Beneath his Arkansas Razorbacks red, Eric Musselman bleeds brown and gold.
As he prepared for Thursday's Sweet 16 game against Connecticut, Musselman, Arkansas' energetic basketball coach, talked about his love of the Padres.
“I have the MLB (Extra Innings) package and watch every Padres game, and that’s a long season,” he said. “There’s a time difference (between Fayetteville and San Diego), so my wife is not happy that I love the Padres so much.”
Night games and a deep playoff run had Musselman staying up late well into October. The Padres' 2022 season ended just weeks before Razorbacks’ Nov. 7 season opener against North Dakota State.
Arkansas forward Jalen Graham said Musselman often sported brown and gold around the basketball facilities in those fall weeks before basketball tipped off.
“Oh yeah, he was very happy,” Graham said. “He was talking about it a lot, for sure.”
Musselman had his own small role in the Padres' 2022 season. He threw out the first pitch before a July 5 game against the Mariners at Petco Park. The coach called it "one of the greatest things that’s ever happened to me."
Another memorable moment might be just around the corner.
An upset win over top-seeded Kansas last weekend has put the Razorbacks two wins away from their first Final Four appearance since 1995. A year ago, Arkansas fell just short of a the national semifinals with an Elite Eight loss to Duke in 2022.
Musselman, 58, celebrated the win over KU by ripping off his shirt — an impulse that he said is rooted in America’s Finest City.
“When you live in San Diego, a lot of times you don’t have your shirt on, especially if you grow up in Bird Rock or La Jolla and you’re riding the boardwalk,” Musselman said.
The coach first experienced the San Diego lifestyle as an adolescent in 1975, when his father, Bill Musselman, left the University of Minnesota to head up the American Basketball Association’s San Diego Sails.
The team folded just 11 games into the season, but the elder Musselman had a foothold in pro coaching. Bill Musselman worked in the ABA, NBA and other pro leagues until 1995, when he was hired as South Alabama's head coach. He returned to the NBA in 1997 as an assistant for the Portland Trail Blazers, a position he held until his death in 2000.
Bill Musselman actually wanted to manage the Padres, an anecdote revealed in a retrospective by The Athletic on Jerry Coleman’s 1980 season as skipper. While he never did, his son's love for the club is no less strong.
Eric Musselman said he attended nearly every home game while in junior high. During that time, Hall of Famer Dave Winfield called San Diego home. The multi-talented Winfield averaged more than 10 points per game playing for the elder Musselman on the Minnesota basketball team in 1972-73.
Musselman said he'll be tuned in throughout the Padres' 2023 season — with the possible exception of next weekend's series against the Rockies.
See, the opening series overlaps with the Final Four. And if all goes as planned for Musselman this weekend in Las Vegas, he will be busy when the first pitch of the season is thrown.
This story originally appeared in San Diego Union-Tribune .
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