College Basketball Coaches Always Looking for Future Success
For college basketball coaches, the regular season lasts four months, but recruiting is a year-round job. Even as they’re battling to win one year’s games, they have to ensure future victories by signing the nation’s best new prospects to keep their rosters loaded.
That job has become even tougher in the era of the one-and-done freshman, when even the biggest recruiting coup can evaporate a season later.
Ohio State’s Thad Matta, whose famed "Thad Five" saw its three best players bolt for the NBA after one run to the NCAA title game, is one recruiter who has learned how to reload quickly, no matter how much talent he loses.
Read on for more on Matta, along with 11 more coaches who have managed to thrive in the hazy region between “What have you done for me lately?” and “What will you do for me tomorrow?”
Josh Pastner, Memphis
When it comes to recruiting, John Calipari is an impossible act to follow, but Josh Pastner is giving it a worthy effort.
Even when Memphis was marooned in the backwaters of Conference USA, Pastner managed to lure elite freshmen to the Tigers in remarkable quantities.
The coach is still reaping the rewards of his first great recruiting class from 2010, which brought in current seniors Joe Jackson and Chris Crawford (not to mention erstwhile superstar Will Barton, now of the Trail Blazers).
His 2014 efforts, buoyed by a move to the more competitive AAC, have focused on JUCO talent such as sharpshooter Avery Woodson. The experience of those newcomers will complement rising power forward Austin Nichols and the rest of this season’s raft of freshmen.
Rick Barnes, Texas
Rick Barnes doesn’t have as revered a name as many of the nation’s most successful bench bosses, but the man who brought Kevin Durant to Texas knows his way around the recruiting trail.
Some of his more recent signees—such as Jonathan Holmes and Cameron Ridley—have been instrumental in this season’s turnaround, while Myck Kabongo is already gone to the Austin Toros of the NBA’s D-League.
The current Longhorns recruiting class hasn’t gotten much buzz (in spite of the promise of small forward Jordan Barnett), but that silence has to be taken with a grain of salt these days.
After all, nobody expected much from 2013's crop of Texas freshmen, either, and Isaiah Taylor has turned out to be one of the best first-year point guards in the country.
Jim Boeheim, Syracuse
Although he predates the NBA’s ban on high school seniors, Carmelo Anthony’s arrival at Syracuse can be seen as the real genesis of the one-and-done movement.
Small wonder, then, that the coach who got him there has kept on winning, regardless of how many of his players have left.
Jim Boeheim’s latest triumph has been replacing one instant star (Michael Carter-Williams, now lighting it up in his first season with the 76ers) with another in top-tier freshman, Tyler Ennis.
Other recent NBA defectors, including Fab Melo and Dion Waiters, will soon be joined in the pro ranks by senior C.J. Fair, and (without too much delay) by top incoming recruit Chris McCullough.
Dave Rice, UNLV
He doesn’t have the outsized personality of school hero Jerry Tarkanian, but Dave Rice is moving the Rebels closer to reclaiming the national prominence of Tark’s era.
Despite the Mountain West’s comparatively modest recruiting clout, Rice has been able to secure a collection of talent worthy of a power-conference program.
Like Tarkanian, he’s had significant success with transfers, a group highlighted at the moment by rebounding whiz Roscoe Smith (formerly of UConn).
However, that hasn’t detracted any from his ability to sign big-time freshmen, from Anthony Bennett (last year’s No. 1 NBA draft pick) to shooting guard Rashad Vaughn (the jewel of an imposing 2014 class).
Rick Pitino, Louisville
You don’t win national titles with subpar players, but cutting down the nets last April (for the third time in his career) is far from Rick Pitino’s only qualification for this list.
Dating back to his tenure with archrival Kentucky, where he brought in the likes of Jamal Mashburn and Antoine Walker, Pitino has had no trouble securing superstars.
Productive PGs Chris Jones and Terry Rozier are both new additions to his 2013-14 Louisville roster, with the former a JUCO transfer and the latter arriving as a freshman to join the returning stars from the national champs.
Plenty more big-time prospects are on the way next fall, with athletic forward Shaqquan Aaron highlighting a deep incoming class.
Thad Matta, Ohio State
The "Thad Five"—Thad Matta’s career-defining recruiting class headlined by Greg Oden and Mike Conley—are long gone from Columbus, but their eponymous coach is still going strong.
His recruiting has tended to come in waves, with the latest major tsunami bringing Jared Sullinger (now of the Celtics), overzealous NBA entrant Deshaun Thomas (playing in Europe) and current star Aaron Craft.
With defensive specialist Craft about to graduate magna cum larceny, Matta has already started laying in his next round of high-level talent.
Freshman Marc Loving is getting some seasoning this year, but it’s next fall’s frosh—led by perimeter stars D’Angelo Russell and Keita Bates-Diop—who will really light things up for the Buckeyes.
Roy Williams, North Carolina
Even when Roy Williams was at Kansas (while he was still haunted by underachieving postseason finishes), he was able to attract jaw-dropping freshmen.
Now that he’s shed any stigma of not being able to win the big one, he’s become even scarier as a recruiter—if that’s possible.
Consensus top-10 classes are par for the course for Williams, whose career ledger of pro and college superstars includes Nick Collison, Paul Pierce, Tyler Hansbrough and Ty Lawson.
Young players are lining up to join that list, with next fall’s crop featuring high-scoring wings Justin Jackson and Theo Pinson.
Fred Hoiberg, Iowa State
Melvin Ejim, currently tearing up the Big 12 as a senior, is a rarity for coach Fred Hoiberg. It's not that Cyclones fans aren't used to success, it's just that they haven’t seen a homegrown star in a while from a coach who's become the nation’s leading transfer magnet.
Hoiberg hasn’t stopped piling up well-traveled new arrivals, with current multi-threat PG DeAndre Kane (formerly of Marshall) following in the footsteps of Will Clyburn (U. of Utah) and Royce White (U. of Minnesota).
However, The Mayor is getting more and more traction with high school players, from Georges Niang (recruited two years ago) to current freshman standout Monte Morris.
Bill Self, Kansas
Kansas has only two freshmen signed for 2014, but it’s going to be as good a two-man class as you’ll ever see.
Of course, for Bill Self, bringing in an overwhelming post player (Cliff Alexander) and a deadly perimeter scorer (Kelly Oubre) is just another year at the office.
Self is among the national leaders in NBA departures per season, but every year, Kansas has enough talent coming in to plug all the holes and stay atop the Big 12 standings.
Last fall's six-man class, with two potential top-five draft picks in Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid leading the way, was the best demonstration yet of just how convincing a salesman Self can be.
Mike Krzyzewski, Duke
When Mike Krzyzewski recruited Johnny Dawkins, the current Stanford coach who held Duke’s career scoring record for two decades, the current Blue Devils freshmen wouldn’t be born for another 13 years.
Coach K hasn’t lost a step in all that time, as he proved by landing Jabari Parker, a leading candidate for 2013-14 Freshman of the Year honors.
In between, Division I’s all-time winningest coach has brought in everything from surefire NBA Hall of Famers (Grant Hill) to the best point guard in college history (Bobby Hurley).
He’s keeping his momentum high with next fall’s class, a near-lock to be ranked No. 1 in the nation behind center Jahlil Okafor and point guard Tyus Jones.
Sean Miller, Arizona
If Sean Miller ever learns to find point guards at the high school level, the Pac-12 is in real trouble. Arizona’s young head coach is already loading up on stars at every other position, and he’s been taking care of the PG spot with world-class transfers.
The most recent of the latter, T.J. McConnell from Duquesne, is cleaning up by feeding high school recruits Kaleb Tarczewski (2012’s freshman class) and Aaron Gordon (2013), not to mention Nick Johnson (2011) on the outside.
The young coach’s steady rise is set to continue through next fall, when powerhouse SF Stanley Johnson leads another highly ranked haul of prospects.
John Calipari, Kentucky
If John Calipari were winning on the court as overwhelmingly as he’s winning recruiting wars, he’d be approaching John Wooden territory by now.
Every one of his first five classes at Kentucky has been ranked either No. 1 or No. 2 nationally by ESPN, and he’s well positioned to extend that streak at least through next fall.
His ability to set up his players for draft success is similarly unparalleled: The last time Calipari didn’t have a player picked in the top 10 of the NBA draft, it was 2007 and he was still at Memphis.
The on-court results (both in the pros and as Tigers/Wildcats head coach) have varied, but from Derrick Rose to Anthony Davis to incoming big man Trey Lyles, Calipari is getting better raw talent than any coach in the game.
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