Tommy Lloyd sure packed a punch in his first year as a head coach. Last season, he led the Arizona men’s basketball program to a Pac-12 regular-season championship, a Pac-12 Tournament title and a Sweet 16 appearance. He also won multiple national coaching awards and watched three of his star players – Bennedict Mathurin, Christian Koloko and Dalen Terry – depart for the NBA.
This season, Lloyd’s second, the Wildcats have jumped out to yet another hot start. Lloyd spoke with Sarah Kezele ’11 to discuss the challenge of exceeding the high bar he set for himself and navigating the ever-changing landscape of college sports.
You were an assistant coach at Gonzaga for 22 years. What did you learn in your first season as a head coach?
I learned that I loved it. Coaching is a passion and leading a program like Arizona, it’s an honor. It’s something that I take really seriously, and I want to do the best job I can. I want people to be proud of the program. So, you do carry a huge responsibility. And that responsibility is constantly on my mind. You’re constantly mindful of, “Hey, I’m representing the university and this fan base.” So, you know, it keeps you motivated. It keeps you up at night, all those things (laughs).
You lost three major pieces of your roster to the NBA over the summer. What kind of void does that leave behind for this year’s team?
Well, for one, that’s college basketball. It creates a void, of course, but that void is always filled by transfers coming in or freshmen coming in. So that’s what excites me, is figuring out how we’re going to fill those voids and how they’re going to look. Each team takes on its own identity and its own life. I’m looking forward to helping guide this team through that process.
Conference realignment has been a massive story in college sports this year. [USC and UCLA announced in June that they will be leaving the Pac-12 for the Big Ten in 2024, putting the future of the Pac-12 in limbo.] With those moves being so football-driven, how do you feel watching these changes unfold?
I think at Arizona, our basketball brand will be relevant in any conference we’re involved in. So, you know, whenever they tell me where we land, we will be ready to do the best job we can. We’re not going to sit around and waste a bunch of time speculating or worrying about things that may or may not happen. We’re just going to make sure that when that hits, we’re well positioned.
Name, image and likeness (NIL) deals are a huge part of the college landscape now, too. How has Arizona basketball handled all of that so far?
We’ve been definitely more conservative in our approach, just kind of learning about it and making sure that we’re staying within the guardrails of what’s allowable. Once we get that solidified I know that the Tucson community, the University of Arizona and the alumni base want great support programs. We’ll make sure that Arizona’s supercompetitive in the NIL space because it is something that needs to be addressed at some point in the recruitment. Now, we’re not using it as the lead for recruitment, but we understand that if you get down the line with a recruit and he asks questions, you’ve got to be able to answer them.
What do we need to know about this year’s team?
This is a group that has a ton of grit. We’ve got pieces that fit together. I think that they’re going to be great representatives of the university. This is a team that’s effort-based. They play extremely hard. They’re unselfish and they play together. We’re just looking to build on what we did last year.