Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Monday, April 15, 2013 | 5:55 p.m.
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Justin Hutson is an Aztec. Again.
San Diego State coach Steve Fisher officially announced Hutson’s return Monday afternoon, a few days after news leaked that the UNLV associate head coach would return to his previous position on the Aztec coaching staff. Hutson spent two seasons with the Rebels, helping coach Dave Rice amass a 51-19 record. UNLV was 3-1 against SDSU during that time.
“Very tough decision,” Hutson said. “I had a great time in Las Vegas, worked with a great staff, great administration and a great fan base who really knows a lot about basketball. Most importantly, a lot of great players who I’m very close to. We accomplished a lot in the two years we were there.”
Hutson said he met with the team Monday to tell them about his decision.
“It was just time for me,” Hutson said. “At the end of the day it was a decision that was best for my family and it was a program I’m very comfortable with. This was something that I knew I had to do at this time.”
Hutson spent five years (2006-11) on the San Diego State coaching staff, helping to recruit and coach the players who would break through with the school’s best season in program history in 2011. That team, which included current San Antonio Spur Kawhi Leonard, went 34-3 and reached the Sweet Sixteen.
Hutson came to UNLV just after that for a new job title and the chance for a new challenge that would likely lead to his first head-coaching job. He recently missed out on the Cal State Fullerton job, although Hutson said there were other possibilities, too. In August, Washington came calling about an assistant’s job while the Rebels were playing an exhibition tour in Canada. He also recently heard from Arizona, telling him he was on a short list to replace assistant James Whitford, who left to take over Ball State.
“You always listen,” Hutson said. “I turned down Washington because I felt it wasn’t the right time. For this one it was a special situation.”
Hutson is replacing Tony Bland, who had originally replaced Hutson after living with and learning from the elder coach while he was an Aztec graduate assistant. Bland recently left to become Andy Enfield’s associate head coach at USC, opening the door for Hutson’s reunion with the same staff that helped him build a reputation as an up-and-coming coach on the west coast.
Hutson will work with the same three guys as his first five-year run — Fisher, head-coach-in-waiting Brian Dutcher and Fisher’s son, Mark — and will likely slide back into his role as defensive coordinator and lead recruiter. A Cal State Bakersfield grad, Hutson is also moving closer to the family he has in California.
“Justin did a great job of helping us build the foundation of our program, we’re very confident moving forward,” Rice said Friday. “Justin’s a friend and we wish him the best.”
The news wasn’t yet official at the time Rice made those comments but he had said he was operating as if Hutson would leave. Rice, who always keeps a short list of potential assistants in mind, also said he doesn’t have a timetable in mind for hiring another coach.
It’s possible UNLV assistant coach Heath Schroyer will take over the associate head coach title as he and Hutson were already at the same pay level — $175,000 base salary, according to UNLV’s online human resources department — and Schroyer already sits the closest to Rice on the bench. Assistant coach Stacey Augmon makes more ($212,000 base salary) because the Rebels made an offer competitive with his NBA salary.
While Hutson came in with an excellent reputation as a recruiter because of his work at San Diego State, Schroyer has had as much if not more to do with the team’s recent recruiting success. Schroyer was big in getting guys like Savon Goodman and 2014 commit Dwayne Morgan, a five-star prospect, among others.
This is the first hire Rice will have to help make since assembling his staff in 2011, although there were other close calls. Schroyer recently turned town an assistant’s job at UCLA and Augmon last summer turned down a job with the Charlotte Bobcats. The NBA could again come calling for Augmon, meaning there’s a chance this isn’t the only search Rice would have to do this offseason.
When the Rebels played at Viejas Arena the past two seasons, members of the student section held up signs referring to Hutson as a traitor. While that group was quick to welcome Hutson back with open arms, it remains to be seen if UNLV’s fans will do the same this upcoming season.
Whatever the public reception it likely won’t bother Hutson. Leaving the players he helped bring in to the program and helped coach on a daily basis is the hardest part, he said. As long as they smile when they see him, that’s all that matters.