Tommy Lloyd spent 22 years as Mark Few’s right-hand man turning Gonzaga into a national powerhouse.
He needed just one season to return Arizona to prominence.
Lloyd was named The Associated Press men’s college basketball coach of the year on Friday after leading the Wildcats to the Sweet 16 in his first season. He received 28 votes from a 61-person media panel that votes on the AP Top 25 to edge Providence’s Ed Cooley, who got 21 votes. No other coach got more than three.
Lloyd joins Indiana State’s Bill Hodges in 1979 and Drake’s Keno Davis in 2008 in earning AP coach of the year in their first season as a head coach.
“I always tell people, it’s an easy answer: I love coaching and teaching,” Lloyd said. “Everything basketball-wise, I’ve done, basically I’ve been a part of doing before, so I had a real comfort level and a conviction in what I wanted to do.”
Lloyd was expected to take over for Few whenever he retires. He had no reason to look anywhere else. When the Arizona job opened up, Lloyd couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
The Wildcats spent the previous three seasons embroiled in FBI and NCAA investigations that, in part, led to the firing of Sean Miller last April. The NCAA investigation is still pending, but it did little to impede Arizona’s rapid ascent under Lloyd.
Expectations were lukewarm for Lloyd’s first season; the Wildcats were unranked in the AP preseason poll and picked to finish fourth in the Pac-12.
Arizona upended those perceptions quickly, winning its first 11 games. The Wildcats swept the Pac-12 season and tournament titles to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2018. Lloyd joined Hodges and North Carolina’s Bill Guthridge in 1998 as the only first-year coaches to earn a No. 1 seed. Arizona lost to Houston in the South Region semifinals, finishing 34-3.
Arizona’s run was a mix of having the right players to fit Lloyd’s system and the 47-year-old coach’s penchant for player development since the Wildcats had lost four of their top six scorers from last season.
“I think we really built some foundational pieces this year that are really going to serve us well moving forward,” Lloyd said.
Lloyd brought what he learned at Gonzaga with him to the desert, made a few tweaks of his own and turned Arizona into a free-flowing offensive juggernaut. The Wildcats led the nation in assists with 19.8 per game, were third in scoring (84.6 points) and had at least one 10-0 run in (29 of 36) games.
Arizona’s defense, anchored by 7-footers Christian Koloko and Oumar Ballo, was nearly as dominating, finishing eighth nationally with 5.8 blocked shots per game.
“He knew what he wanted to do and came in with a plan,” associate head coach Jack Murphy said. “Every step of the way, when any of us — myself or anyone on the staff — wanted to kind of speed things up or jump steps, he was always the voice of reason and was sticking to his plan.”
Once a skinny, offensively-limited freshman, Koloko turned into a dominant defensive player with a more well-rounded offensive game under Lloyd’s tutelage. Bennedict Mathurin got a confidence injection from Lloyd and became the Pac-12 player of the year and a potential NBA lottery pick.
“He’s a players’ coach — he does everything for his players,” Koloko said. “He’s a very detail-oriented coach, goes into the detail to really teach you the game.”
More AP coverage of March Madness: https://apnews.com/hub/march-madness and https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25