Which college coaches under 40 are most likely to be stars in next decade?

Rob Dauster
NBC Sports

This week, NBC Sports has been rolling out a project in which we take a look at the current landscape of basketball and try to project what it will look like in the future.

Over at Pro Basketball Talk, they are running through a list of who we think will be the top 50 basketball players in the world as of 2024. Here on CBT, we have already given you our list of the next generation of basketball stars, the future of the sport that has yet to play a college game.

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Today, we will be taking a look at coaches.

Which coaches in the college ranks that are under the age of 40 today will be the biggest names in the sport ten years from now?

This is our list.

1. MIKE MILLER, Memphis assistant, 39

I have a feeling that this name is going to raise a few eyebrows, but there’s a logic to this. While Penny Hardaway has been the face of Memphis basketball and the way that they have been recruiting in the last 18 months, it is worth noting that Miller has played just as big of a role as the program has found a way to get into the mix with some of the biggest names in the high school ranks. As one person in the grassroots basketball world put it, “the kids love him.”

He’s already made a run at one high level coaching opening – can you imagine what he could have gotten done at UNLV? – and sooner or later he’s going to land one of them. If and when he does, Miller is going to be a Penny-sized force in the recruiting landscape. Think about it like this: How many people in the world can FaceTime LeBron, and how much will that impress elite high school players?

2. WES MILLER, UNC Greensboro, 36

It may be hard to believe, but this is going to be Miller’s ninth season as the head coach of the Spartans. He got the job when he was just 28 years old, and while it took him a little while to get it rolling in Greensboro, UNCG has been the best program in the SoCon for the last three years. The Spartans won a share of the SoCon title in 2017, the outright title in 2018 and finished second behind an absolutely loaded Wofford team in 2019. They’ve reached two NITs and an NCAA tournament during that stretch, and while the Spartans lose Francis Alonso, there are enough pieces returning that they should be right back in the mix at the top of the conference again this season.

Miller has been in the mix for a couple of bigger jobs in recent years, and he’ll eventually land one of those jobs. If he continues on this trajectory, he’ll likely find himself in the mix when (if?) Roy Williams retires at UNC. Miller, after all, played for Williams for four years and was a member of the 2005 national title team.

3. JAMION CHRISTIAN, George Washington, 37

Christian is heading into his eighth season as a head coach at his third school. A Virginia native and Mount St. Mary’s alum, Christian spent six years as the head coach of his alma mater – getting to two NCAA tournaments in that time – before spending the 2018-19 season at Siena. After a second place finish in the MAAC, Christian was hired to replace Maurice Joseph at George Washington.

GW is a tougher job than it seems because of some of the academic requirements for kids they enroll, but Christian has spent essentially his entire career recruiting the mid-atlantic region and has made a couple of savvy local hires. If he can continue GW’s trend of tapping into international markets, he should be fine. As one head coach put it to me, “Jamion is the best basketball coach on that list.”

4. TRAVIS STEELE, Xavier, 37

Steele has only been the head coach at Xavier for one season – the Musketeers went 19-16 with a 9-9 record in his first year taking over for Chris Mack – but he has the program primed to return to the top 25 and the NCAA tournament this year. Steele has been with the program since 2008, when Sean Miller hired him off of Indiana’s staff, meaning that he has seen them go from being a good Atlantic 10 program to arguably the best Big East program not named Villanova.

At this point, that Xavier program can run itself in a sense, and while coaches around the country seem to think that Steele isn’t quite on a par with his predecessors – getting Mack, Miller, Thad Matta and Skip Prosser is an unbelievable stretch of coaches – he’s certainly capable enough to keep the Musketeers relevant and NCAA tournament-bound.

And who knows, maybe Steele proves us all wrong and becomes the best coach out of Xavier yet.

5. MIKE BOYNTON, Oklahoma State, 37

I’m really not sure just how good Boynton is going to be as a head coach. He has some serious pedigree – he’s coached under Mike Young, Frank Martin and Brad Underwood – but through two seasons in Stillwater, he’s managed just a 35-33 record and a 13-23 mark in the Big 12. It is worth noting, however, that Boynton brings back essentially everyone from last year’s rotation, he plays a fun and entertaining style and he is the odds-on favorite to land Cade Cunningham, the star of the 2020 recruiting class.

Personally, I’m rooting for Boynton to figure it out. If you’ve forgotten, Boynton joined the Oklahoma State staff when Underwood was hired to replace Travis Ford, but Underwood left after just one season. Boynton interviewed his way into the job, which on the surface is a great thing, but part of the reason he got the job is because Oklahoma State didn’t want to pay what was required to get a big name, not when they still had to deal with Travis Ford’s buyout.

OK State was not set up to win when Boynton got there. It is already a middle-of-the-pack Big 12 job, one where the fanbase has been siphoned off by the Oklahoma City Thunder, and he had just lost Jawun Evans and Phil Forte. Boynton, who is black, was hired at the same time that Cal did the same thing with Wyking Jones and just six months after George Washington did the same with Maurice Joseph.

Jones and Joseph are both black. Both have already been fired. Their struggles are going to make it more difficult for the next young, black coach to get a high-major opening despite the fact that their struggles had as much to do with the situation they were put into as their coaching chops. As one industry source put it at the time, “this set young black coaches back another 10 years.”

As of today, just eight of the 65 head coaches in Power Five leagues are black.

So yes, I’m rooting for Boynton to buck that trend and prove some people wrong.

6. WILL WADE, LSU, 36

If we were talking strictly about how successful these coaches have been to date, there’s no question that Wade should be No. 1 on this list. He’s been a head coach for six years and the head coach at high-major programs – VCU and LSU – for four of them. He won the Atlantic 10 regular season title in 2016. He won the SEC regular season title this past season. He’s the only head coach on this list to have reached the Sweet 16. Oh, and he just so happens to be a killer on the recruiting trail.

The problem, however, is that last part. Remember his strong-ass offer to Javonte Smart? Remember how much time he spent talking on phones that were tapped by the FBI? Well, that has put him in a position where we really don’t know if he is still going to be employed at LSU by the time he turns 37, and that’s why he drops out of the top five. Put another way, if you could guarantee that Wade would make it through the next two years without the NCAA coming down on him with any kind of significant punishment, then I would have a hard time keeping him out of the top spot.

But you can’t.

So he’s here.

7. ASHLEY HOWARD, La Salle, 38

Howard, a Philly native and former Villanova assistant, just finished his first season as the head coach at La Salle. The Explorers went just 10-21 on the season, but they finished 8-10 in league play and were much better late in the year than they were at the start of the season. La Salle is not an easy job to win at, but I think Howard can get it done.

8. RICHARD PITINO, Minnesota, 36

Pitino is another guy where it is hard to believe he’s just 36 years old. He’s heading into his seventh season as the head coach at Minnesota and his eighth season as a head coach overall. He won the NIT his first year with the Golden Gophers and has been to two of the last three NCAA tournaments.

9. JON SCHEYER, Duke associate head coach, 31

Scheyer seems to be the next Blue Devil staffer in line to get a head coaching job as high major programs around the country tap into the Duke staff to try and find the next Coach K. He’s respected as a recruiter and has already been in the mix for some openings in recent years.

10. DANA FORD, Missouri State, 35

Ford is a guy that has garnered quite a bit of respect in the coaching industry. He took Tennessee State from a joke to relevant in the OVC in just two years, which was enough to convince Missouri State to hire him despite never finishing better than tied for second in his division.

11. JOEL JUSTUS, Kentucky assistant coach, 37

Justus is now a full-time assistant with the Wildcats after starting his tenure with the team as the director of analytics. He has a reputation for being a smart basketball mind, and Kentucky’s bio specifically credits him for the development of the Shai Gilgeous-Alexander from a top 35 recruit to lottery pick.

12. BOB RICHEY, Furman, 36

In two seasons with the Palladins, Richey has gone 48-18 overall with a 26-10 mark in a strong SoCon. He went into Villanova and beat the Wildcats this past season and earned a bid to the NIT after spending much of the season on the NCAA tournament bubble.

13. CHRIS OGDEN, UT Arlington, 38

Ogden played for Rick Barnes and then spent the first 17 years of his coaching career on Barnes’ staff. After one season at Tennessee, Ogden was then hired by Chris Beard at Texas Tech before he got the UT Arlington job. This past season, his first with the Mavericks, he finished second in the Sun Belt before being named the league’s Coach of the Year.

14. LUKE MURRAY, Louisville assistant, 34

Murray is extremely sharp and detail-oriented when it comes to scouting and developing game-plans, and he has been slotted in the role of recruiting coordinator on Chris Mack’s Louisville staff. He’s also worked under Sean Miller and Dan Hurley.

15. KIM ENGLISH, Tennessee assistant, 30

English is a bit of a polarizing name. There are some that believe he is a future star in this business, and there are others that are not as convinced. I do think it’s notable that both Frank Haith at Tulsa and Tad Boyle at Colorado were disappointed to lose him, and sources told NBC Sports that he would have been on Rick Barnes’ staff if Barnes had been able to get the job at UCLA. He’s a sharp basketball mind with NBA pedigree.

16. ANDY TOOLE, Robert Morris, 38

Toole is heading into his tenth season with Bobby Mo, but it’s been a few years since he was running one of the elite programs in the NEC. Toole reached the NCAA tournament in 2015, he won the NEC regular season title in 2013 and 2014, and in 2013, he had that memorable win over Kentucky in the first round of the NIT. But he’s had just one season over .500 in the last four years as his program has been hit hard by players transferring to bigger schools.

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