Tim Floyd returns to UTEP, no worries about USC

Tim Floyd has only been back in El Paso a few weeks, but it's hard to tell from the clutter on his new desk and the scribbles covering a white board in his office overlooking Texas El-Paso's new basketball practice facility.

Floyd, no stranger to El Paso and UTEP fans, returned to college basketball this spring after spending a year as an assistant coach with the New Orleans Hornets.

"I just have always loved the college game," Floyd said. "I've always enjoyed putting your own team together."

Of course, Floyd also comes back to the amateur game after an unceremonious 2009 departure from Southern California amid allegations of recruiting violations involving standout O.J. Mayo, now with Memphis in the NBA. The NCAA is investigating, among other things, whether Floyd gave $1,000 to a man who helped steer Mayo to USC.

Earlier this year, USC said an internal investigation concluded there were rules violations involving Mayo and pre-emptively forfeited 21 wins from the 2007-2008 season, took away one scholarship through the 2010-11 season and imposed a one-year ban on postseason play. The NCAA could impose other sanctions.

Floyd has steadfastly denied any wrongdoing and he's been reluctant to speak about the case, saying he has been asked to remain quite because of the ongoing investigation.

"It will all come out," Floyd said.

UTEP athletic director Bob Stull said there is always a risk in picking a new coach, but the school did its "due diligence" in hiring Floyd before the NCAA probe was completed.

"Tim had never had a previous NCAA violation and from further investigation we, along with five other universities who were trying to hire him, felt like it was unlikely for (the) allegations to be valid," Stull said.

Floyd is taking over a storied program that counts among its accolades the only NCAA basketball national championship in Texas. And the Miners have been on the upswing thanks in large part to outgoing coach Tony Barbee, who is now the coach at Auburn.

"Tony left it in good shape," Floyd said.

But he is losing standout junior forward Derrick Caracter to the NBA draft and power forward Arnett Moultrie, who has opted to transfer, and faces a complete rebuilding of the team in the next year.

"We will build this (program) the way we built USC, with quality freshmen," Floyd said.

At USC, Floyd was 85-50 over four seasons and took the Trojans to the NCAA tournament three times, including a trip to the Sweet 16 in 2007.

Floyd started his basketball career as an assistant to UTEP coach Don Haskins from 1978-86, before coaching at Idaho, New Orleans and Iowa State. He took over the Chicago Bulls in 1998 before his stints with the Hornets and USC.

Had he had his way, Floyd says he would still be leading the Trojans. But he left, he says, after it became apparent that he no longer had support from the school.

Questions about Floyd's hiring - How will the NCAA probe end? Will he follow in the footsteps of his predecessors and use UTEP as a basketball springboard to a bigger program? - have swirled since he was introduced as the Miners' new coach in late March.

Stull has said has said he has every confidence in Floyd, who spent part of his childhood in the city before returning as Haskins' assistant. And he was the first on the list of successors when Barbee left.

"Tim was an ideal fit," Stull said. "He coached with legendary coach Haskins for nine years, he spent several early years growing up in El Paso," Stull said. "He was an excellent and very popular choice to build on (Barbee's) success."

None of the details concern Floyd, who said he's been concentrating on recruiting, filling out his coaching staff and getting the program ready to make a second consecutive run at the NCAA tournament. He didn't even worry much about signing a contract before having his first press conference at UTEP.

"I've never not signed a contract before the press conference," Floyd said. "But it just hasn't been a big priority."

From his point of view, the program is poised to be a consistent player among the big boys in college basketball. And Floyd says he hopes for long-term scheduling agreements with teams, including New Mexico.

"It use to be you scheduled a bunch of barking dogs," Floyd said. "We are going to try to play the toughest out of conference schedule. I'd rather be playing Kansas, Duke, UCLA than playing a one and one with (less competitive schools)."

And while he won't make any guarantees about his second tour in El Paso - life is too unpredictable, he says - Floyd said he plans to lead the Miners as long as he's supported.

"You never want to stay at a place you don't feel wanted," Floyd said. "You can't predict life, you just can't. All I know is we are going to enjoy this ride as along as we can."

© 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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