Arizona Basketball

Tommy Lloyd: UA’s ‘guy’s guy’ to more people than you know

SALT LAKE CITY – This will tell you how much basketball means to Tommy Lloyd.

When he was about 16-17 years old, his father, Dale, bought him a new Volkswagen Cabriolet convertible. But there was a condition: he had to get a job to pay the gas and insurance.

Tommy’s answer to his dad was: “Dad, basketball is my job.”

Of course, Dale ended up paying for the gas and insurance.

Tommy Lloyd at Wednesday’s presser. (Photo courtesy Arizona Athletics)

Thirty something years later, Tommy can pay for his own gas and insurance, given he’s now a newly signed $5 million man given his latest contract.

Point is, basketball has been life, well, since Tommy can remember. It was his destiny. Never mind he got a biology degree and later taught kids in Spokane before finding a way to convince Gonzaga then-head coach Dan Monson to bring him on to his staff.

So, he did … but they never worked together, given Monson left for the new Minnesota job.

“Jeff Reinland, who sold (Lloyd) to me, kind of gave a different impression of him, that he was this kind of well-mannered, quiet, basketball-only guy,” Monson recalled yesterday. “He certainly was basketball-only, but he had a lot more personality I guess you would want to say (more) than was advertised … more pieces to his personality than maybe any of us wanted to see.”

Monson went on to say Tommy is a “guy’s guy,” and by all accounts that’s what he has brought to the table. He’s lived it Tucson, too. He uses words like “dude” and “dawgs” in describing his players. Heck, his favorite musical group is the Beastie Boys and he listens to Midland.

Conversations aren’t complicated.

In fact, that’s what Tommy is: a dude.

Basketball just happens to be the center of it all. There was never a time when Lloyd didn’t think he’d be coaching basketball.

“It always was,” he said Wednesday. “I fell in love with the game at a young age. I kind of fell in love with coaching at a young age. Of course, like all young guys, I probably thought I was going to play in the NBA, then I kept playing and realized I wasn’t close to good enough …

“The coaching bug really hit me early. Like a lot of kids that get into coaching, you’re really influenced by your coaches when you’re younger. I had a lot of great coaches from Little League and youth basketball, grew up in a small town. That made a real impact on me. I think basketball, me and coaching were something that was probably always going to be together.”

He’s now three wins away from tying the NCAA record for wins for a first-time head coach in his first three seasons. He’s 86-19.

Mark Few, who inherited Tommy as a grad assistant more than two decades ago, said he’s not surprised about his former assistant’s success.

“Not at all, no. Not at all,” Few said. “Yeah, he grew during that time obviously a lot (at Gonzaga). Now he’s implemented a lot of the same kind of style of play, everything we do down there. It’s been such a seamless transition there. It’s been really, really impressive.”

In fact, Lloyd wouldn’t be where he’s at without Monson who brought him on at Gonzaga, and with Few, who kept him.

“It’s a funny story,” Few said. “When Dan and I were going through the transition – it was about two or three weeks in – I called Mons and asked:  what the heck is the deal with this guy? He said you told him he could be a grad aide here. It was unbeknownst to me, and he’s just kind of hanging out.”

Monson said yes that was the case. He had, indeed, promised him.

“It just turned out to just be the greatest gift ever, right?” Few said. “Tommy’s had a huge impact on our program and on us.”

It made an impression on those who hired him at Arizona.

“Tommy is such a good person,” said former UA athletic director Dave Heeke. “That’s where it all starts with him. He treats people the right way and is always focused on positive results. I always say the world needs more Tommy Lloyd’s. He’s such a terrific person to be around.

“Now, don’t get me wrong, he’s got a sharp edge and is a fierce competitor. That’s what makes him great. Arizona is lucky to have him.”

He’s had an impact on so many. One specifically is Oumar Ballo, who Lloyd brought with him three years ago from Gonzaga. Last week, Lloyd gave an impact speech of what Ballo means to him.

“I’ve always felt like I’m responsible for Oumar,” Lloyd said. “He doesn’t have a dad. His family is in Africa. His mom doesn’t speak what we would consider a common world language … Imagine him coming all the way here, goes to Gonzaga, he’s a big-time recruit, and struggled. And we were really good. There wasn’t a spot for him to play, and he got in a funk. There were certain people telling me that I shouldn’t bring him (to Tucson) when I got the job. I didn’t even consider that … ‘Oumar is my responsibility. I don’t know if he’s gonna make it or not make it, but I know this: If he fails, it’s going to be on my watch.”

Oumar said he heard what Lloyd said and felt good about it. And that his mom is “happy” for him “because she knows I am in good hands and that I’m at the best place.”

… “Tommy cares about his players, not just as a basketball player but as a person,” Ballo said. “When that happens it’s bigger than basketball, that no matter what you’ll always have that relationship.

That’s Tommy, a guy’s guy. He’s been that way for some time now. So, what makes him tick?

“That’s an interesting question,” Keshad Johnson said. “He doesn’t want you to be casual. He doesn’t like when we are. And he likes plays where you’re doing something for your teammates. That makes him proud, for sure.”

Then there is this from Caleb Love: “He’s the ultimate competitor. He wants to win as badly as we do, even more than we do. He’s a student of the game, as well. He’s always watching film. He’s the ultimate basketball guru.”

That competitive person started at a very young age. His parents remember him hanging out with his older brother, Jerry, and playing sports with older guys.

“He had a natural talent,” his mom, Jackie, said. “He told his older brother’s friends on the playground that he could throw the ball farther than they could or he could run faster than they could or whatever they could do, he could do better. He would give it his darndest to beat them and they were like four years older or so. That’s just kind of been his nature.”

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