SAN FRANCISCO — As Arizona’s interim coach in 2007-08, USC’s head coach from 2009-13 and now as a television analyst, Kevin O’Neill has never been into holding back a word or two.
So it’s no surprise that this is how he describes how good the Wildcats will be this season, and for years afterward, under coach Sean Miller:
“They’re right back where they were in the best of times in their history,” O’Neill said. “Miller has had 30-win seasons, Elite Eight appearances. Sean, if he stays in Tucson, will win multiple national championships.”
When O’Neill was told he was making a pretty bold statement, he just kept going.
“It’s because he’s a great coach. He’s the whole package. He recruits, he coaches hard. You can tell by watching their teams they make defense a priority…
“Over a period of time you’re going to have ups and downs. But they play well enough defensively they’re not going to get upset many times in the NCAA tournament.”
During an informal interview at the Pac-12 media day Thursday, O’Neill discussed more about the Wildcats, his role working games for Pac-12 Networks, doing studio commentary for Fox and killing time in the offseason:
— He found it hard to believe somebody voted for UCLA to win the Pac-12 — UA received 31 of 32 first-place votes in the conference media poll — expecting Arizona to run away with the conference championship this season.
“I think Colorado is good. Colorado and Utah are both experienced. I think they’ll battle it out for second along with UCLA. But they’re all playing for second. Only one team can win the title.”
— O’Neill said UA’s Rondae Hollis-Jefferson will be able to reach his goal of becoming a top-10 NBA draft pick next spring, regardless of his shooting.
“Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is the best pro prospect by far in the league. He’s going to be (top 10) this year. Without question, he’s one of the top-10 prospects in the country.
“Everybody gets to be a better shooter when they get to the NBA because they don’t have to go to study hall or class or tutoring. All they do is play basketball. He’s too good of an athlete not to become a really good shooter. And his shot, I mean, it’s not broke. He’s got a good shot.”
“I think Stanley (Johnson, UA freshman guard) is good. He’s going to be a first-round pick. But it’s rare you find the kind of explosiveness that Jefferson has.”
— O’Neill found the nine NBA picks the Pac-12 produced this year was reminiscent of the mass exodus of 2007-09, when UA alone lost players such as Jerryd Bayless, Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill early.
“The year I coached at Arizona, the league was so talented it was ridiculous. It goes in cycles. There are a lot of talented players in the league now.”
— Sean Miller (@UACoachMiller) October 19, 2014
— Because top talents leave after a year or two, Miller has had to recruit virtually every position every year, but O’Neill says that beats the alternative.
“That’s good. That means you’re getting great players. What’s harder? Recruiting great players every year and filling them in, or not be able to get good enough players?
“It wears you down a little bit. But I’m a guy who worked 15 hours a day for 35 years. When you’re not doing that anymore it’s a whole different lifestyle.”
— Instead, O’Neill is working on television during basketball season while living on Coronado Island, trying to figure out what to do with all that remaining time.
“I love coaching. I’d like to coach again if it’s in the right situation. I’ve talked to some people. Been close on a couple of good jobs. I was offered a couple jobs that I didn’t want.
“I’ve enjoyed (TV work). I really have. You’re around the game; I like that. I’ve been in basketball my whole life.
“Frankly most of the time I’m bored. … I don’t have hobbies. I don’t get the hobby thing.
“I like travel. I was in Angola for 10 days. That was wild over there.
“Do some overseas clinics in Korea, Africa, stuff like that. But it doesn’t fill up all your days. It just doesn’t. There’s no high like coaching.”