Ranking the 10 Best Assistant Coaches in College Basketball in 2014-15
Behind every great college basketball coach is his staff, a group of just-as-hardworking assistants who put in the same hours and effort but with only a fraction of the recognition.
Normally, assistant coaches only get noticed when they get hired to coach their own program, at which time we become familiar with where they've worked and who they've worked for. As we tick ever closer to the start of the 2014-15 season, it's time for some of Division I's best assistants to get some attention of their own.
Here's our look at the 10 best assistant coaches in men's basketball, factoring in their time in the game and what they've become known for in coaching circles. Not all of them will become head coaches in the future—some prefer to work outside of the spotlight—but each is worthy of praise.
10. Eric Musselman, LSU
Year at school: 1st
Eric Musselman has spent most of his coaching career in the professional ranks, serving as both a head coach and assistant with teams in the NBA, CBA, USBL and the NBA's Developmental League. He moved into college in 2012 as part of Herb Sendek's staff at Arizona State, and in June, he was hired by Johnny Jones at LSU.
Known as a defensive guru—just like his father, the late Bill Musselman—Eric Musselman was brought on by Jones to help mold a talented team that is loaded in the frontcourt with 7'0" freshman Elbert Robinson and forwards Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey.
"This is a great opportunity for me," Musselman told Glenn Guilbeau of USA Today.
Musselman has been coaching for 25 years and seems destined to get his own program if he stays in the college game.
9. Rick Stansbury, Mississippi State
Year at school: 1st
Rick Stansbury spent 14 seasons as Mississippi State's coach before announcing his retirement in 2012, but the Bulldogs' all-time wins leader got the itch to be back on the sidelines this spring when he joined Billy Kennedy's staff at Texas A&M.
With the Aggies, Stansbury will help work the recruiting magic that enabled him to land strong classes while at Mississippi State. According to his A&M bio, Stansbury had five top-20 recruiting classes between 2003 and 2011. And since arriving in College Station, the Aggies have landed commitments from a pair of 4-star prospects for 2015 in power forward D.J. Hogg and center Tyler Davis.
Stansbury, who, according to Matthew Stevens of the Starkville Dispatch, was linked to head coach openings at Auburn and Southern Mississippi, will face his old team on Jan. 13 in SEC play. There's no return trip to Mississippi State on the schedule.
8. Bobby Lutz, North Carolina State
Year at school: 4th
Another former head coach, Bobby Lutz spent 12 seasons running Charlotte before being fired in 2010 as the winningest coach in school history. He then spent a season on Fred Hoiberg's first staff at Iowa State before joining North Carolina State in 2011.
Lutz has been Mark Gottfried's associate head coach since 2012, and in his time with the Wolfpack, they have made the NCAA tournament every season after missing the tourney from 2007-2011. That feat has made him a candidate for other head coaching openings, and Andrew Miller of the Post and Courier reported that he was a finalist, along with eventual hire Earl Grant, for the College of Charleston job that opened during the summer.
7. Jeff Boals, Ohio State
Year at school: 6th
A former captain on Ohio University's 1994 NCAA tournament team, Jeff Boals has been in coaching ever since he graduated college 19 years ago. That tenure has seen him rise from a graduate assistant at his alma mater through stops at several other schools before landing on Thad Matta's staff at Ohio State in 2009.
Matta remembered Boals nearly 15 years earlier, when Matta was an assistant at Miami (Ohio) and Boals was still playing in college. He recalled Boals as "one of those guys who had to get the job done," he told The Columbus Dispatch after hiring Boals five years ago.
One of the Buckeyes' top recruiters, Boals has helped Ohio State land top talent throughout his tenure there. He also works with OSU's post players.
6. Mike Hopkins, Syracuse
Year at school: 19th
Jim Boeheim has won 948 games at Syracuse since 1976, and during that time, he's had dozens of assistants helping keep the upstate New York school among the nation's elite on an annual basis. Few have hung around as long as Mike Hopkins, who has been a part of the last 465 of those victories as well as two of Boeheim's Final Fours and his lone national title.
Hopkins, who has widely been considered Boeheim's successor whenever he decides to retire, was linked during the offseason to coaching openings such as Marquette, per Jeff Goodman of ESPN.com, and last December, he hired an agent. In the meantime, he continues to be Syracuse's top recruiter.
5. Steve Robinson, North Carolina
Year at school: 12th
There's something to be said about loyalty, especially with many coaches in college bouncing from job to job trying to move up in the business. Steve Robinson was that guy for a while, leaving Roy Williams' Kansas staff in 1995 to coach Tulsa and then Florida State.
But after returning to Kansas in 2002, he followed Williams to North Carolina a year later and has been with the Tar Heels ever since.
With UNC, Robinson has been Williams' perimeter coach and his go-to guy on the bench during games. He's also helped land many of the Tar Heels' best players, according to his school bio, including Harrison Barnes. While at Kansas, he was integral in bringing Paul Pierce to Lawrence.
4. Bacari Alexander, Michigan
Year at school: 5th
Assistant coaches sometimes have to work wonders to get their jobs done, whether it be scouting an opponent or hopping around the country chasing after the team's prized recruits. Those kind of skills can sometimes be used for other talents, as was the case with Bacari Alexander before he began his coaching career.
Alexander spent two years with the Harlem Globetrotters from 1999-2001, playing across the country and also serving as an advance ambassador who meets with groups before the team comes to town. Almost like a recruiter, huh?
After spending time at Detroit, Ohio and Western Michigan, Alexander joined John Beilein's staff in 2010. In that time, the Wolverines have made the NCAA tournament every season (after only reaching it once in Beilein's first three years) with a national championship game appearance and an Elite Eight berth.
3. Kurtis Townsend, Kansas
Year at school: 11th
Every member of Kansas' basketball staff is as important as the next one, from head coach Bill Self down to the Jayhawks' video coordinator and student managers. But when it comes to ensuring the perennial Big 12 champions remain stacked with top-tier talent, Kurtis Townsend stands above the rest.
In his decade on Self's staff, Townsend has been credited with helping to land the likes of Sherron Collins, Julian Wright and, most recently, Andrew Wiggins. It's why ESPN.com's Jeff Goodman named him the nation's top recruiting assistant in 2013.
Besides his great sales pitch, Townsend has a reputation for being a great X's and O's guy who's been able to develop Kansas' talented players into NBA stars.
2. Dwayne Stephens, Michigan State
Year at school: 12th
Michigan State isn't the only school that Dwayne Stephens has coached, but as his alma mater, it's the one he identifies with best, and the one where's he's had the greatest impact as an assistant.
Since joining Tom Izzo's staff in 2003, the Spartans been in the NCAA tournament every year and made three trips to the Final Four. During that time, Stephens has been integral in developing MSU's many great post players, most notably Paul Davis, Draymond Green and Adreian Payne.
The Spartans have twice led the nation in rebounding during Stephens' tenure, according to his online bio.
Izzo, who promoted Stephens to associate head coach in 2012, noted at the time that "his efforts have played a major role in our success over the last decade ... and (he) has developed a greater understanding of all the different facets of being a head coach."
1. Kenny Payne, Kentucky
Year at school: 5th
Good assistants don't grow on trees, and when a school has one, it'll do whatever it takes to keep them around. That's not easy in college basketball, as with more than 350 Division I schools, the allure of running your own program is hard to ignore.
Kentucky figured out how to keep top assistant Kenny Payne, though: with a seven-figure contract.
Payne was inked to a two-year, $1 million deal in May, and at the time, head coach John Calipari noted that his "feel for the game and ability to develop players is second to none," according to Mike DeCourcy of Sporting News.
The Wildcats won 35 games in Calipari's first season, but since adding Payne to the staff, the talent level of Kentucky's recruits has gone through the roof. Not surprisingly, Kentucky has made three Final Fours and won a national title in that span.
Follow Brian J. Pedersen on Twitter at @realBJP.