Glenn: What made Arizona right for you, and what made right now the time to make the jump to become a head coach?
Tommy: I thought I was going to be at Gonzaga for a long time. But I probably wasn’t anticipating Arizona to come calling. And when Arizona came calling, it was a really easy decision.
I wake up every morning happy to go to work. I have to pinch myself sometimes and remember where I’m at and how special that is.
Glenn: What did you learn from success at Gonzaga?
Tommy: There wasn’t a master plan at Gonzaga, or a step one, two, three. It’s not that easy. It’s about putting your head down, working your butt off and trying to do the best job you can on a day-to-day basis while creating a selfless culture where everybody’s pulling the rope in the same direction. That’s how I’ve approached it.
Glenn: You brought on alumni coaches Jack Murphy ’88 ’01, Jason Gardner ’03, and Ryan Anderson ’16. How important is it to have alumni on the staff?
Tommy: There’s such a great tradition here. And these guys have poured their life, their blood, sweat and tears into helping build the program. They know how Arizona basketball has functioned when it’s been at a really high level, and that’s definitely a resource I want to draw from.
PLAYER RECRUITMENT AND DEVELOPMENT
Glenn: In the recruiting game, so much is about forming a bond with that player. How do you handle recruiting and how do you connect with 18-year-old kids?
Tommy: First, you’ve got to develop a relationship. I mean, I’m a relationship person. And I always work best with people that I have good relationships with, and that includes the players. Recruiting is about being honest and letting recruits know the opportunities you see for them. Once you get a recruit, you’ve got to be able to deliver. So, we talk about not over-promising or under-delivering. I’d rather miss out on a recruit than mislead him. That’s the right way to treat people, and it creates good karma.
I love a diverse roster with a mix of guys from different places, different cultures. I was fortunate enough to inherit some really good international players. Right now, we have a majority of international players on our roster. I don’t think that’s the long-term plan, but a lot of times in recruiting, you attack things on a case-by-case basis. Our job is to bring the best players and people that can help Arizona basketball at that moment.
Glenn: There’s been a lot of talk about the Supreme Court’s ruling that the NCAA can’t restrict student-athlete benefits. What’s your take?
Tommy: Listen, I’m a fan of it. Back in the day, Olympic athletes were amateurs, right? And they couldn’t get an endorsement from Wheaties, or whatever, while they were in the Olympics, because they had to keep their amateur status. And then, eventually, that model changed. And they were able to cash in on their name, image and likeness. This is the next progression, and it’s a natural thing.
Obviously, we’re going in a little bit of uncharted territory, but it’ll work itself out. It’s our job as an institution and as basketball coaches to handle it in a respectful, sustainable manner — not over-promising and under-delivering to these kids.
At the end of the day, my job is to coach the basketball team at Arizona and help these players develop. My job isn’t to be an endorsement agent. So, I’m going to approach it with the understanding that there’s opportunities for them.
LOVE OF BASKETBALL
Glenn: What is your favorite thing about basketball? What is it about it that makes you go?
Tommy: Whoa, what I love about it is that it’s a complex game. You can drill down and isolate variables, and then you can attack those variables to make individual gains or team gains. And then you put them back in the complex equation of the game where there’s so many moving parts.
I also like to keep up with trends, grow as a coach and help your team change and adapt in moments. And to me, that’s fun. That’s what makes it exciting. I love waking up every day trying to help individuals and a team grow.