is having an offense and defense both rated in the top 20. We’ve been able to consistently do that at Gonzaga over the last eight to 10 years. When you’re good on offense it’s what people want to talk about, but we understood for us to take the next step as a program, we had to get great at defense, too. I thought we did a great job kind of evolving our defensive schemes. I think that’s what’s been the difference maker for us this last eight or 10 years on this run, that Gonzaga has been on, is really making improvements on the defensive. We’re going to be great on on both sides of the ball. that’s going to be the standard.
“I believe in teaching guys how to play, not necessarily running plays. Now, that doesn’t mean you’re going to see an undisciplined group throwing jump passes and shooting stepback between-the-leg threes all the time. We’re going to have an offense that generates great shots, and it’s going to rely on player movement, pace, ball movement, and it’s going to be a ton of fun. I can’t wait to get on the court with these guys, because that’s what I love. The recruiting, I know how important it is, but my true passion is coaching and teaching. So, we’re going to spend an inordinate amount of time on teaching guys how to play, and we’ve had success with it in the past. I think the players have loved it, and I can’t wait to share some of the things that I do with the players here. I’m looking forward to watching them grow as basketball players.”
On if the pending NCAA sanctions against the program impacted his decision to take the job: “Obviously it didn’t weigh much because I’m here. You know, you can’t always script everything in life. For me to have the opportunity to be the head coach at the University of Arizona, it probably wasn’t going to be a perfect situation. But one thing: I don’t think you guys are ever going to hear me complain about NCAA sanctions or anything like that. I know what I’m walking into, and I know my job is to lead the program forward. So that’s going to be 100% of my focus.”
On recruiting, and if he’ll continue to go heavy on international players: “The recruiting game has changed so much in the last eight or 10 years, and it always seems to be evolving. I think you’ve just got to give yourself options and you’ve got to stay ahead of the curve. The international thing at Gonzaga—what’s the old saying, necessity is the mother of invention. Spokane is a great place to live, but it’s not necessarily a hotbed for high school basketball. So we had to go out and think different to be different, to get the level of players to compete nationally. We utilized the international market, and I was able to spearhead that It’s been an easy narrative for people to grab on to. But I’ve also recruited a lot of great US kids. When I think about recruiting I also think about my job is to get the best fit, highest character, most talented guy for our team. You always have to have that formula. And whether that’s an international guy, a transfer, a junior college kid, I don’t know. But we’re gonna fish in all waters, trust me. And when we’re gonna find the best kids for the University of Arizona, no matter if they have a name you can’t pronounce, or they’re a kid down the street. Obviously, I love coaching international players, but I understand it’s not realistic to have 13 international players, that’s probably not a good formula. I look forward to balancing out the roster here, and then having a good mix of some international guys that can play, and a lot of great American kids.”
On evaluating the current roster: “When I got in late last night, I was able to get on FaceTime with most of them, just so they could see me and hear my voice, I met with him this morning as a team. The next step is meeting with them individually. I want to meet with these guys and give every one of them a chance, because I think that’s the right thing to do. I want to serve them. Ultimately as a coach, I mean I’ve always thought It’s about serving the players. I think that’s how you create good karma, doing the right thing for those guys. I look forward to meet with him. I’m gonna be honest to you, I don’t have an exact plan how the roster is gonna look. Hopefully a lot of these guys come back because, I mean, Sean left a really good foundation to build upon. I hope that a lot of those guys decide to stay but I don’t want to make any predictions until I’ve sat down with guys one on one.
“I’ve got some ideas, of maybe how we can supplement it with some other recruiting things that might be available out there. I also don’t want to go crazy and make bold predictions and this and that, because I really want to honor and respect these guys. Having been a guy that has been a lead recruiter for a lot of years, I know how long it takes to recruit a player, how genuine those relationships have to be. I want to get to know them, and I want them to get to know me, and I want them to be excited about staying here so. The re-recruiting deals is gonna start (with) sitting in my office, talking about families, letting our guards down a little bit and going from there. And then after we kind of get of get to know each other a little bit, then maybe we can start talking specifics, basketball specifics, for sure.”
On coaching in the Pac-12, particularly after the postseason run it had: “We felt it firsthand. The sweet 16, Oregon played SC, and then we had the winner. I always do the second scout on those games, so I was able to scout Oregon and SC, and they were impressive. We were fortunate enough to play really well against SC and get through it, and then we ran into a play-in team from UCLA, of all things, and they were playing out of their minds. It was awesome to see, and I look forward to the challenge of competing against those guys. I welcome them being successful because I don’t ever want to define Arizona’s success by others’ struggles. Arizona is good enough and strong enough to be at the top on its own. And so we’re not going to be reliant on how other people are, we’re going to control our own destiny, that’s how I’m going to approach it.”
On if he discussed with Few Arizona’s scheduled game at Gonzaga this season: “It didn’t come up. But it might come up in a conversation out on his dock this summer. We’ll figure that out. Obviously that would be a really emotional deal, and that place has a special, special place in my heart. I’m going to be pulling for them and rooting for them, second only to Arizona.”
On scheduling: “I’m gonna probably have to recalibrate myself a little, just from having been at Gonzaga for 20 years, and how we scheduled. Scheduling is a huge part of the program’s success. I’m going to tap into some minds that know, and we’re going to do the best thing for Arizona basketball. But, I love playing in those big preseason games. I mean, they’re awesome. Getting those CBS time slots, those ESPN College GameDays, playing in the in the biggest MTEs. Those are opportunities I cherish, and we’re definitely going to be taking part of those in some form or fashion at the University of Arizona.”
On his potential staff: “Anybody that’s been in the coaching business as long as I have, you have relationships. I’ve definitely talked to a few people that I’d love to be on my staff, but I haven’t overloaded my staff, because I want to get my feet on the ground here and get to know people. I think it’s really important to have Arizona ties within my staff, so I want to take my time, meet some people and make the right decisions moving forward. But I think you’re definitely gonna see some Arizona flavor on it for sure.”