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TOPIC: The Athletic / Sizing Up 27 Former NBA Players As College Coaches

The Athletic / Sizing Up 27 Former NBA Players As College Coaches 5 months 2 weeks ago #306389

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Sizing up the 27 former NBA players as college coaches

By John Martin

Editor’s​ note: An earlier​ version of this story incorrectly omitted several coaches. It has​ since​ been updated.
Penny​ Hardaway looks​ to​ be​​ off to a relatively promising start at Memphis, having landed James Wiseman and friends in what is now the 11th-ranked recruiting class in the country, according to 247Sports.com. Hardaway may be the flashiest example yet of a former NBA player turned coach, but it turns out, there are more such men running Division I programs than you may have realized. They are having varying levels of success. Where does Hardaway stack up? Here’s how the active list breaks down.

On Top

Tony Bennett, Virginia. The kind of postseason success that is in relation to consistently great regular season teams has thus far eluded Bennett, but the former Charlotte Hornet is still on top of this list. Virginia is No. 5 in our latest version of The 68, and he’s won at least 30 games in three of his last five full seasons at Virginia, with three ACC regular-season titles, two ACC Tournament wins and multiple coach of the year awards also to his credit. Before that, he went to the NCAA Tournament twice with Washington State.

Looking good

Bryce Drew, Vanderbilt. He is one of the clearer NBA player-turned-coach success stories. At Valparaiso, he won the Horizon League in four of his five years and twice made the NCAA Tournament. At Vanderbilt, he made the NCAA Tournament in his first season, and last fall he signed the highest-ranked prospect in program history in guard Darius Garland (who unfortunately will miss the rest of the season with a meniscus injury). He still has Simi Shittu, who was the No. 11 overall prospect in the class of 2018.

Larry Krystkowiak, Utah. The former second-round pick runs one of the more consistent programs in the country. Now in his eighth year, he has won at least 20 games in each of the past five seasons. In 2015, Krystkowiak led the Utes to the Sweet 16 for the first time in a decade.

Dan Majerle, Grand Canyon. In 2013, Thunder Dan took over a program that wasn’t eligible for the NCAA Tournament until 2018 due to its transition from Division II to Division I. Under Majerle’s watch, Grand Canyon has won at least 22 games in each of the past three seasons.

Bobby Hurley, Arizona State. It’s been a bit of a slow burn for Hurley in Tempe, but after two straight losing seasons to kick off his tenure, the program has momentum under the former first-round pick. His Sun Devils are undefeated into December for the second straight season and have already knocked off a top-25 team in Mississippi State.

Avery Johnson, Alabama. Coming off his first NCAA Tournament appearance with the Crimson Tide, the NBA champion and 2006 NBA Coach of the Year has put together a decent program in Tuscaloosa. Johnson has certainly recruited well above the historical tradition of Alabama basketball, having most notably landed Collin Sexton, a first-round pick of the Cavaliers. Now he’s seriously involved with Trendon Watford, a five-star prospect in the Class of 2019.

Jim Les, UC-Davis. Les has won 22 games or more in each of the past three seasons and made an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2017. This season might be a long one for the former third-round pick, but his recent body of work with the Aggies probably constitutes success.

Scott Padgett, Samford. Two seasons ago, the Kentucky alum led the Bulldogs to their first postseason win in program history. That earned him a contract extension through 2022. His club is 7-2 this year.

Patrick Ewing, Georgetown. This is a bit of a close call. Given the way the Hoyas closed out last season, Ewing could justifiably have dropped a category. But Georgetown was a bit of a rebuild when Ewing got the job a season ago — he inherited just eight scholarship players — and the team has been competitive. Freshman guard James Akinjo looks like the real deal, too. Ewing gets the benefit of the doubt here.

Penny Hardaway, Memphis. With the Tigers’ early-season struggles on the court, you could make an argument that Hardaway should be in the next category. But there’s still some positional jostling going on, the nonconference schedule was beefed up considerably and the fact remains that before Penny landed James Wiseman, no coach had ever secured the No. 1 prospect in the country the same calendar year in which he got his first Division I job. That’s got to count for something.

Cuonzo Martin, Missouri. He played in seven career NBA games over two seasons, so his coaching career has been of more note than his professional days were. Martin’s Missouri team is 5-3 after losing Jontay Porter in the preseason, but he surprisingly led Mizzou to the NCAA Tournament in his first season and has NCAA Tournament appearances at three schools.

Johnny Dawkins, UCF. The former San Antonio Spur has a new lease on life in Orlando, where his Knights were picked in the preseason to win the American Athletic Conference. The Knights notched a non-conference win last week against fellow former NBA player Avery Johnson and Alabama.

Mark Pope, Utah Valley. The former Pacers second-rounder got his first head-coaching gig at Utah Valley in 2015 and has seen his program improve progressively each year. His team won 23 games last season and he was rewarded with a six-year contract extension this summer.

The jury’s out

Danny Manning, Wake Forest. Manning was vastly more successful at his previous stop, Tulsa. But despite a 58-76 record at Wake Forest, the former No. 1 overall pick still appears to have the confidence of his athletic director, Ron Wellman. “You’re always measured by wins and we don’t want to get away from that, can’t get away from that, and that’s the bottom line in every program,” Wellman told The Athletic recently. “But it goes way beyond that too.”

Steve Alford, UCLA. Alford has objectively had a lot of good moments in his coaching career, dating back to Iowa and including his time at New Mexico. But it’s been a struggle with the Bruins, especially with the huge expectations that fanbase has for its basketball program. Which is why he seems to be perpetually on the hot seat, even with three Sweet 16 appearances in the first five years at UCLA.

Damon Stoudamire, Pacific. “Mighty Mouse” has a mighty challenge on his hands. His predecessor, Ron Verlin, gave players answers to coursework, and the NCAA reduced the program’s scholarship allotment and placed Pacific on probation until 2019. Now the good news: The team has improved every year since Stoudamire arrived in 2016. He is well-respected among his peers, and if he can find a better situation with real resources, he’ll probably be successful in the long run.

Donyell Marshall, Central Connecticut State. This is a tough job at a program without much of a tradition. There’s just not much to sell. The Blue Devils have made the tournament just three times since joining Division I in 1986. But give the former Cleveland Cavalier credit. He more than doubled his win total from Year One to Two (six to 14).

Chris Mullin, St. John’s. If not for the Red Storm’s start, Mullin would most definitely be in the next category. But the Johnnies are undefeated, they return the Big East’s leading scorer from last season in Shamorie Ponds (who is awesome) and they added a dynamic scorer in Auburn transfer Mustapha Heron. Hardaway’s skeptics like to cite Mullin as an example of what happens when a former NBA all-star takes over a college program, but Mullin may just have St. John’s on its way back to respectability.

Lorenzo Romar, Pepperdine. It worked once for Romar at Pepperdine. It probably will again.

Walter McCarty, Evansville. The Purple Aces turned to the former Boston Celtic in the offseason. So far, so good. Evansville is 4-4 and played Xavier within six. McCarty is from the area, so he’ll know how to sell the program.

Darrell Walker, Arkansas-Little Rock. The former first-round draft pick of the New York Knicks took over in the offseason. The Trojans are 4-5 and played Tulsa with 10 points.

Steve Henson, UTSA. A longtime NBA and college assistant, Henson is in Year 3 at UTSA. He won 20 games a year ago, but this year’s team is 2-6, including a loss to Division II St. Edwards.

Looking grim

Mike Dunleavy Sr., Tulane. He enjoyed moderate success in the NBA, where he had the daunting task of being the guy who replaced Pat Riley and won Coach of the Year honors in 1999. Alas, the Showtime Lakers, Tulane is not. Dunleavy won just six games in his first season and lost an NBA player in Melvin Frazier from last year’s 14-17 team.

Juan Dixon, Coppin State. After Michael Grant failed to get the program off the ground, the administration turned to Dixon, a Baltimore native and a former first-round draft pick. The Eagles lost their first 17 games last season and finished 5-27. They’re 0-9 this year.

Terry Porter, Portland. It’s not that there’s a ton of pressure to win immediately with the Pilots; it’s just Porter hasn’t done much of it. He was a combined 21-44 in his first two seasons on the job.

Al Skinner, Kennesaw State. Things were much better for Skinner back at Boston College, where he made the NCAA Tournament seven times in his 13 seasons. The Owls are off to a 1-8 start this year, and have won 36 games in four years under Skinner.

Corey Williams, Stetson. Williams, who won an NBA championship with the Bulls as a reserve in 1993, is finding difficulty getting the Stetson program off the ground. Entering his sixth season with the Hatters, Williams has yet to win more than 12 games in a season. The Hatters are 1-8 on the year.
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