Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman Still Has His Late Dad In His Head, Especially In Games

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Arkansas coach Eric Musselman looks like his dad and coaches like him as far as intensity, which is only natural.

He watched Bill Musselman coach Division III Ashland College in Ashland, Ohio, almost daily as a toddler in the 1960s. Musselman’s 1968-69 Ashland team allowed an NCAA record for fewest points a allowed a game at 33.9. Eric was 4 at the time. His dad later was Minnesota’s coach from 1971-75 before moving on to the ABA after a slew of NCAA violations.

In the 1996-97 season, the younger Musselman was coaching the Florida Beach Dogs West Palm Beach in the Continental Basketball Association – a league in which his dad won four championships in the 1980s before becoming an NBA head coach at Minnesota from 1989-91. On March 13, 1997, he watched his dad – the ultimate journeyman coach – guide South Alabama to the cusp of one of the biggest upsets at the time in the NCAA Tournament.

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The No. 13 seed Jaguars, who had won the Sun Belt Conference regular season and tournament at 23-6 and 14-4, led No. 4 seed Arizona, 53-43, with 8:11 to play at the Pyramid in Memphis. Alas, South Alabama allowed a 17-0 run within a 22-4 collapse to lose 65-57. And Arizona went on to win the national championship, 84-79, over Kentucky in overtime at the Superdome in New Orleans – site of the Final Four this season.

“I was scared to death,” Arizona’s Jason Terry said at the time.

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So, Eric Musselman knows not to let his No. 4 seed Razorbacks (25-8) look past No. 13 seed Vermont (28-5) Thursday (9:20 p.m. eastern, TNT) in Buffalo, N.Y.

“I think about my dad all the time,” Musselman said. “I think about my dad even in the flow of a game. I’ll pound the table, and then I’ll kind of chuckle to myself and say my dad is up there thinking, ‘That’s an absurd shot. What are you doing? You’re a horrific coach.'”

Bill Musselman died at age 59 on May 5, 2000, after suffering a stroke. He was in his third season as an assistant coach for Portland in the NBA after leaving South Alabama just before the 1997-98 season. Most of the team he recruited to South Alabama won the Sun Belt Conference regular season and tournament titles again returned to the NCAA Tournament in 1998 under coach Bob Weltlich.

“I think about, ‘Would he call a timeout now?’ I’m constantly doing that,” Musselman said. “He was my idol, my best friend.”

Musselman’s Arkansas defense is 157th in the nation in points allowed at 68.5 points a game. He likes offense more than his dad. His team is 42nd in the nation in scoring with 76.9 points a game.

“We’ll take an absurd shot because I give our guys a lot of freedom offensively,” he said.

Musselman avoided a South Alabama-like upset in the NCAA Tournament last season against No. 14 Colgate, which led by 14 in the first half before losing 85-68. Arkansas reached the Elite Eight before losing 81-72 to eventual national champion Baylor.

“Much like we did last year, we feel we’re hot at the right time,” Musselman said.

“We’re in the same position as last year,” guard J.D. Notae said. “Same type of team we’re going to play. So from the start of the game we’ve got to be on point. And we can’t come out slow like we did last year versus Colgate, and then have to fight our way all the way back.”

That’s what Arizona had to do 25 years ago as Musselman’s defense slowed the Wildcats down and went on a 12-4 run to take a 53-43 lead. But then, South Alabama froze so to speak, and Arizona State finally woke up.

“We kept our poise and played with the kind of confidence we needed down the stretch,” said Arizona coach Lute Olson after the game. Olson passed away two years ago at age 85.

“Maybe we got a little too complacent,” South Alabama forward Jason Hamm said. “I think they had that sense of urgency, and we sort of stumbled thinking we had it in the bag already.”

Written by Glenn Guilbeau

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