INDIANAPOLIS - Kevin O'Neill isn't worried about being the center of attention when he brings his Southern Cal basketball team to Knoxville next season.
"I'm thinking I'm going to bring Lane (Kiffin) with me to the game,'' O'Neill said Wednesday at the adidas Invitational AAU basketball tournament. "That should keep the heat off of me.''
O'Neill, who coached the Tennessee men's basketball team from 1994 through 1997, pulled off one of the more impressive coaching jobs against the Vols last season.
The Trojans' 77-55 win over then-No. 9-ranked UT was the most lopsided loss in coach Bruce Pearl's tenure with the Vols at the time.
"We were ready for them,'' said O'Neill, whose team entered the game as an 11-point underdog. "I'm sure they will be ready for us this time.''
This year's game is tentatively scheduled to be played in Thompson-Boling Arena on Dec. 21.
"We'll probably be starting three freshmen,'' O'Neill said. "And it's two days after we play Kansas, so we might already be pounded into submission.''
As for Kiffin's attendance at the game in Knoxville, O'Neill admits he probably won't be able to convince the former UT and current Southern Cal football coach to attend the game.
"We'd have to wear Kevlar instead of suits if we did,'' O'Neill said. "But at least we can stay at his house in Knoxville. It's never going to sell; might as well turn it into a hotel.''
If anyone can appreciate Kiffin's situation, it's O'Neill, who left UT abruptly to take the head coaching job at Northwestern.
O'Neill now says he acted like an "immature baby" when he left, attributing his departure to a disagreement with then-UT athletic director Doug Dickey.
But that was long ago, and it's clear O'Neill bears no ill-will toward the Big Orange Nation as he moves forward with Southern Cal.
O'Neill said he believes Kiffin will be successful with the Trojans' football program.
"I've had a lot of dealings with Lane, and I like him a lot,'' O'Neill said. "Lane is taking over a tough situation, but he's aggressive and he recruits well, and I think he'll do a great job for us.''
O'Neill said he understands the Tennessee fans' disappointment.
"Like any other college town, there's a feeling there that you should always win and be on top,'' O'Neill said. "I think the Tennessee fans probably liked Lane while he was there and hated to see him leave.
"I understand that. In my experience, Tennessee was a great place to be and probably still is.''