LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — If Michigan turned to Juwan Howard, Memphis rushed to Penny Hardaway and Georgetown hired Patrick Ewing, what former player would Louisville, Kentucky, Indiana or Western Kentucky fans recruit if those programs had a basketball coaching position open?
While you scan your memories and preferred players, let me explain:
It’s a copycat world. Hiring a popular former player is the current rage in hiring trends. Ewing went to Georgetown with no college coaching experience. He’s delivered two reasonable years for the Hoyas.
Hardaway replaced Tubby Smith, strictly off Penny’s dazzling work in the Memphis high school and AAU worlds. Forget his 22-14 record last winter. Penny has taken recruits away from Mike Krzyzewski, John Calipari and Bill Self. He’s Mr. Big Stuff in recruiting.
Now Michigan has fetched Howard off the Miami Heat bench.
He has zero college coaching experience. He has zero head coaching experience.
He has zero interest in hearing about how Chris Mullin and Clyde Drexler whiffed at their former schools.
Wednesday, on Twitter, the unscientific social media mainstay, I asked my followers to pick the former players they’d like to see lead their favorite college teams.
Nearly 100 of you responded. I was dazzled by the serious takes.
I laughed at folks who strained for obscurity.
Mike Grosso? Shagari Alleyne? Tijan Jobe? Actually two votes for Tijan Jobe and his sharp, powerful elbows in Assembly Hall.
No love for Derrick Caracter? Has everybody forgotten Big Smooth — Barry Sumpter?
Not a peep for Ivan Renko or even Dan Dakich at Indiana?
Thanks to everybody that responded. Here are the results — legitimate and preposterous. I also included mine.
The balloting: Reece Gaines 6; Kenny Payne 5; David Padgett 4; DeJuan Wheat, Wiley Brown, Ellis Myles, Beau Zach Smith 3; Earl Clark, Russ Smith, Luke Hancock, B.J. Flynn 2; Wes Unseld, Jerry Eaves; Mark McSwain, Larry O’Bannon; Peyton Siva, Mike Grosso, David Levitch, Junior Bridgeman, Brian Kiser, Tony Williams, Chane Behanan 1. (I tossed all ballots for Andre McGee.)
Interesting winner in Reece Gaines. Although he was taken by Orlando with the 15th pick in the first round of the 2003 NBA Draft, Gaines played in only 71 NBA games over parts of three seasons before moving overseas.
He bridged the end of the Denny Crum Era and the start of the Rick Pitino run but his name does not resonate with the Class of 2020.
Gaines started his coaching career with Scott Davenport at Bellarmine but has worked at Eastern Kentucky the last three seasons. He appears to be on the head coaching track.
My pick: Kenny Payne.
NBA scouts tout the work Payne does with Kentucky’s big men. Guys like Julius Randle, Bam Adebayo and Karl-Anthony Towns credit Payne for his patience and teaching ability. Payne is consistently ranked one of the nation’s top 10 recruiters. He works well with other coaches and the media.
Payne loves working for John Calipari. He won’t leave for a Dead End job. He should get his chance — even if it is unlikely to be at his alma mater.
The balloting: Pat Riley, Rajon Rondo 2; Enes Kanter, Mark Pope, Derek Anderson, Dwane Casey, Tayshaun Prince, Chuck Hayes, Patrick Patterson, Shagari Alleyne, Scott Padgett, John Pelphrey, Darnell Dodson 1.
Riley is 74. He’s not walking through that door. I assume if Riley had shown any interest during the changes from Eddie Sutton, Rick Pitino or Tubby Smith, Kentucky would have hired him.
Rondo has expressed interest in coaching. But his background suggests the NBA would be a better fit with Rondo’s challenging personality.
Three guys on the list are college head coaches — Pope at Brigham Young; Pelphrey at Tennessee Tech and Padgett at Samford.
My pick: Scott Padgett.
Padgett has done solid work at Samford, while trying to overcome losing talented players through the NCAA’s graduate transfer system.
He’s bright, insightful, personable, funny and driven. Living in a one-bid league, Padgett needs to win a conference tournament to take the next step. If not at Kentucky, at another Power Five job.
The balloting: Dane Fife 12; Calbert Cheaney 5; Mike Woodson 3; Randy Wittman, Tijan Jobe, Isiah Thomas, Michael Lewis 2; D.J. White, Bracey Wright, A.J. Moye, A.J. Guyton, Damon Bailey, Steve Alford, Tim Priller 1.
The first landslide. Fife, one of Tom Izzo’s top assistants at Michigan State, towered over the competition.
Fife lacks the NBA cred of Hardaway, Ewing or Howard, but he could overcome that with his Izzo cred. Plus, he has the added credentials of head coaching experience at IPFW as well as the love from being a member of Indiana’s last (2002) Final Four squad.
My pick: Dane Fife.
Woodson, Wittman and Thomas all have been head coaches — and done nothing spectacular. Ditto for Alford, now on his fifth Division I job at Nevada.
Fife checks a lot of boxes.
The balloting: Clem Haskins, Darrin Horn, Kurtis Townsend 1.
Interesting trio. Haskins and Horn succeeded in Bowling Green and departed for Power Five jobs. Townsend has made news as Self’s assistant at Kansas.
My pick: Darrin Horn.
Horn is setting up his program at Northern Kentucky. I expect his winning percentage to be much closer to what he achieved at WKU (.698) than what it was at South Carolina (.488).
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