Monday, September 16, 2013

Two branches of Rick Pitino Hall of Fame coaching tree have coached at NMSU

Lou Henson should one day be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
But before that happens, the last two New Mexico State coaches both have ties to a Hall of Famer. Reggie Theus and Marvin Menzies have that with Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino, who was inducted recently.It's somewhat unique for a school like NMSU to have that kind of connection, but it all started with McKinley Boston's relationship with former Kentucky AD CM Newton while Boston served on the NCAA Men's Basketball Committee.
"I appreciate what Rick does from the standpoint of running a program," Boston said. "Replacing Reggie was a very easy and natural thing to do. What I didn't want to do was bring in a coach with a completely different system because as you remember, we had seniors coming back."

Current NMSU coach Marvin Menzies, and former Aggie coach Reggie Theus, both coached under HOF coach Rick Pitino at Louisville.

Boston went on to hire former Pitino assistants Reggie Theus in 2005 and Marvin Menzies two years later, who has won 61 percent of his games in six years at NMSU with back-to-back NCAA berths. Both the current and former Aggie coach were among Pitino's guests for the Hall of Fame induction ceremony last weekend in Springfield, Mass.

"He is as loyal as advertised," Menzies said. "He has been very supportive throughout my career since I started working for him. It's a nice perk as a coach but I don't think about it like a perk, just having someone of his magnitude to bounce things off of. I have a good relationship with Reggie and he's a superstar in his own right. It added to the whole experience."

Menzies and Theus have vastly different career paths.

Menzies was already an established recruiter and up and coming coach in the business when he joined Pitino's staff in 2005. He had already worked for established coaches like Steve Fisher and Lon Kruger, but he has spoken more often of the two seasons he spent at Louisville than any other stop. Prior to last season, he took his staff to Louisville for a weekend.

After spending 20-plus years in the business, Menzies had crossed paths with Hall of Famers.

"I have a lot of mentor type relationships, but I'm proud to be a part of (Pitino's) coaching tree," Menzies said. "I didn't spend as much time as other coaches have, but he treats us all like his guys even though I worked for other guys longer than I worked for him. You don't really think about it in this business before you see it on paper on a resume that you really think about it that I have been blessed to cross paths with these guys."

 Theus had direct ties to two men inducted this year since he played under Jerry Tarkanian at UNLV. But Pitino took Theus with virtually no coaching experience in 2003, where he spent two years on a Division I sideline for the first time.

Theus said he approached Pitino in what he described as a "great lesson in making that phone call."

"We really didn't have a connection. I found out he was interested and I almost flew out that day," Theus said. "Coach Pitino is in that situation where he doesn't have to worry about what other people think.

It took awhile for Theus to turn his NBA playing days around as a legitimate coach. He spent time coaching AAU teams and was an assistant at Division II Cal State L.A. After leaving NMSU for a NBA job with the Sacramento Kings, Theus was hired at Cal State Northridge of the Big West.

"I think (Pitino) was intrigued by my willingnes to do the grunt work and at the time he was looking for someone with my background to add to the staff, which was my experience as a professional," Theus said. 

Theus speaks highly of both Boston for giving him his first college job, and Menzies, for taking the NMSU program to another level. He describes Northridge AD Brandon Martin as "a younger version of Dr. Boston" and said there is talk of a new arena within three years.

"There are a lot of similarities to Northridge now and New Mexico State when I was hired," Theus said. "I never talked about how many games we were going to win but I said we would be the hardest working team in the conference and I think that leads to wins. It doesn't have the same history or the same following, but the first thing we need to do is get the students involved. I'm happy for Marvin and for the people of Las Cruces who deserve it."

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