College Basketball Coaches Who Were Studs as Players
College basketball coaches draw on a variety of experiences to help them lead a team. For many of them, much of that experience comes from their own careers of playing college basketball.
Most college basketball coaches have spent their entire lives around the game, whether it’s through playing or working their way up through the coaching ranks.
Certain coaches were particularly successful during their playing days and many of them were able to continue on and play professionally for a period of time.
The following slideshow looks at college basketball coaches who had great careers as players. The list is in no particular order.
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Sydney Johnson was an excellent player during his career at Princeton University and played a major role in the Tigers’ upset of UCLA in the opening round of the 1996 NCAA tournament.
Johnson was a gifted three-point shooter and one of the best defensive players in the country.
His strong play during his senior season earned him the recognition of being named the 1997 Ivy League Player of the Year.
Following his time at Princeton, Johnson continued his playing career with a short stint overseas. Now he’s having success as the head coach at Fairfield University.
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Tony Bennett didn’t receive much national attention during his playing career at Wisconsin-Green Bay, but he is one of the best players in the history of the Mid-Continent Conference.
He played for his father, Dick, from 1989-92 and finished as the conference’s all-time leader in points (2,285) and assists (601). He also set the NCAA record for three-point shooting percentage at 49.7 percent for his career.
Bennett was a two-time MCC Player of the Year and won the 1992 Frances Pomeroy Naismith award, which is given to the best player in college basketball under six feet tall.
He also went on to a three year NBA career with the Charlotte Hornets.
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Glenn Robinson was the star of the team, but Cuonzo Martin played a huge role in Purdue’s success in the early 1990s.
Martin was a member of the Purdue program from 1991-95 and helped the Boilermakers win back-to-back Big Ten championships in 1994 and 1995.
As a 6’6”, 215-pound forward, Martin was an excellent defender that Gene Keady depended on to stop some of the most explosive players in the conference, including Shawn Respert of Michigan State and Michael Finley of Wisconsin.
He was also an outstanding three-point shooter and played professionally for four years.
Now Martin has brought that same commitment to great defense with him to the University of Tennessee, where he is the head coach.
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Before becoming one of the NBA’s best three-point shooters in the 1990s, Dan Majerle was a dominant force for the Central Michigan Chippewas.
He played at Central Michigan from 1985-88 and finished his career as the school’s second all-time leading scorer with 2,066 points. Majerle was also a three-time All Mid-American Conference section.
Majerle’s 759 points during his senior season set a record for most points in a single season by any Central Michigan player. With his terrific outside shooting ability, "Thunder Dan" was a source of MACtion long before it was popular.
He was eventually taken in the first round of the 1988 NBA Draft and had a very productive NBA career.
Majerle is now beginning his career as a college head coach at Grand Canyon University.
Photo: Reggie Theus Foundation
Reggie Theus has bounced around between the college and professional ranks during his coaching career, but he recently became a college head coach again by accepting a position at Cal State Northridge.
When he was in college, Theus was an outstanding player for the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels. He played for Jerry Tarkanian from 1975-78 and helped lead the team to the 1977 Final Four.
Theus had an outstanding junior season in 1978, averaging over 18 points, six rebounds and four assists per game. Because of his great play, he was named a second-team All-American in 1978.
Theus declared for the NBA following his junior year and was taken in the top 10 of the 1978 NBA Draft. He went on to have a very successful 13-year NBA career.
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Bobby Hurley and Dan Majerle have the unique distinction of being the only coaches on this list who are undefeated. However, they’re also the only coaches on the list without a win.
Hurley was recently named the head coach of the Buffalo Bulls, which is his first head coaching job.
During his playing career, Hurley was one of the best point guards in the history of college basketball. He was the floor general of some incredibly talented Duke teams in the 1990s and won back-to-back national championships in 1991 and 1992.
His 1,076 assists are still the most of any NCAA player, and his No. 11 jersey hangs in the rafters of Cameron Indoor Stadium.
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Through the first two years of his college career, it didn’t look like Billy Donovan would be any sort of impact player for the Providence Friars.
Then Rick Pitino took over the program, and Donovan became the team’s most important player.
He flourished under Pitino’s new system and eventually led the Friars to the 1987 Final Four. Donovan averaged 15.1 points as a junior and 20.6 points as a senior. He was also an honorable mention for the All-America team during his senior season.
Donovan has gone on to wonderful success in his coaching career with the University of Florida, where he’s won two national championships.
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Fred Hoiberg is Iowa State’s favorite son.
He led Ames High School to a state championship and then chose to stay home and attend Iowa State despite offers from many other top programs.
Hoiberg went on to have an extremely successful college career with the Cyclones. He was the Big 8 Freshman of the Year and would eventually become an All-American and Conference Player of the Year.
Following his time at Iowa State, Hoiberg had a solid 10-year NBA career before eventually returning home to take over the basketball program at his alma mater.
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Johnny Dawkins is often mentioned as the first big-time recruit who helped lay the foundation for what Mike Krzyzewski wanted to build at Duke University.
Dawkins played at Duke from 1983-1986 and is one of the best players in the history of the program. He was the school’s all-time scoring leader with 2,556 points until J.J. Redick eventually broke the record. However, Redick benefited from playing with a three-point line, a luxury the sweet-shooting Dawkins didn’t have.
He was a two-time first-team All-ACC performer as well as Duke’s first two-time first-team All-American.
Dawkins had a 13-year career in the NBA before returning to Duke to serve as an assistant under Mike Krzyzewski. Now, he’s the head coach of the Stanford Cardinal.
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Steve Alford is one of the best shooters in the history of college basketball and one of the greatest players in the history of Indiana basketball.
He played for the Hoosiers in the 1980s and was a three-time All Big Ten selection and two-time All American in 1986 and 1987. 1987 was a magical year for Alford as he also helped lead Indiana to the 1987 National Championship.
Alford averaged over 15 points per game during each of his four seasons at Indiana and is still considered by many to be the best pure shooter to ever play college basketball.
He’s had continued success as a head coach and will now attempt to lead the UCLA program back to the top of college basketball.
Who are some other coaches who had great playing careers? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.