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Season Preview: CHD sits down with new Cal State Northridge coach Reggie Theus

 Jon Teitel continues our season preview series by chatting with new Cal State Northridge coach Reggie Theus about being 1 of the top-50 in NBA history in both points and assists. 

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In April you were named head coach at Cal State Northridge.  Why did you take the job, and do you think you are done with acting and broadcasting for good? I have not done any acting in quite some time, and if you want to pursue coaching you cannot have many outside interests like that. I took the job because it is right outside LA (which is home for me) and is a great recruiting base for us. Our new AD and president put together a great vision for the university, and it was an opportunity for me to build a program back up.

What are your expectations for the upcoming season? All I really care about is being the team in the conference that plays the hardest and works defensively. Talent plays a big part, but in the end our hard work will pay off.

In the 1976 NCAA tourney as a player at UNLV for Hall of Fame coach Jerry Tarkanian you had 3 assists in a five-point overtime loss to Arizona.  How were the Wildcats able to hold your team to under 44 FG%? I do not remember every detail but nobody was ever able to stop us or slow us down.  We might have just had an off-shooting night. Lute Olson had a very good team but we typically shot better at home.

In 1977 your team set an NCAA record for most points in a season with 3426 in only 32 games.  What is the key to having a high-powered offense? You obviously need a lot of shooters but it also takes a certain mentality. I was only the third or fourth best shooter on the team, but we took pride in our defense and created a lot of turnovers. We were a unique group because nobody ever complained about getting enough shots. Up-tempo ball is a way of life: it is hard to have an up-tempo offense and a pack-it-in defense so the key is chemistry. If it is important to the coaches it will become important to the players.

In the 1977 NCAA tourney you scored eight points in a one-point loss to North Carolina: how big of a factor was Dean Smith’s decision to switch to 1-3-1 zone defense in the 2nd half? It was a very good game. We shot the ball poorly despite having open jump shots and our pressure defense gave up too many back-door baskets. Grant Gondrezick broke his nose after colliding with a teammate, which was another big factor. We all understood where our shot should come from, and if we were in our comfort zone then Tark would let us take that shot. We seldom worked on our offense in practice: I would say at least 75% of our practices were devoted to defense.

In the summer of 1978 you were drafted 9th overall by Chicago, and after averaging 16.3 points per game.  You were named to the All-Rookie team: how were you able to make such a smooth transition from college to the pros? That had a lot to do with Las Vegas, as I was already used to living in a big-time city and growing up in LA. I felt very much at home…besides the weather! Chicago pretty much walked the ball up the court, which was a big adjustment for me. I had never played PG before so it was a big adjustment.

In 1986 you became the second player in NBA history at least 6’6” with more than 750 assists in a season (Magic Johnson was the first): how were you able to be such a great passer despite being much taller than an average point guard? I was probably the first legitimate point guard who was 6’7”, but I could play the two-guard equally as well. My high school coach would tell you that he had to make me shoot the ball because I loved to pass. I was the smallest player on my eighth grade team, but grew almost a foot over the next five years. I also played quarterback and pitcher, so I was used to having the ball in my hand. When you get to be the size of me or Magic, you see angles on the floor that smaller guards do not see. Finding open men is probably one of the best things I did: I never averaged less than five assists per game during my career.

Your 19,015 career points remains in the top-50 all-time in NBA history and your 6453 career assists remains in the top-25 all-time in NBA history.  How were you able to balance your scoring with your passing? I tell guards that even if they want to shoot the ball there is a way to be a floor general like Isiah Thomas and Magic and still be a big-time scorer. I was always trying to score, but if the defense stops you then you have to be able to make the pass to the next guy. John Stockton would get the ball to the open guy all the time, which was his gift.

In the 2005 C-USA tourney title game as an assistant under Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino at Louisville, freshman Darius Washington scored 23 points but missed two of three free throws with no time on the clock in a one-point loss by Memphis.  How did you feel watching him go through that? I have seen it happen before and it is always tough. As much as we did not want to lose, I felt worse for him.

In the 2005 NCAA tourney Larry O’Bannon and Taquan Dean combined to score 47 points in an eight-point overtime win over West Virginia in 2005.  How on earth were you able to come back from a 20-point first half deficit? The Mountaineers were on FIRE early: they even made a corner three that skipped into the basket after nicking the side of the backboard! Coach Pitino has had some great comeback wins during his career because he digs in and does not let up.

You had a birthday earlier this month: what did you do for the big day? I got to do what I love to do: hold a practice! My kids live outside California so it was nice to talk to them on my iPhone via FaceTime.

JonTeitel