On the day he returned to basketball as Southern Miss head coach, Larry Eustachy approached the microphone and didn't wait for obvious questions. He just spoke, straight from the heart. He already had an ice-breaker for his feel-good introduction.
"I'm a recovering alcoholic," he said.
Southern Miss is Eustachy's second chance. Maybe that's appropriate. The Golden Eagles have been looking for an opportunity, any opening to reclaim prominence in Conference USA, and Eustachy's presence might be enough to reignite a dormant program.
After an ultra-successful tenure at Iowa State that included back-to-back Big 12 titles, Eustachy resigned under pressure in 2003 after photographs were published of him at a college party.
Eleven months later, he was back.
"Until you bottom out, you don't really see what's going on in your life," said Eustachy, who said he hasn't had a drink since April 23, '03. "I hit rock bottom, with nobody to blame but myself. But where I find myself now, I've never felt better."
Eustachy can validate his recovery -- and his hiring -- by transforming the Golden Eagles into winners again. It won't be easy. "All I need is time," he said. And players.
FRONTCOURTThe emphasis might be on a new beginning at Southern Miss, but the program does have a returning player to build around in junior Jasper Johnson. He's a decent outside shooter who has shown flashes of being a big-time inside presence.
Now Johnson could have some help. Junior college transfers Dwayne Brown and Shakiem Mitchell should contribute immediately on the boards. Senior swingman David Haywood might be asked for inside muscle, too.
"We definitely need some size," Eustachy said. "We need to be physical in this league."
BACKCOURTEustachy talked about doing things the right way and avoiding the quick fix. So naturally, plenty of eyebrows were raised when the Golden Eagles signed junior college player Rashaad Carruth, a former McDonald's All-America. Carruth began his career at Kentucky, where he dropped 19 points on Duke as a freshman but left after one season. He didn't last long at Oklahoma after reportedly failing a drug test.
Why Carruth? Eustachy, who naturally believes in second chances, said he received favorable reports from the player's former coaches. Carruth will be the first McDonald's All-America to suit up for Southern Miss. If his problem-child days are over, and he lives up to his potential, Carruth could be the program's best player since Clarence Weatherspoon.
Elsewhere, Southern Miss returns senior point guard Dante Stiggers, who had started 80 consecutive games before being supplanted in a shaken-up lineup for the C-USA tournament.
Junior Jason Forte and sophomore Jarekus Singleton, a pair of backcourt holdovers, will also contend for playing time.
Junior college transfer Solomon Brown, who started 22 games as a freshman at Iona, should get a long look at point guard. LSU transfer Mildon Ambres, who is eligible after the fall semester, could fill a swingman role.
"Guards can set the tone," Eustachy said. "We need good play there."
FINAL ANALYSISFormer coach James Green accomplished some nice things on a limited budget, but when times got lean and interest sagged, he was doomed.
Eustachy, who realizes salesmanship is part of his job description, promises an emphasis on defense and rebounding. He also wants a transition game, adding, "We are going to play as fast as our talent allows."
Expect an entire season of transition, as Eustachy adapts to his new players, and vice versa. Eustachy eventually will turn around the Golden Eagles. He has all the time he needs. That's what happens when you make good on a second chance.