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Reggie Theus brings star power to Cal State Northridge

The former NBA player, broadcaster and coach is happy to have a job close to home and looks forward to the task of turning around a program that finished 14-17 last season.

April 28, 2013|By Gary Klein

"I'd rather be outside, sleeping in a tent in a sleeping bag, than anywhere in the city," he said.

Elaine, who met Reggie when they were 15, said her husband is often mistakenly perceived.

"They think he's in the nightclub," she said, laughing and shaking her head, "and he's in a tree, on a stand, for seven hours," during hunting trips.

Theus retired from the NBA after the 1990-91 season after 13 years in the league, as one of only seven players who had scored more than 19,000 points and handed out more than 6,000 assists.

"I didn't just walk off the court into the coaching business," he said.

He played one on television, though.

For three seasons in the mid-1990s, Theus starred as Coach Bill Fuller in "Hang Time," a Saturday-morning situation comedy about an Indiana high school basketball team.

When Theus decided to make a real foray into coaching in 2002, he called the highly respected Dave Yanai, who coached at Cal State Dominguez Hills for nearly two decades and was then at Cal State L.A. Yanai took on Theus as a volunteer assistant, anticipating that because of broadcasting and other commitments he would work one or two days a week.

"But he was showing up every day," Yanai said.

After the season, Theus called Louisville, not expecting a response from Pitino. Instead, he became part of Pitino's storied coaching tree.

"He was everything I hoped," Pitino said. "A great teacher, a tireless recruiter."

At New Mexico State, Theus infused the program with a fast-paced, high-pressure defensive scheme and attracted transfers to fortify the roster. Students wore T-shirts emblazoned with "Reggie Nation."

"Practices were intense," Steward said. "There was not a lot of joking around."

One night, the team was gathered at Theus' home, ostensibly to watch film. Instead, the video coordinator popped in an episode of "Hang Time."

"Hilarious," Steward recalled.

"You can have fun and show players another side of you," Theus said, "but when you get on the court, it's business."

Much of the fun ended for Theus after he was hired to coach the Sacramento Kings. Theus guided the struggling team to a 38-44 record his first season but was fired after a 6-18 start in 2008.

"I was dead man walking before I even took the job," he said. "I wish I had known that."

Less than a week after he was announced as Northridge's coach, Theus sat three rows from the court at the Georgia Dome and watched Pitino and Louisville defeat Michigan in the NCAA championship game.

He visualized coaching on a similar stage.

No one, however, is penciling in Northridge for the Final Four any time soon.

"Improvement is my expectation," Martin said. "A new energy, a new excitement, a new elevation of players."

Theus said Northridge has already moved to improve the locker room and other facilities and that he cannot wait to replenish a roster that had five scholarships available.

One will not go to Reggie Theus Jr., a 6-6 senior at Fairfax High who recently signed a letter of intent to play at South Carolina. He will honor a commitment that was made before his father was hired at Northridge.

But Theus will be surrounded by family and friends when Northridge plays at home and at other Southern California venues.

The Matadors will be the "hardest playing team" in the Big West Conference, he said, and eventually more.

"It's going to be fun," he said. "I'm looking forward to the challenge."

gary.klein@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesklein

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