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May 17, 2013
A strong presence from both Arizona's past and present were in McKale Center on Friday afternoon.
With Hall of Famer Lute Olson beaming from the back of the room, UA head coach Sean Miller formally introduced ex-Wildcats standout Damon Stoudamire as the newest assistant to his coaching staff.
"I know (Stoudamire) probably looks a lot older than he used to, to some of you guys," Miller joked.
Stoudamire was initially added to the staff 12 days ago, when he informed Memphis head coach Josh Pastner that he was leaving to return to Tucson. Since that time, Stoudamire made it a point to first say his goodbyes to his friends in Memphis, where he spent the bulk of the past eight years.
Stoudamire, who spent 13 years in the NBA, played for the Memphis Grizzlies from 2005-08, followed by half a season in San Antonio before retiring in 2008. After three months at Rice as the director of player development, Stoudamire returned to the Grizzlies as a coach.
In 2011, Stoudamire accepted a position on Pastner's coaching staff and returned to the college level.
Now, Mighty Mouse is back and will coach in the same building he created so many highlights as an All-American point guard from 1991-95. Among the accomplishments in an Arizona uniform, Stoudamire led the program to a Final Four appearance in 1994.
"It feels good - it's different, though," Stoudamire said about his return. "Walking these halls when I was coming down from the basketball office, it looks different.
"So, for me, I want to say this and I told Sean this: I'm here as a basketball coach right now. I'm not here as an 18-, 19-, 20-year-old young man playing for coach Olson anymore. My responsibilities have changed. I'm here to help this program compete at the level that it's been and try to make it even better."
While going through the coaching search - one that started after James Whitford accepted the head coaching position at Ball State on April 6 - Miller said he sought out some advice from Olson, who vouched for his former player and noted his "incredible burning desire and a love for the game of basketball."
"I'm hiring Damon - not because he's one of the all-time great players here," Miller said. "That's part of what makes him special. I'm hiring him because he's absolutely the answer as a coach. His relationship with players, his ability to teach, his ability to connect with today's student-athletes - whether it be in the recruiting process or the guys who are here - he's been there and done it at the highest level.
"We're getting one heck of a coach and someone who I know can make a difference in where we are today, getting us back to that Final Four or competing for that national championship."
But while Stoudamire certainly had the credentials and past connection with the program, Miller said the most important priority was to find "the most comprehensive coach."
And the now 39-year-old Stoudamire did not want the hire, or his own decision, to be based off his past, even with the personal push from Olson.
"He would've signed me up immediately if it was his choice," Stoudamire said, smiling and drawing a laugh from the media.
After all, the hire is not about the past, but the future of Arizona basketball.