Eric Musselman's crash course in college basketball nearly reduced him to an anxious, sweaty mess.
Hours of studying the NCAA compliance do's and don't-you-dares in translating the complex language of recruiting led to a 30-question examination earlier this fall at Arizona State. Pass, and you're free to pursue student-athletes near and far. Fail, and you're grounded.
"I felt like I was a college student again, really nervous, and I studied so hard out of the fear of failing," said the Sun Devils' first-year assistant coach, who logged NBA stops as the Kings' and Warriors' head coach. "I felt so good when I passed. Felt like getting my driver's license."
But what is a career professional coach doing on a college campus, in the warmth of Tempe, Ariz., in the Pacific-12 Conference? Musselman's résumé includes teaching the sport in any city, any league and any country. Musselman has had coaching stops in the minor leagues and in the Dominican Republic, China and Venezuela. In addition to his NBA head-coaching stints, he has spent several seasons as an NBA assistant.
In April, he was named the NBA Development League Coach of the Year with the Los Angeles D-Fenders, a gig he rated a "10 out of 10."
But Musselman has a hard time turning down an enticing challenge. Arizona State was looking for an assistant with NBA experience, and Musselman had been curious about the college level for years. So he jumped. Arizona State (5-1) will host Sacramento State (5-1) today.
"It's so much fun, but it is different, very interesting," Musselman, 48, said of his latest venture. "I loved coaching in the D-League, but this made sense, and it was the right timing."
The differences between the NBA game and the college one besides speed and skill are considerable, Musselman said. There are the compliance issues, such as when players can be recruited, how many text messages and phone calls are allowed, etc.
"The game is pretty much the same, but the difference is, you're working with kids in college," Musselman said. "And in college, there are so few who can create their own shot. In the NBA, when a play breaks down, you have multiple people who can create their own shot.
"I've learned a lot already," he continued. "I can see now why coaches who went from the college game to the NBA with no pro experience struggled. It's a whole different game."
Musselman said he enjoys recruiting. He talks to coaches. He networks. He studies film and workouts. He charms prospects. He pores over transcripts. He meets parents in their homes.
Musselman's NBA background adds credibility, no doubt. He said he is frank with athletes about their college and professional chances, as every prep star dreams of wearing an NBA uniform.
"Young athletes today have no idea how much time is spent by an NBA player on his craft," Musselman said. "Recruiting is nothing like the NBA draft. In the NBA, you can pick who you want. In recruiting, it's like you need a crystal ball to see how they'll develop, and that's the fun part."
Musselman said having a teenage son Michael Musselman, a guard at Monte Vista High School in Danville, helps him understand the recruiting grind.
"I'm talking to kids exactly my son's age," Musselman said. "That's so enlightening. I can see they have their own time for school, practice, their own lives. You don't want to overdo it."
Musselman isn't sure where this latest tour will take him. He does know he lives to coach. He needs the game, he said, and the game needs him. Musselman chuckled at the irony of how his career has mirrored that of his late father, Bill.
"It's amazing how similar our careers are eerie," Musselman said. "Our CBA winning percentage is almost identical. He coached in college, and now I am. He had two cracks at it in the NBA, and I had two cracks. He had the minor league years, and I had the minor league years. I can still hear his voice when I do this. I think he'd be happy that I got into the college game."
Editor's note: This story was changed Dec. 2 to clarify Michael Musellman's status as a guard at Monte Vista High School.