JayDee Luster is only a first-year graduate manager for the No. 10 Arizona Wildcats, but he has something his bosses can't touch.
Credibility. Fresh, on-court cred, the kind today's 18- to 22-year-old players can relate to during the basketball season.
Just eight months ago, Luster was named the Mountain West Conference's defensive player of the year at Wyoming. Just nine months ago, the gritty 5-foot-9 guard helped the Cowboys beat 11th-ranked UNLV in Laramie, Wyo.
UA assistant coach Book Richardson compares that to the 23-4 record he helped Pittsburgh-Johnstown to in 1997-98 and knows there is no contest. The current Wildcats were in elementary school back then.
"No one wants to hear what I did in 1998. They don't care," Richardson said. "You know what they say? 'Well, let me see it on YouTube.' So what helps us is that JayDee says, 'Well, we beat UNLV.' They say 'When was that?' He'll say, 'Last year.'"
Luster's playing credentials, as well as the strong recommendations from Wyoming coach Larry Shyatt and Luster's high school coach, grabbed the attention of UA coach Sean Miller.
A well-regarded point guard in the 1980s and 1990s with Pittsburgh, Miller also knew Luster could speak with authority to his current players.
Because he was the MWC's top defender, Miller said, "our players respect him a great deal."
As a GA, Luster is able to help out not only during practices but also while offering after-hours workouts to UA players.
But the on-court help and advice is only one of many ways Luster can relate to today's players. Already at age 23, Luster says, "a lot of the things they're going through I can relate (to)," because he has, literally, faced all sorts of issues head-on himself.
Hometown environment. Luster grew up in a rough San Diego neighborhood to attend Hoover High School, guided by his mother, grandfather and several other key relatives.
"He had all these people in his life murdered or killed," said Ollie Goulston, who coached Luster and UA sophomore Angelo Chol at Hoover.
Injury. Entering his senior season at Hoover, Luster had a goal of joining Jason Kidd as the only high school player with more than 2,000 points, 1,000 assists and 500 steals.
He then broke his ribs in a car crash and missed all but 11 games, finishing with 1,890 points, 857 assists, and 559 steals.
Personal heartache. Not only did Luster have several cousins murdered or jailed but he lost his best friend, Oregon football player Todd Doxey, who drowned after jumping 20 feet off a bridge into the McKenzie River.
"It ws just devastating," Goulston said. "They did everything together."
In Doxey's honor, Luster finished Wyoming with two degrees, one in social science and the other in criminal justice. One degree for him, and one for Doxey, who was a top student.
Mental health. Last season, Luster told the Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune that the cumulative effects of all the tragedies left him suffering from anxiety in high school and early in his college career.
"Life was just hard for me," Luster said. "I started suffering from panic attacks, to where it was hard to do daily stuff - drive, go to school. I think that's just how my body was dealing with everything that was going on at the time."
Coaching instability. At Hoover, Luster signed with New Mexico State in large part because he had known then-coach Reggie Theus since he was 11 years old. The Aggies were coming off an NCAA tournament appearance and things appeared promising … but Theus left to become the Sacramento Kings' head coach during the summer that Luster arrived before his freshman season.
So Luster played as a freshman for Marvin Menzies, then transferred to Wyoming in part because he had been previously recruited by then-Pokes coach Heath Schroyer for Fresno State, where Schroyer was an associate head coach. But Schroyer was fired toward the end of the 2010-11 season, and Luster played for interim coach Fred Langley the rest of that season, then Shyatt as a senior.
If you count Theus, that's five coaches Luster played for as a collegian.
Transferring. Luster went from San Diego to Las Cruces, N.M., to the harsh winters of Laramie.
"It was different," Luster said. "At first it was a culture shock but I always tried to put things in perspective. I went to school to get an education and be the best I could be as a student-athlete and on the court. I always felt it was a good fit."
So if UA guard T.J. McConnell of Pittsburgh ever struggles with an adjustment to Tucson, Luster can relate to that, too.
"There's not much that they can go through that I haven't been through," Luster said. "I had four head coaches and I transferred too, so I can relate to T.J. and (Cochise College transfer) Matt Korcheck. I tell them my experiences and I think they appreciate the fact that I can relate. I'm not just telling them something that I haven't experienced."
Luster says he's hoping to continue in college coaching, working his way up to a head coach, and Miller said he's confident that Luster is bound to be a "terrific" coach someday.
"You know when a guy has it or doesn't, and he certainly does," Miller said.
But while Luster's experiences could help him as a coach, he's also hoping they aid others, the way his coaches helped him steer through the difficult journey of his youth.
"My coaches always told me, `You should get into coaching,'" Luster said. "It was something I always wanted to do - give back to kids and give them the same opportunity that a lot of coaches provided for me."
• Who: NAU (2-3) at Arizona (3-0)
• When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
• TV: Pac-12 Network
• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM, 990-AM (Spanish)