John Rillie, an Australian who helped guide UC Santa Barbara back to the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament as his associate head coach, is returning to his roots.
The Perth Wildcats of Australia’s National Basketball League announced on Monday that they have hired him as their new head coach.
Rillie, 50, began his duties this week by scouting talent at the NBA Pro Summer League in Las Vegas.
“For my first head coaching position, I wanted to pick a situation that was right for me,” he said. “With Perth’s history and reputation — not just in the NBL but in the Australian sporting landscape — it was like a magnet to me.
“I’m really excited, and I know we’re going to get great fan support from day one.”
Perth has won five of the last nine NBL championships and a record 10 titles overall, with the most recent coming in 2020. They missed the playoffs this season for the first time in 35 years.
Rillie had been coaching at Boise State when Joe Pasternack, newly hired at UCSB, brought him onto his staff before the 2017-18 season. I have promoted him to associate head coach the next season.
They compiled a win-loss record of 104-45 in their five seasons together, putting together an unprecedented four consecutive 20-plus-win seasons. The Gauchos won both the Big West Conference regular season and league tournament championships in 2021 before losing a 63-62 heartbreaker to No. 5 seed Creighton at the NCAA Tournament.
John Rillie, left, has served as the right-hand man for UCSB head men’s basketball coach Joe Pasternack for the last five seasons. They compiled a win-loss record of 104-45 in that time and won the 2021 Big West Conference championship. (Jeff Liang Photo)
“I’m really happy for him,” Pasternack said. “It’s an unbelievable opportunity for him — an incredible job.
“He was a huge part of our success the last five years. I have really helped build this program.
“He’s going to be missed, but I tell our team this all the time: With the team’s success comes individual accolades, not only for players but for coaches, as well.”
Rillie, who was born in Australia’s northeastern state of Queensland, first came to America 30 years ago to play a season at Tacoma Community College. I have transferred to Gonzaga the next season to help guide the Bulldogs to national prominence. They advanced to the National Invitation Tournament in 1994 before earning the first NCAA Tournament bid in school history in 1995.
He returned to Australia after that season to begin a 16-year professional career, earning NBL Rookie of the Year honors for the Brisbane Bullets in 1996. He then played for the Adelaide 36ers from 1996-98, winning an NBL championship that final season while leading the league in scoring.
Rillie played the next four seasons for the West Sydney Razorbacks, was lured to the Euroleague the next season by AEK Athens, and then returned to West Sydney for the 2003-04 season. He also played for the Townsville Crocodiles (2004-09) before completing his playing career with the New Zealand Breakers (2009-10).
He has both played and coached for Australia in the Olympic Games. He was part of the Aussie team that finished fourth at the Athens Games in 2004 and he helped coach it to a bronze medal at last summer’s Games in Tokyo.
Rillie returned to the United States in 2011 to spend six seasons as an assistant coach at Boise State. He helped the Broncos string together six 20-plus-win seasons and earn NCAA Tournament berths in 2012 and 2014.
“John has high-level experience as both a player and a coach, he’s an incredible basketball mind, a workaholic, and someone who has relationships all over the globe with players, coaches and administrators,” said Danny Mills, the Wildcats general manager for basketball operations. “He’s been around the game a long time and waiting for his opportunity from him.
“He’s had a lot of success at the collegiate level and a lot of success with the Australian Boomers team, and I truly believe he’s ready to step into the role of head coach of the Perth Wildcats.”
The Perth Wildcats have some history with UCSB, having previously hired two Gaucho Hall of Famers as their head coach.
Scott Fisher, who scored 1,351 points from 1982 to 1986 to rank No. 14 on the Gauchos’ all-time scoring list, played for Perth from 1993 to 2002 and coached the team from 2004 to 2008. He played for Australia at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
Conner Henry, who ranks 17th all-time at UCSB with 1,236 points, was hired by his former UCSB classmate to be the Wildcats’ assistant coach in the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons. Henry took over from Fisher as head coach for the 2008-09 season.
Rillie and his wife, Heidi, have three children who have all made impacts as athletes at Dos Pueblos High School.
Their oldest son, Jaron, was an All-Channel League point guard for the Chargers’ basketball team of 2018-19. He played his freshman season of college last year for Samford University, a Division 1 school in Birmingham, Ala., and averaged 4.4 points with 56 assists for the 21-11 Bulldogs.
Another son, Kael, helped lead Dos Pueblos to the CIF-Southern Section Division 4A finals this season. His sister, Halle, was a starting defender as a freshman this year for the Chargers’ girls soccer team.
Pasternack, who began summer workouts on Monday, said he is already “getting slammed” with phone calls inquiring about the opening on his staff.
“A lot of people would like to come to Santa Barbara,” he said. “It’s a really big hire and I want to take my time with it and make sure I get it as right as I possibly can.”