"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Friday, March 28, 2014

Top Assistant Coach Options

EDIT: ***When I wrote this, I considered briefly including Steve Wojciechowski in the article. But seeing that he's been at Duke for 19 of the last 20 years as a player and coach and has never garnered much attention as a head coaching candidate, I assumed he would simply stay at Duke until Coach K retired. Because of that, despite his illustrious background, I left him out because after ShakaWatch, I didn't want to get people excited about someone I didn't think would possibly consider leaving for Marquette. I'll put together a Wojo capsule later, but in my personal opinion, Marquette landed the most capable assistant coach in the nation.***

The crazy train for Shaka Smart pulled almost every corner of Marquette nation into it this week right up until Marquette officially went on record and said Smart was out. Since then, we've heard established names like Ben Howland, up-and-comers like Saul Phillips, coaches still coaching like Cuonzo Martin, and the hometown hero name in Brian Wardle all mentioned as possible replacements for Chris Otule's coach.

What amazes me that through all of this the only assistant coach that has been mentioned is Mike Hopkins. He has been Jim Boeheim's number two since 1996 & is generally considered the Orange heir apparent. Yet every time someone puts a mic in front of a national guy, Hopkins' name comes up. Considering Boeheim just inferred that his retirement may be coming sooner rather than later, Hopkins may not be the best choice for Marquette. He spent over 20 years playing and coaching at Syracuse. When that job opens, he will take it, no matter where he is coming back from.

So why is it no other assistants are being mentioned? Tom Crean and Buzz Williams were both assistants when they took over at Marquette, and that resulted in 10 NCAA appearances, two Sweet 16s, one Elite 8, and one Final Four in 15 years. Archie Miller, Johnny Dawkins, Tom Izzo, and Kevin Ollie are all coaching this weekend and were coming from assistant positions. With that in mind, I wanted to look at some of the top assistants out there. I looked at five assistants from blue blood schools. First, I looked at the average offense and defense ratings over the past 4 years, the number of top-25 recruiting classes they had during their time as assistants back to 2003, and both the number of NCAA wins they've been a part of and the number of trips to the Final Four.

1) Dwayne Stephens -- How this guy isn't a head coach is beyond me. 13 straight years in the tourney, a ton of postseason success at Michigan State, and probably won't wait for his 59-year-old boss, Tom Izzo, to retire. He's worked with guys like Draymond Green, Derrick Nix, and Adrien Payne, turning them into stud big men. Sparty has been in the top-50 in terms of eFG% on offense twice and defense three times in the past three years, so Stephens knows where to focus his coaching efforts. Oh...and his first Final Four? It came when he was an assistant to Tom Crean at Marquette in 2003.

2) Orlando Antigua -- I'm sure any Kentucky assistant will make some MU fans squirmy, but Antigua could be a very good fit. As a recruiter, he's been lead on numerous McDonald's All-Americans and been involved with top-5 recruiting classes every year he's been in Lexington. Antigua is also the national team coach of Puerto Rico, which helped him land Puerto Rican stud recruit Karl Towns for Kentucky. His recruiting success stories read like a who's who of lottery picks -- Anthony Davis, Nerlens Noel, DeMarcus Cousins were all Antigua gets. And the guy has one of the best stories in college basketball. How many guys can claim to have been shot in the head at age 13, played Big East basketball (at Pitt) with a bullet in their head, and gone on to be a Harlem Globetrotter?

3) Steve Robinson -- It may be tough to pry Robinson out from under Roy Williams' thumb -- the guy has spent 19 years as a Williams assistant -- but it could be very worthwhile. Robinson has recruited the best players in the country over the past dozen years, following Williams from Kansas to North Carolina. He can recruit anywhere, landing recruits from Washington State (Marvin Williams) to Washington, D.C. (Ed Davis) and everywhere in between (#1 recruit from Iowa, Harrison Barnes). As a bonus, Robinson also has head coaching experience; in the 1990s he took Tulsa to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments and also got Florida State to the Big Dance.

4) Dave Dickerson -- He's been down this road before. Dickerson was voted the #1 assistant in the ACC before taking over the head coaching gig at Tulane in 2005. His Green Wave experience was a disappointment, going just 71-85 in five years without any postseason appearances. Since landing at Ohio State, the Buckeyes recruiting has been fantastic and Dickerson was elevated to associate head coach after just 4 years on staff. He has a ton of experience, including helping Gary Williams take Maryland to a national title in 2002.

5) Kurtis Townsend -- When it comes to recruiting, no one has been more consistent over the past decade than Bill Self at Kansas, and leading the way on many of those recruits was Kurtis Townsend. Last summer, ESPN rated Townsend as the best assistant coach recruiter in the country. He has landed the #1 recruit in the country on more than one occasion -- both Andrew Wiggins and Josh Selby were Townsend gets. Perhaps more important, he's done it everywhere he's been. Townsend was on staff at Miami, USC, Michigan, and California before coming to Lawrence.

Bottom line, we missed out on Shaka, but there are plenty of Final Four and national title-winning coaches still out there and available. The only question is if the powers that be at Marquette are prescient enough to pick those guys out ahead of time.

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