Jim Rosborough will enter his 44th year of coaching in the 2017-18 school year when he joins the Pima Community College women’s basketball coaching staff for the fourth straight season.
His coaching odyssey has taken him from coaching an eighth-grade team in Chicago in 1973 to coaching at Iowa under Lute Olson to a head coaching stint with Northern Illinois and then working as an Olson assistant at Arizona for 18 years until 2007.
Rosborough, 72, went on to be a volunteer assistant coach with the Arizona women’s tennis team for four years. He scouted for the Atlanta Hawks for a season.
On a meager salary at Pima yet meaningful existence there, he has proven to be valuable to coach Todd Holthaus’ staff with the successful Aztec program.
His wealth of basketball knowledge and his experience coaching some of the most elite players in the history of the game makes his opinion of what’s going on in the sport worth listening to and taking note.
I had the opportunity to talk a few minutes with “Ros”, as he is called by his friends, about the Arizona program and some of the storylines that exist with the Wildcats today.
Q: You and Lute coached teams with an abundance of NBA talent on one team. The 2000-01 team had Loren Woods, Richard Jefferson, Michael Wright and Gilbert Arenas get drafted after that season. The 1997-98 team had Miles Simon, Michael Dickerson and Mike Bibby who were drafted. How did you guys deal with any potential distractions similar to what Sean Miller might face in 2017-18 with Rawle Alkins, Allonzo Trier and DeAndre Ayton?
Rosborough: One thing that’s really, really interesting in 2001, first of all, we didn’t have any great inkling all year that this was going to be the last year for any of these guys. Nobody was talking all year, “Are they leaving? Are they leaving?” It just wasn’t that way. We didn’t have social media or anything else. We knew Loren was going to go (as a senior), Michael Wright maybe because the academics we’re so hard, but I don’t think we knew Richard was necessarily going to go because Richard had a good year but really made his living defensively in the (NCAA) tournament. He wasn’t the big talk. Gilbert was so young. There just really wasn’t all this talk.
Q: What do you think Miller will experience with this roster that is loaded with talent?
Rosborough: Sean’s going to have to — he knows this and he’s done a good job with guys that are leaving — he has to get the guys to understand about sharing the ball and it is a team thing and all of that. I think he does a good job of it. In our times, never did we have people coming in saying I’m going to play one year and then I’m done (like Ayton, a freshman). Ayton’s leaving after one year. Trier’s probably hoping this will be his last year. They have several guys. The biggest difference is all the preseason talk and attention on their leaving. Our guys maybe had some inkling but it was never during the course of the year the talk of everybody.
Q: How did you guys deal with any potential chemistry issues with so much talent on one team?
Rosborough: It was never an issue. Never, ever, ever an issue. The kids were not talking about it and it was not in the papers. It was never a topic even amongst the players. As you know, I was pretty close to the players. I would have heard something even if it was from a reserve. They shared the ball. That was a heck of team (in 2000-01). If Gilbert hadn’t got hurt in the semifinal against Michigan State, we would have beaten the heck out of Duke (in the national title game) but he couldn’t go. But again there wasn’t any talk about it whatsoever. Richard, there was not any talk about him because he had a good year but defensively he made his living in the tournament. Never, ever — and this is truth — did I hear a peep out of any of those guys.
Q: If you had a chance to talk with Miller about your experience what would you say?
Rosborough: Sean, he knows this, it’s no secret … He has to get those guys playing hard, playing together and sharing the ball. Everybody’s not going to be scoring 20 and you hope the kids are smart enough and wise enough to understand that if the team does well, they’re going to do well. That’s one of the oldest saying. If the team does really well, then it’s going to be good for all of those guys. There is a lot of talent.
Q: You had guys like Mike Bibby and Brian Williams leave early after two seasons in the program. How did you guys deal with that?
Rosborough: The only guy who was a surprise in all of my time was Brian Williams. We didn’t hear a peep out of him and then all of a sudden he shows up at the office with his mother and he was leaving. I guess he had already been over with a few agents and that was a big surprise. We had no inkling on that and that was what 1991 or 1992 so nobody was talking about it any way. … We knew Bibby was going to be a short-term guy but he was a team-first guy. He had a lot of fun. Everybody liked him. He was there for one purpose and that was to become a pro.
Q: Your stance on the one-and-done policy for college basketball and the NBA?
Rosborough: I’m an old-timer and conservative and everything else. It just drives me up a tree. The thing about it is you have to take these kids. You have to take them for a year. Sean’s job is to win games and you have to get these guys. You want your best chance to win big, to win a title, and everything else. So you have to take them. Basically the kids we had got better over the course of their three or four years. They got better every year. We played a style that was good for them and everything else so I do think they got better over a course of time, but yeah nobody ever talked about leaving early and that was big too.
Post coming up: Rosborough talks about the longevity of the Arizona players he coached that will take part in the NBA Finals.
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.