Paso Robles High grad and recent USC interim men’s head basketball coach Bob Cantu has taken a new job at UTEP.
Cantu, 39, was as assistant basketball coach at USC for 12 years under three different head coaches.
He will rejoin Tim Floyd, the current head coach of the Miners, under whom Cantu coached at USC for four years.
Cantu, who also spent time as an assistant at Cuesta College, said he speaks weekly with Floyd, a mentor to him, who told him about two weeks ago that he was looking for an assistant after another UTEP coach, Greg Foster, left for a coaching position in the NBA with the Philadelphia 76ers.
“I said ‘What about me?’ ” Cantu said by phone Tuesday. “(Floyd) said, ‘I didn’t know you’d be interested.’ That’s when it first started, and we went back and forth until it was official.”
Cantu has lived his entire life in California, also coaching at Sacramento State before heading to USC.
He’s embracing the idea of getting acquainted with a new culture in Texas and a rambunctious fan base.
“UTEP is a place where there’s a lot of passion for basketball,” Cantu said. “It will be fun to be somewhere where the fans are so excited.”
Cantu’s longstanding relationship with Floyd was a primary consideration for taking the UTEP job.
Floyd previously coached the Chicago Bulls and New Orleans Hornets in the NBA, which is invaluable experience to the UTEP players, Cantu said.
“He has the ability to get a NBA executive on the phone and give his evaluation of a player,” Cantu said.
Part of Cantu’s responsibilities will be recruiting, and his ties in California, a hotbed of basketball talent, played a role in his hiring at UTEP.
He expects his coaching duties also to include working with perimeter players and assisting in developing the offense.
When Cantu took over as USC’s interim coach midway through last season, the Trojans were 7-10 and 2-2 in the Pac-12 Conference.
The Trojans finished 14-18 and 9-9 in league, and recorded big wins against nationally ranked Arizona and Stanford in Palo Alto.
Cantu said he opened up the Trojans’ offense, encouraging a looser, up-tempo pace. He wanted players also to “have freedom within structure” and wouldn’t pull them from the game after bad shots to encourage a more free-flowing offense.
He said the “taste of head coaching experience” will make him a better assistant.
“Different guys respond to coaching in different ways,” Cantu said. “I really strived to understand and listen to players. I wanted to make it fun for them.”
Cantu acknowledged his goal is to become a head coach of a college program someday “down the road.”
After last season, the Trojans hired Florida Gulf Coast’s Andy Enfield as their head coach.
Meanwhile, UTEP was 18-14 overall and 10-6 in Conference USA last season. Floyd is entering his third season as head coach this year.
Though Cantu is moving hundreds of miles away, he still plans to hold his local Bob Cantu Basketball Camp in Paso Robles from June 16-19 and in San Luis Obispo from June 23-26 and July 14-17 next summer.
“The only difference is that I’ll be handing out a lot more UTEP stuff than USC stuff,” Cantu said.