The Top 25 High-Major Assistants
Last summer I published a list of Top 25 “Mid-Major” assistants, seven of whom went on to take Division I head coaching jobs after the 2009-10 season. On the heels of the success of last year’s list, I have decided to provide a similar ranking for college basketball’s “High-Major” assistant coaches.
Ranking the quality of a team is never easy. Ranking the quality of a coach is even harder. Ranking an assistant coach is well… almost down right impossible. There are so many factors that go into determining what exactly makes a good assistant coach; work ethic, servants mentality, reliability, attention to detail, recruiting skills, overall basketball knowledge, the list goes on and on. What is most imperative to remember is that even though assistant coaches are integral parts of each program, they are not irreplaceable. A good assistant supports his head coach, and not the other way around.
In compiling this list, several factors were weighed, one of the more significant of which was an assistant’s longevity with the program. Those that have served their time and paid their dues with unquestionable loyalty to their head coaches have proven their worth as an assistant and will themselves be rewarded one day with the opportunity to lead a program. Other factors that went into the rankings include; overall program success while on staff, total years as an assistant, head coaching experience, recruiting, reputation amongst peers, and future potential. Many staffs, as you will see, have two long tenured assistants that have worked in tandem and are thus grouped together.
Almost all of those listed will one day be head of their own programs and those that are not will only be so by choice. Most importantly is the realization that this list was created not to classify the haves from the have-nots, but to honor those assistants who have done great work throughout their careers and bring something truly special to a staff.
Top 25 High-Major Assistants
1. Joe Dooley - Kansas
Since his arrival at KU, Dooley has helped guide the JayHawks to an NCAA national title, three NCAA Elite Eight appearances, four NCAA Sweet 16s, five Big 12 regular-season conference titles and three Big 12 tournament championships. During his tenure at Kansas, seven Jayhawks have been drafted in the NBA, including a record-tying five in the 2008 draft. Dooley also served as head coach at East Carolina from 1995-99.
2. Larry Shaytt - Florida
Shaytt, currently associate head coach, played an integral role in the Gator’s capturing of back-to-back NCAA national titles during the 2006 and 2007 seasons. Florida has also claimed an SEC regular season conference title and two SEC tournament championships during his time on staff. Shyatt spent 6 seasons as head coach at Wyoming and Clemson before arriving in Gainesville.
3(a). Bernie Fine - Syracuse
Entering his 33rd season at his Alma mater, Fine is considered one of the most loyal assistants in the game today. A prolific recruiter and developer of talent, dozens of Syracuse players, particularly big-men, coached by Fine have gone on to play in the NBA. Working hand in hand with Jim Boheim, Fine has helped guide the Orange to 26 NCAA tournaments, including three Final Fours and the 2003 NCAA national title.
3(b). Mike Hopkins – Syracuse
With 16th seasons on staff at Syracuse, the former Orangeman has seen the team participate in 16 straight postseason tournaments, including 12 NCAA bids and 4 NIT. Hopkins is credited for the development of Orange guards: Jonny Flynn, Allen Griffin, Gerry McNamara, Demetris Nichols and Josh Pace.
4. Steve Robinson - North Carolina
Robinson works directly with the Tar Heel perimeter players, helping mentor Cousy Award-winning point guards Raymond Felton and Ty Lawson. During his tenure, he has seen the Tarheels win two NCAA National Championship titles and six combined ACC regular season and tournament championships. Prior to arriving at UNC, Robinson was head coach at the University of Tulsa and at Florida State University where he led both teams to the NCAA Tournament.
5(a). Mark Montgomery- Michigan State
In his ten seasons with the Spartans, the program has appeared in nine NCAA Tournaments, including a trip to the Final Four in 2005, 2009 and 2010 and the Elite Eight in 2003. Before returning to Michigan he was influential in turning around the program at Central Michigan where they became the first team in MAC history to go from last place to first place in just one season.
5(b). Dwayne Stephens - Michigan State
Dwayne Stephens is responsible for putting together some of the top recruiting classes of Coach Izzo’s career. Under his tutelage are the Spartan post players that included three time All Big Ten honoree and All American center, Paul Davis and second team All Big Ten honoree Guron Suton. A Michigan native, he returned to the Spartans after four years at Marquette under Tom Crean where MSU had back to back NCAA Tournament appearances in 2002 and 2003, and advancing to the Final Four in 2003.
6. George Blaney – Connecticut
Entering his 10th season on staff at UConn, Blaney has helped guide the Huskies to two Elite Eights, two Final Fours and the 2004 National Championship. Before Uconn, Blaney spent 22 years as the Head Coach of his Alma mater, Holy Cross, leading the Crusaders to three NCAA tournament berths and five invitations to the NIT. He also spent three seasons as head coach at Seton Hall and Dartmouth.
7(a). Steve Wojciechowski - Duke
Blue Devil standout turned coach; Wojciechowski has posted an incredible 291-60 record and won seven ACC Tournament championships as well as 2 NCAA Championships since arriving in Durham. Working with Duke’s paint players, he has been instrumental in the development of key players such as Shelden Williams, Josh McRoberts and Kyle Singler.
7(b). Chris Collins - Duke
Collins’ ten-year resume at Duke includes an overall record of 262-55, six ACC Tournament championships, three ACC regular season titles, five in-season tournament titles and most importantly, the national championship in 2001 and 2010. The guards under his tutelage receive First Team ACC and All American recognition, those included JJ Redick, Demarcus Nelson, Greg Paulus and Jon Scheyer.
8. Billy Hahn - West Virginia
This coaching veteran has coached a total of 20 NBA players during his career and has been to the NCAA Tournament 11 times in his career. He has seen WVU make its first trip to the Final Four in 2010. Hahn spent most of his career at the University of Maryland and saw the Terps go to the NCAA tournament a school-record eight straight years, including the 2001 Final Four.
9. Mike Dunlap – St. Johns
The former Associate Head Coach for two Pac-10 schools, Arizona and most recently Oregon, Dunlap is considered by many as one of the greatest coaching minds in the game today. Dunlap also spent 2 years as an assistant with the Denver Nuggets and guided Division II Metropolitan State College to two NCAA Division II national championships.
10. Greg Gard – Wisconsin
Gard has spent 17 seasons alongside Bo Ryan, including the past 9 at Wisconsin. Gard has helped guide the Badgers to three Big Ten regular season titles and two Big Ten tournament championships. Wisconsin has also made the NCAA tournament in each of Gard’s nine seasons, advancing to the Sweet 16 in 2003 and 2007 as well as the Elite Eight in 2005.
11. Jeff Battle - Wake Forest
The Philadelphia native is undoubtedly important to the program’s success in the past nine seasons as the Deacons ascended to the No. 1 national ranking in 2005 and again in 2009, won a school-record 27 games in 2005, advanced to the Sweet Sixteen in 2004 and won the 2003 ACC regular season title. Wake Forest has averaged more than 20 wins per season and has made six NCAA Tournament appearances during Battle's tenure. Battle is also accredited for the development of All American point guard and NBA All-Star Chris Paul.
12. Kurtis Townsend - Kansas
Townsend has been a part of the KU program which has won a national championship, reached two NCAA Tournament Elite Eights, three NCAA Sweet 16s, five Big 12 regular-season titles and three conference tournament crowns. Townsend played a major role in recruiting KU's NBA draftees Julian Wright, Darrell Arthur and Sherron Collins.
13(a). Russell Springmann – Texas
In his first seven years as a full-time assistant at Texas, Springmann has helped the Longhorns make five NCAA Sweet 16 appearances, including a trip to the Final Four in 2003 and the Elite Eight in both 2006 and 2008. During this stretch, the Longhorns have signed six McDonald's All-Americans including LaMarcus Aldridge, Daniel Gibson and Kevin Durant. During his tenure in Austin, the Longhorns have made school-record 10 consecutive trips to the NCAA.
13(b). Rodney Terry – Texas
Terry enters his eight season on staff at Texas. Terry has helped the Longhorns post a 181-60 record while making seven NCAA Tournament appearances. During Terry’s time on staff, Texas has been the only school in the country that can claim two National Player of the Year winners in the last six years, as well as producing four Top 10 picks (T.J. Ford, LaMarcus Aldridge, Kevin Durant and D.J. Augustin) over the same period.
14. Stan Jones - Florida State
Stan Jones is a veteran coach in his eighth season as the Associate Head Coach at Florida State. With Jones on the Florida State bench the Seminoles have played in back to back NCAA Tournaments, the ACC Championship game, won at least 19 games in five of his seven seasons and have won more conference games in the last four seasons than any four-year period since 1991-92. In his seven years at Florida State, Jones has brought in 15 National Top 100 recruits to Florida State and five players who were selected in the NBA Draft.
15. Patrick Sandle – Pittsburgh
During the last seven seasons, Sandle has helped guide the Pittsburgh basketball program to its most successful run in to school history. Pitt has gone to seven straight NCAA tournaments, including two Sweet Sixteen’s and an Elite Eight apperance in 2009. During that time, the Panthers have captured a Big East regular season and tournament championship, as well as reaching the schools first ever No. 1 national ranking and amassing a 188-54 record in the process.
16. Orlando Antigua - Kentucky
Antigua has followed Calipari to Kentucky after joining the most successful four-year run in basketball history at Memphis. He helped coach the Memphis Tigers to a spot in the 2009 NCAA Sweet 16. Prior to Memphis, Antigua worked at his Alma mater, Pittsburgh where he helped lead the Panthers to the NCAA Tournament in all five years on staff, including the 2004 and 2007 Sweet Sixteen.
17. Paul Lusk- Purdue
During his tenure at Purdue, Lusk has helped preside over one of the most prosperous periods in the history of the program. The Boilermakers have made four-straight NCAA Tournament appearances, reaching the Sweet 16 in each of the last two seasons, and won both a regular-season Big Ten championship and a Big Ten Tournament title.
18(a). Steve Forbes - Tennessee
Known for his lasting relationships and trustworthy character, Steve Forbes has made a huge impact on Vols recruiting. Forbes has helped the Vols win an average of 26 games per year and advance to four consecutive NCAA Tournaments--making three Sweet Sixteen appearances and advancing to the program's first-ever Elite Eight in 2010.
18(b). Tony Jones - Tennessee
Over the last few years, Jones has made a name for himself by bringing in some Tennessee’s top recruits, including: First Team All SEC performer Wayne Chism and McDonald’s All Americans Scotty Hopson and Tobias Harris. He has seen the Vols win three SECâ€ˆEastern Division championships, win a school record 31 games and earn the first No. 1 ranking in school history.
19. Scott Duncan - UCLA
Duncan brings over 30 years of assistant coaching experience to Westwood and helped the Bruins to a Final Four appearance in his first year as associate head coach in 2007-08. He has also helped lead the staff at UCLA to back to back top five nationally ranked recruiting classes. Duncan arrived in Westwood after seven seasons at the University of Oregon where he helped lead the Oregon Ducks to the Elite Eight and the Pac-10 Tournament Championship.
20. Robert Kirby – Georgetown
A recent addition to the Hoyas staff, Kirby comes by way of an 11 year stint at Mississippi State, where he helped the Bulldogs average well over 20 wins a season during his tenure in Starkville. During that time, MSU captured two regular season SEC conference championships, an SEC tournament championship and four SEC West Division titles. The Bulldogs also made six NCAA tournament and four NITs over the same period.
21. Dedrique Taylor - Arizona State
Taylor has been a key part of the building process that saw ASU become the most improved team in the nation in 2008 and make the NCAA Tournament in the 2009-10 season. Before arriving in Tempe, Taylor coached at Nevada for two seasons, leading the Wolfpack to a Western Athletic Conference championship.
22. Dalonte Hill - Kansas State
Hill has played a significant role in helping revitalize the Wildcat program, most notably with the recruitment of standout guard Mike Beasely, the number 2 pick in the 2008 NBA draft. With his help, K-State has 66 wins the past three seasons and has advanced to the postseason in three straight seasons including a trip to the Elite Eight in 2010. Hill also spent three seasons as an assistant at his Alma mater, Charlotte, where he helped guide the 49ers to a pair of trips to the NCAA Tournament.
23. Ron Jirsa - Minnesota
This 50 year old is in his third season at Minnesota and his fourth stint with Head Coach Tubby Smith. In his six combined seasons as an assistant at Tulsa and Georgia, Jirsa helped four consecutive teams win at least 21 games and reach the NCAA Tournament each season. Jirsa has coached in 28 postseason games overall, 16 of those in the NCAA Tournament, and has appeared in postseason play for 14 years.
24. Steve Massiello – Louisville
Considered by his peers as one of the best recruiters in the game today, Massiello is entering his 6th season on Rick Pitinos staff. Massiello played an integral role in Louisville landing several top 10 recruting classes during his time on staff, as well as reaching back to back Elite Eights in 2008 and 09.
25. Ron Bradley – Depual
Entering his eight season on staff with Oliver Purnell, Bradley helped coach Clemson to three straight NCAA tournament appearances and four NITs. Bradley served as a head coach for 16 years, five at Eastern Nazarene and 11 at Radford, leading the Highlanders to the first NCAA tournament appearance ever.
Bob Cantu – USC, Melvin Watkins - Missouri, Scott Spinelli – Texas A&M, Tony Benford – Marquette, Craig Neal – New Mexico, Steve McClain - Indiana, Willis Wilson – Memphis, Greg Grensing – UNLV, Rob Evans – Arkansas