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EAST REGIONAL

Theus makes difference at New Mexico State

March 12, 2007|Robyn Norwood

The man has star quality.

But you have to wonder: Do players know who the New Mexico State coach is because he was a two-time NBA All-Star in the 1980s, or because he played Coach Bill Fuller on the NBC Saturday morning show "Hang Time" for three years in the 1990s?

Reggie Theus, who starred at Inglewood High and played in the 1977 Final Four for Jerry Tarkanian at Nevada Las Vegas before a 13-season NBA career, has turned New Mexico State around in a hurry.

The Aggies were 6-24, the school's worst season in 39 years, the season before he arrived. Now he has a 25-8 New Mexico State team, led by former Lakewood Mayfair star Justin Hawkins, in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1999. The Aggies won the Western Athletic Conference tournament in front of a home-court crowd of more than 12,000 that celebrated with chants of "Reg-gie, Reg-gie."

The coaching rise happened quickly for Theus.

His early jobs included a season as a volunteer assistant at Division II Cal State Los Angeles and stints as an NBA summer league coach for the Philadelphia 76ers and Denver Nuggets, as well as leading the Las Vegas Slam of the American Basketball Assn. to the Western Conference finals in 2002

Rick Pitino gave Theus a break when he hired him as a Louisville assistant, but his chances of becoming a college head coach were slim until Theus earned a college degree -- completing requirements through a correspondence program at California Coast University, which is based in Santa Ana but has no on-campus classes.

New Mexico State gave Theus a chance, and he has run with it.

"I don't want to sound too cocky, but I knew what kind of players we had when we came in," he said.

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