When discussing the best coaches in college basketball, the lion’s share of the attention is granted to tangible qualities such as wins and losses or championships.
Clearly those are critical metrics when arguing such things, but the presence of a formidable coaching tree indicates a lot about a coach’s teaching ability and willingness to spread his knowledge to those around him.
With that in mind, read on to see five of the most impressive college basketball coaching trees.
Larry Brown’s college coaching tree permeates both the collegiate level and the NBA.
Bill Self and John Calipari, two of the best coaches in the game today and recent regulars in the Final Four, were both on Brown’s staff at one point. Furthermore, Bill Bayno, John Robic and Mark Freidinger became college coaches, while Alvin Gentry and Bob Hill became NBA head coaches.
If we extend the tree to include players under Brown, Mark Turgeon, Tad Boyle and Danny Manning all became college coaches, and Milt Newton got the VP job with the Washington Wizards.
While these names are impressive, particularly those of Self and Calipari, it is the San Antonio Spurs that should be most grateful for Brown’s college coaching tree. RC Buford, who is now the Spurs’ general manager, was a grad assistant with Brown at Kansas. During the 1986-87 season some D-III coach named Gregg Popovich spent a year on sabbatical observing Kansas practices.
Brown then took over the Spurs and brought both with him. The rest is history.
Rick Pitino’s coaching tree is the giant redwood at Sequoia National Park of the coaching world. The branches are too lengthy to describe in full here, but a number of notable names stick out immediately.
In no particular order, the following coaches spent time under Pitino: Mick Cronin, Billy Donovan, Jim O’Brien, Herb Sendek, Tubby Smith, Reggie Theus and Jeff Van Gundy.
However, the tree becomes particularly impressive when sub-branches are taken into consideration. Donovan begat Shaka Smart and Anthony Grant, Sendek tutored Thad Matta, John Groce and Sean Miller and Ralph Willard had Tom Crean on staff (who had Buzz Williams on his).
Even Pitino’s son is now the head coach at Minnesota, which means the defending champion’s tentacles stretch all across the college basketball landscape. His tree truly is impressive.
If we are going to marvel at Rick Pitino’s coaching tree, we have to give Jim Boeheim credit, because Pitino is the critical branch of the arbor that is Boeheim’s tree.
In addition to Pitino (which immediately makes Boeheim’s tree impressive regardless of the other names), Boeheim tutored Tim Welsh, Louis Orr, Wayne Morgan and Ralph Willard, who made Holy Cross into a Patriot League power.
However, Boeheim’s tree is on here because every successful branch that sprouted from Pitino is akin to a coaching grandchild of Boeheim. That means Billy Donovan, Tubby Smith and Jeff Van Gundy, among others, can all trace some of their roots back to the face of Syracuse basketball.
We are going to combine this one because much of the success of Herb Sendek’s coaching tree can be attributed to that of Thad Matta’s as well.
Sendek had Matta, John Groce and Sean Miller on staff, among other names (Jim Christian, Charlie Coles, Larry Hunter, Ron Hunter and Mark Phelps also went on to become head coaches).
Matta’s coaching tree includes some of the same names. He had Groce and Miller on staff, as well as former Butler coach Todd Lickliter and current Butler head man Brad Stevens. While none of these coaches can quite match the resumes of Roy Williams or Coach K, there are plenty of Final Four appearances and conference titles to be had in this group.
Matta, Miller, Stevens and Groce should continue to win at their respective schools, which will only make these trees that much more impressive in the future.
This SBNation post summarized Dean Smith’s coaching tree by proclaiming him the Zeus of basketball.
Larry Brown was a disciple of the great Smith, which means every aforementioned branch in his illustrious tree is a sub-branch of Smith’s. Therefore, names such as Gregg Popovich, Bill Self and John Calipari can be traced back to Smith.
Furthermore, coaches such as Roy Williams and Matt Doherty, as well as other notable names like Sam Presti, Avery Johnson and Danny Ferry, are all connected via the six degrees of Dean Smith.
If the tree is expanded to include players as well as even more coaches, people such as Donnie Walsh, Quin Snyder, Billy King, Maurice Cheeks, Kevin Stallings, Mitch Kupchak, Jim Delany and George Karl all have roots in the Smith tree.
It is clear that there are a lot of organizations and programs that owe at least a portion of their success to the legendary Tar Heels coach.
Follow and interact with college basketball writer Scott Polacek on Twitter @ScottPolacek.