LSU hires former NBA coach Musselman to fill coaching staff vacancy

Four days ago, the Musselman family gathered around a table at their California home for a not-so-small piece of business.

Should Eric Musselman, a former NBA coach and assistant at Arizona State, accept a job on a professional staff?

Or, instead, should the 49-year-old basketball lifer pack up and head to LSU?

“It was unanimous,” Musselman said.

Tuesday morning, the final details were hammered out for Musselman to fill a two-week-old vacancy on the Tigers staff created by the departure of Korey McCray.

“We are excited about the addition of Coach Eric Musselman,” Jones said in a statement. “He brings a wealth of NBA and college experience that will be beneficial as we strive to continue to take LSU Basketball to new heights.”

No contract or salary details were released, but Musselman made about $190,000 annually at Arizona State.

The move brings a schematic boost to a bench that has faced critiques at times for how it handled one the SEC’s most talent-laden rosters last season.

There’s also the fact that until early April, Musselman spent the past two seasons on Herb Sendek’s staff at Arizona State, whose up-tempo style mirrors the Tigers. The Sun Devils averaged 75.4 points and raned third in adjusted tempo at 69.2 possessions per game, according to KenPom.com.

“It’s a perfect fit,” Musselman said. “We have a lot of similar beliefs in how the game is played. That was really important that he believes in an up-tempo style and transition baskets.”

Over the past two months, his name popped up in coaching searches at South Florida and Cal, but not much else.

Instead, a Bay Area connection helped bring him to Baton Rouge.

LSU assistant coach David Patrick spent three seasons at Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, California, on coach Randy Bennett’s staff. Bennett just so happened to coach Musselman at the University of San Diego.

“There’s that little Saint Mary’s tree,” he said.

So Patrick linked up his buddy with his current boss at LSU.

Still, Musselman veered away from casting himself as a guru who’s coming in to shore up wobbly in-game coaching moves, even if that’s how he was cast on the Sun Devils’ bench.

“Coach has been great about talking about it,” Musselman said. “Eventually, roles will evolve. We’ve talked a lot of Xs and Os. I’m going to learn a lot being there.”

Stints at Arizona State or LSU might seem like a detour for a man with Musselman’s résumé, one that includes coaching the Golden State Warriors for two seasons and the Sacramento Kings for one.

Since 2010, Musselman spent time in the NBA Development League coaching the Reno Big Horns — Houston Rockets star Jeremy Lin was on the roster — and the Los Angeles Defenders.

His time spent in the NBDL put him on a trajectory toward the college ranks.

“In the D-League, you’re dealing with guys all the time,” Musselman said. “You’re staying in all different types of hotels, and it’s more similar to college. You can have more of an impact and lifetime relationships.”

He’s spent the better part of the past three seasons trying to transition into the college game. Musselman visited practices with Bill Self at Kansas, Larry Eustachy at Southern Miss and poked his head into shootarounds on the West Coast.

That’s where he met Sendek ahead of an Arizona State game at Cal.

A chat turned into a phone call and then a job — a transition the entire family was keen to make.

“We were going to change our path,” Musselman said. “I love it from a coaching standpoint. The players are so eager to learn and you can have such an impact not only on the floor, but also off the court.”

There are the schematic nuances — the differences between inbounds plays along the baseline instead of sideline — and a cultural shift. In the NBA, the intensity doesn’t ratchet up until the playoffs arrive in April. At the college level, a rivalry matchup — say, against Arizona — seeps in much earlier.

“You’re not playing four or five games a week,” Musselman said. “It allows you to get so emotionally invested in it from a preparation standpoint and with the players. All those things are different and unique.”

For now, he’s in catch-up mode, trying to digest remaining film on LSU before poring over footage of SEC programs he’ll have to scout in the coming months.

There’s also a plane to catch at 8 o’clock Sunday morning.

Follow Matthew Harris on Twitter: @MHarrisAdvocate. For more on LSU basketball, check out our Full-Court Press blog at blogs.theadvocate.com/fullcourtpress/