Longtime Gonzaga assistant Tommy Lloyd was introduced as Arizona’s new head coach on Thursday. Here are some of the key takeaways.
Arizona was the only job he was going to leave Gonzaga for
Lloyd said in the past he was flattered whenever schools came calling about hiring him as a head coach. He never bothered interviewing, though, because life at Gonzaga was just that good.
“I loved every minute of it,” he said. “I had a contract to be the next head coach there.”
So, why after did he leave Spokane now? Lloyd said Arizona is the “only place I would ever leave Gonzaga” for, saying UA and Duke were the two programs Mark Few emulated at Gonzaga.
“What separated Arizona is really simple,” Lloyd said. “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.”
That doesn’t mean leaving was easy. Lloyd choked back tears every time he spoke about Few, who hired him at Gonzaga two decades ago and taught him everything to know about running a program.
Lloyd said he was nervous when he approached Few with the news that he was considering the Arizona job, but ultimately Few and the Gonzaga administration were overwhelmingly supportive about it. Humbled, even.
“Of course I was nervous when he first found out,” Lloyd said. “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.”
Lloyd seems more offensive-minded but values balance
When asked what brand of basketball Arizona is going to play, Lloyd said “winning basketball.” He clarified by saying that means having an offense and defense both rated in the top 20.
Gonzaga has accomplished that four of the last five years and eight of the last 10. What might be most impressive is they were No. 1 on offense this season and No. 1 on defense in 2016-17, the other year they made the national championship game. Yes, those numbers account for strength of schedule.
“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,” Lloyd said. “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 end. We’re going to be great on on both sides of the ball. That’s going to be the standard.”
Lloyd didn’t go too much into detail about his schemes, but said he believes 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 step-back, between the legs 3s all the time,” he said. “We’re going to have an offense that generates great shots, and it’s going to rely on player movement, pace, ball movement. And I can’t wait to get on the court with the guys because that’s what I love. The recruiting, I know how important it is, but my true passion is coaching and teaching.”
For what it’s worth, Gonzaga played at the seventh-fasted pace in the country this season.
Lloyd will cast a wide net as a recruiter
It was fitting that Lloyd was introduced the same day the NCAA legalized the one-time transfer rule and announced the recruiting dead period will be lifted on June 1.
He has a roster to build and plans to use all avenues to do it, including re-recruiting the players already on the roster like Kerr Kriisa, who just entered the portal Wednesday.
“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,” Lloyd said.
Lloyd built a name for himself as an international recruiter, but he said that was partly out of necessity. Gonzaga plays in a small conference and Spokane is a “great place to live, but not necessarily a hotbed for high school basketball.” Heading overseas helped them compensate for it.
Arizona has more built-in advantages—but also some possible sanctions heading its way—so Lloyd stressed that it’s important to be flexible and “stay ahead of the curve.”
“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,” he said. “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.”
Lloyd LOVES premier non-conference games
Lloyd is a big fan of marquee non-conference games and Gonzaga is no stranger to them. Just this season they played Iowa, Kansas, Auburn and Virginia—and were scheduled to play Baylor before it was cancelled due to COVID concerns.
Lloyd acknowledged that such a non-conference slate might not be realistic at Arizona because the Pac-12 is more competitive than the West Coast Conference.
“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,” Lloyd said. “I mean, they’re awesome. Getting those CBS time slots, those ESPN College GameDays, playing in the biggest [multi-team events], 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.”
However, that Gonzaga game might be a no-go
The Wildcats are scheduled to visit Gonzaga this season, but that could be too much for Lloyd and Few to handle in their first season apart.
“It didn’t come up, but it might come up in a conversation out on his dock this summer,” Lloyd said. “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.”
Lloyd wants Arizona “flavor” on his staff
As a first-time head coach, it will be critical that Lloyd surrounds himself with a competent coaching staff. He said he’s had some preliminary conversations already with people who might be interested in joining him. It sounds like at least one of his assistants will have UA ties of some sort.
“I want to take my time, meet some people and make the right decisions moving forward,” he said, “But I think you’re definitely gonna see some Arizona flavor on it for sure.”
Lloyd seems likely to keep the “A Player’s Program” moniker
Some have wondered if Arizona would ditch it now that Sean Miller, who coined the term, is no longer with the Wildcats. Don’t bet on it.
The first thing Lloyd did Thursday is reach out to current and former players. He said he’d even reach out to Miller for advice.
“I give you guys my word, I’m going to honor this place with every ounce of my being,” Lloyd said. “I want to connect the University of Arizona. I don’t want it to be an 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.”
Lloyd seems like a laid-back guy
Unlike Miller who carried himself with a certain bravado, Lloyd seems to be a soft-spoken guy who says he enjoys a small-town vibe. And while he didn’t say it, I’m sure one reason he enjoyed being an assistant for so long is so he could do his work behind the scenes. He doesn’t seem to have the ego that a lot of coaches do.
Or at least that’s the impression I got, anyway. He said he was looking forward to the first-day festivities being over.
“I want to be a small part of our journey forward,” he said. “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.”