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2018 College Basketball Coaching Carousel: Ranking the 12 best hires from the spring of 2018

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As of today, the college basketball coaching carousel isn’t quite finished spinning — thanks at lot, Detroit and Chicago State — but for all intents and purposes, all the jobs that are nationally relevant are filled and have been filled for a couple of weeks, some for more than a month.

What that means is that it is time to look back on some of those big name coaching decisions. 

Who made the best hires?

Did anyone make a head-scratching decision?

Who is guaranteed success?

Who is locked into failure?

Here are the 12 best hires of the carousel.

THE NO-BRAINERS

1. CHRIS MACK, Louisville

For my money, Mack is one of the ten best coaches in college basketball. He’s young, he’s a high-level recruiter, he understands how to run a program in that part of the country, he’s dealt with a passionate fanbase at a basketball school. This was the hire, and Louisville got it done.

1a. DAN HURLEY, UConn

Another homerun hire, and this one coming at a discount of sorts. Hurley picked UConn over Pitt, who offered a more lucrative contract, and Rhode Island, who offered him an extension with a bigger dollar figure. Dan, the son of legendary high school coach Bob Hurley and the younger brother of Bobby Hurley, picked the Huskies in part because of the fact that they were another school in the Northeast and in part because of the pedigree that comes with the UConn brand.

Whether or not the Huskies can actually return to the glory of the Calhoun years is up for debate, but Hurley is the guy to do it. He’ll recruit better than Kevin Ollie did and he should be able to coach up the players he lands better than Ollie did the last four seasons. I don’t expect UConn to once again because a top 5-10 program in college basketball, but I do think that Hurley is the guy that can get them back to being a perennial top 25 team and an annual AAC contender.

(AP Photo/Stephen Dunn)

THESE ATHLETIC DIRECTORS EARNED THEIR SALARIES

3. PENNY HARDAWAY, Memphis

I do not know if Penny is going to be a good college coach. He was a good high school coach, a good AAU coach and a great college and NBA player, but that doesn’t always translate. What I do know is this: He is going to be able to recruit the city of Memphis, which is something that Tubby Smith, his predecessor, was not able to do, because he already is landing Memphis kids. Getting talent matters. I think Tubby Smith is a better basketball coach than Josh Pastner, but Pastner unquestionably had more success at Memphis than Smith did. Penny will get talent.

But more importantly, Penny has reinvigorated a fan base. Memphis fans want to root for talented, local players. They’re going to do that with Penny — who is a Memphis native and alum — recruiting the kids he coached at East HS and with Team Penny. Gary Parrish, a Memphis radio host, said on the CBT Podcast on Monday that Memphis has already brought in enough money through donations and ticket sales to pay Penny’s salary and Tubby’s buyout for a year. College sports in a business, and at Memphis, business is finally good again.

4. JEFF CAPEL, Pittsburgh

I think Capel is a good coach and a very good recruiter who doesn’t get enough credit for the job he did at VCU or at Oklahoma before everything blew up in his face post-Blake Griffin. He was overdue to get another shot at a high-major gig, and Pitt was able to land him.

But, if I’m being frank, his presence this high on this list has a lot more to do with the fact that I believe Pitt is a bad job in the midst of what is going to be a long and difficult rebuild. The Pitt basketball program has no pedigree outside of the years that Ben Howland and Jamie Dixon were on campus. They’ve been to seven Sweet 16s in program history, and five of them came in a seven-year period from 2002-09. That was when the Panthers, who have no recruiting base to speak of, were pulling kids out of New York City with the pitch of being able to play in the Big East.

Now?

They’re in the ACC. That sale isn’t going to work, which means that Capel has to find a way to convince players to join a program that went 0-18 in the ACC last season. I’m not sure Pitt is a top ten job in the ACC. And they landed Capel. Good for them.

5. ASHLEY HOWARD, La Salle

Ashley Howard is a Philly native and a former La Salle assistant that has spent all but one year of his post-high school life playing or coaching at one of Philly’s college basketball programs. He knows that city as well as anyone, and has spent the last five years as an assistant on the staff of the most successful program in college basketball during that time, Villanova. This was the guy that La Salle needed to get, and they got him despite the fact that the athletic department is not in great shape financially.

Jamion Christian (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

6. JAMION CHRISTIAN, Siena

Christian went to two NCAA tournaments in six seasons at Mount St. Mary’s, finding a way to stay relevant despite losing transfers to bigger programs. He just turned 36 years old and has a bright future in front of him in this business. He’s had other offers and turned down other jobs, and eventually a better program than Siena was going to smarten up and pull the trigger. What makes the hire even more impressive is that Siena made it happen in the wake of an ugly breakup with Jimmy Patsos. This is the kind of hire that is going to lead to Siena getting back to NCAA tournaments … and having to find another head coach in five or six years.

7. NIKO MEDVED, Colorado State

The Rams landed themselves one of the better young coaches in the country who is a former assistant with the program and they did it without having to break the bank. In four years, Medved built Furman from a program that was left for dead to a conference champ for the first time in 26 seasons. In one season at Drake, he turned the Bulldogs from a team that was expected to be a joke to one that went 10-8 in the league. He’ll have a similar rebuilding task on his hands in Fort Collins, but he should be up for it.

8. JOE DOOLEY, East Carolina

East Carolina is a terrible job. It’s that simple. Terrible. They’ve been to the NCAA tournament twice in program history, the last time coming in 1993. Dooley knows all about this. He was an assistant on staff when they made the 1993 NCAA tournament despite finishing below .500 and just 4-10 in the CAA. He was also the head coach at the program from 1995-99. The best he did was a 17-10 mark, finishing tied for third in the conference. Now, the Pirates are in the AAC, a league that isn’t great but is well above the level of the program. And they were able to land Dooley, a former Kansas assistant that had a ton of success as FGCU the last five years, despite the fact that he knew he was taking a terrible job. Good for them.

AP Photo/John Minchillo

FINE, IF UNINSPIRING

9. TRAVIS STEELE, Xavier

Let me be clear on this: I do not think Travis Steele was a bad hire. I think he’s going to win at Xavier. I think he’s going to keep that program in and around the top 25, if not competing for Big East titles. This was the right hire. But he was always going to be the guy. This is what Xavier does. They promoted Sean Miller after Thad Matta left for Ohio State. He turned into a top ten coach in the country. After Miller left for Arizona, they promoted Mack, and ditto. Steele might end up on that same path. I wouldn’t be shocked. I just think that it’s more impressive to make a good hire at a bad job than it is to make the smart decision to hire from within when it’s the obvious move and what your program does.

10. TOM CREAN, Georgia

It’s not that I don’t think that Crean, the former Marquette and Indiana head man, is a good coach — I do — it’s that this hire is kind of a weird fit. Crean has spent the majority of his coaching career in the midwest, even if he did end up recruiting nationally more than he did within state borders by the end of his time at Indiana. Recruiting Georgia, and specifically Atlanta, is complicated, but it can be quite fertile if done correctly. Figuring out how to navigate the state will be the key to whether or not Crean outperforms his predecessor, Mark Fox.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯

11. KERMIT DAVIS, Ole Miss

Kermit Davis is a good coach that had a tremendous amount of success at Middle Tennessee State and is familiar with the recruiting waters he’ll have to wade in at Ole Miss. I’m just not sure that I see the logic in Ole Miss firing the most successful coach that the program has ever had only to go out and hire a guy that basically does the same thing, just at 58 years old instead of 50.

12. DAVID COX, Rhode Island

This was probably the right decision for URI to make, given that Cox should keep some of the talent on the roster from departing. But he’s also going to be a first-year head coach taking over for a guy that made a program without much history nationally relevant. Those are big shoes to fill. We’ll see how it plays out.

Source: La Salle to hire former Louisville assistant Kenny Johnson

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Kenny Johnson has been hired by Ashley Howard as an assistant at La Salle, making him the first coach that was fired as a result of the FBI investigation into corruption in college basketball to be hired once again.

Johnson, who had previously been on staff at Indiana and Towson, was caught up in the fall out at Louisville, where he was an assistant on staff under Rick Pitino from 2014-2017.

Johnson was not named in any of the FBI complaints, and a source told NBC Sports that he was not one of the unnamed Louisville coaches. He was, per the source, fully vetted by La Salle, and that they found no NCAA violations. The FBI has told Johnson that he is not a subject of their investigation at this time and that he has fully cooperated with authorities.

This is a hire that is not without risk. La Salle was not the only program to consider hiring Johnson this offseason — his recruiting connections run deep, particularly with Washington D.C. area kids — but they were the first to pull the trigger on clearing him to be hired. No one knows what else is on the FBI’s wiretaps, or where their investigation could lead if more people decide to cooperate.

Johnson coached at Indiana and Louisville, two of the biggest brands Adidas has on their payroll. It makes sense that schools would be scared off.

But I also think that this is a risk that is worth taking for a program like La Salle. Howard, a former Villanova assistant and La Salle alum, is getting a coach on the cheap that, frankly, has no business being at a middle-of-the-pack Atlantic 10 program. That’s big for a cash-strapped athletic department, and he should be able to pay them back by bringing talent into the program.

Johnson likely isn’t foolish enough to get caught breaking NCAA rules given the heightened amount of scrutiny that is going to be on him because of this investigation, and if anything from his past pops up La Salle can hide behind the fact that they did their due diligence, the FBI said he was not a subject of their investigation and, thus, they were lied to.

We’ll see how it all plays out, but it seems like the future of the La Salle basketball program is looking up.

South Carolina lands former Georgetown point guard Tre Campbell

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South Carolina added some depth to their back court on Tuesday, as head coach Frank Martin landed a commitment from Georgetown transfer Tre Campbell.

Campbell spent three seasons as a member of the Hoyas, but he never played a role as much more than a member of the Georgetown rotation; his career high of 4.1 points came as a sophomore back in the 2015-16 season.

Campbell also did not play during the 2017-18 season, as the program put out a release last August stating that he was no longer a member of the team but would remain on scholarship to complete his degree.

He will provide depth at the point guard spot for a program that lost a couple of them unexpectedly this offseason, but this is not a season-altering addition.

Albany grad transfer Joe Cremo commits to Villanova, but is that a good thing?

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Villanova on Tuesday morning landed a commitment from Joe Cremo, a grad transfer from Albany and one of the top targets for anyone on the transfer market.

A 6-foot-4 guard, Cremo was a big-time scorer for the Great Danes, averaging 17.8 points and 3.8 assists as a junior. He also shot the ball at 45.8 percent from three. While he is a natural off-guard, he is a perfect fit for what Villanova wants to do offensively given his ability to pass and his feel for the game. He also spent a ton of time playing with his back to the basket for Albany, and all of that fits perfectly with Jay Wright’s unique and innovative offensive attack.

“Villanova is a nice fit,” an America East coach told NBC Sports. “Good move for both parties.”

The question, however, is whether this is truly good news for Villanova.

Prior to Cremo’s commitment, Villanova was assured of having eight rotation players back next season. That doesn’t include Donte DiVincenzo or Omari Spellman, both of whom are borderline first round picks that are currently testing the waters of the NBA draft. With DiVincenzo back in the mix, Cremo’s commitment means that the Wildcats have nine perimeter players on the roster on a team where Jay Wright has made a habit of using seven or eight-man rotations; he is one of the few coaches that has made a habit of leaving two or three scholarship positions on his roster available. It’s better to have players playing too many minutes that too many guys for the minutes available.

I say all that to say this: Did Villanova take this commitment because they think they are going to lose DiVincenzo to the NBA draft?

It’s not hard to connect those dots. It’s also not hard to assume that Cremo is simply a safety measure for a team that is going to have two seldom-used sophomores and three freshmen — one of whom may or may not get cleared immediately by the NCAA — playing major minutes.

Whatever the case may be, Cremo is certainly a good fit for the Wildcats, but that doesn’t mean that his commitment is a net-positive for the Villanova program.

CBT Podcast: The Knight Commission, the Commission on College Basketball, Romeo Langford and James Wiseman

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Rob Dauster was joined by Gary Parrish of CBS Sports on Monday afternoon to work through the latest happenings in the college basketball world, from the Knight Commission to the Commission on College Basketball to the recruitment of the likes of Romeo Langford and James Wiseman. It is a good conversation, one that spends quite a bit of time discussing Kylia Carter and the things that she had to say today in front of the Knight Commission as well as taking a deep dive into babies on airplanes, the horrors of traveling with children and when it is OK to yell at old ladies.

OPEN: Was Rob justified in yelling at an old woman after his travel nightmare?

18:05: The Commission on College Basketball, the Knight Commission and Kylia Carter. How it all fits together, and why nothing is being done to “fix” the sport just yet.

43:55: James Wiseman’s recruitment, Romeo Langford’s commitment and what they have in common.

VIDEO: Kylia Carter, Wendell Carter’s mother, delivers impassioned anti-NCAA speech at Knight Commission

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Kylia Carter knows all-too-well about the perils of the NCAA.

She herself is a former student-athlete, having been a scholarship basketball player at Ole Miss in the 1980s. Wendell Carter Sr., her husband, played at Delta State and professionally in the Domincan Republic. Her son, Wendell Carter Jr., was a top five prospect that played at Duke. The family in the course of Jr.’s recruitment, wound up reportedly sharing a meal with Christian Dawkins, which became public knowledge when Yahoo Sports was able to get their hands on the expense reports that Dawkins filed with the agent, Andy Miller, he worked for.

Suffice to say, she knows a thing or two about the realities of big-time college basketball.

She’s also ‘woke’. She understands the value of an education — she pushed her son to attend Harvard for his one-and-done season — and is aware of the fact that the life her and her family lead is different than the life that is led by most black families in America.

That is why she was such an intriguing choice to speak at the Knight Commission, an independent group that promotes reform to strengthen the educational mission of college sports. Not only is she an outspoken advocate for change regarding the NCAA’s arcane amateurism by-laws, but she does it while trumpeting the value of an education.

And the major point that Kylia makes during her 12-minute speech on Monday is simple: There is no actual value to the education that the NCAA members provide to players like her son, because athletes like Wendell Carter Jr. are not being recruited because of the value they bring to the academic community on campus, they are being recruited because they excel in a sport that provides massive financial windfalls for the school.

She also makes it clear that she understands the value of a scholarship; if she didn’t she would not have pushed her son to play at Harvard. But what value are athletes going to get out of two semesters worth of introductory courses, particularly when they are basketball players that spend half of each semester dealing with travel schedules that force them to play mid-week games away from home?

I’ve spent enough time ranting about amateurism and the Commission on College Basketball recently, and if that is the kind of thing you are interested in, read this and this. I won’t bore you with those arguments today.

What I will say, however, is that Kylia Carter knows how this system works from just about every angle.

When she talks, you should at the very least listen to what she says and take it to heart.

And what she said Monday was quite powerful.

(We discussed this during the most recent CBT Podcast.)

The video is above. Below is a transcription of the most important part of it all.

As we grew in this business and we pull back all the layers, and I began to see what I was actually looking at. To be honest with you, it’s nauseating.

To have the opportunity to say this and not say it, I’ll feel like I felt when I was a student-athlete at Mississippi and my friends were in classrooms being called horrific names, having food and things thrown at them as they were walking past the union. And them saying these things to me and me telling them, ‘Surely not. There’s no way that’s happening. This is a wonderful place. I’m having such a great time. Everything is going so wonderful. What are you talking about?’

And so I migrated to the people that were having experiences like mine instead of those that were having trouble that looked like me, that were having real struggles.

So, I say that to say, I cannot be here now and not say that when I pull back the layers, the problem I see is not with the student-athlete, it’s not with the coaches or the institutions of higher learning, but it’s with a system like the only system that I have ever seen, where the laborers are the only people that are not being compensated for the work that they do, while those in charge receive mighty compensation. The only two systems that I’ve known that to be in place is slavery and the prison system.

And now I see the NCAA. The overseers of a system that is identical for that.

So it’s very difficult for me to sit here and not say that there is a problem that is sickening. But the problem isn’t being directed in the right place. And I think that it should be. And I think that the covers should be pulled back and everyone be able to see the truth and what’s happening to the student-athlete and their family. Because once these students are recruited to these institutions of higher learning—which are fantastic; I am a proponent of academic excellence, a proponent of education, a proponent of knowledge. I love it. It’s beautiful to me. That’s why my son had such a hard time selecting between Harvard and Duke, because his mother and father wanted him to go to Harvard because of the experience for a man that looks like him. Though he didn’t choose it, I am so ever grateful that he went to Duke. It was a wonderful experience and everything that he needed it to be to get him to this next level.

Still, after the infractions that they accused us of doing—something with one of the people being investigated by the FBI. But I was still flabbergasted at the people that were being indicted. I knew some of those people.

I know for a fact that this has been going on since I was being recruited. I’m a female, so I know that the recruitment was vastly for male athletes, and it was corrupt then. I remember kids not being able to pass the ACT test. They called them Prop 48 students. And they would let the Prop 48 students come to school and play, knowing that they couldn’t pass the academic portions. But they let them in school anyway. They would tell you it was to afford you this scholarship.

No. It’s because of the money that you would bring to that institution for playing all those years. Or you being a part of that program. At the end of the day, the talent is being purchased. The talent is being purchased, but the talented are not receiving any of the benefit. The colleges are only recruiting the talented kids for their talent, not because they will excel at their academic institution. So why is that the benefit of them going to that institution. I want them to go, but I want them to go for two years. If you’re going to make them go, make them go and get something from it.

Why can’t they go to college and get this two-year certificate in this professional sport that they are pursuing if they are that talented, so that they are aware and educated on the business of the sport that they want to [play]?

There’s a model that’s similar to this overseas, where the get the kids out of high school. Luka Doncic [a Slovenian playing for Real Madrid that is the potential No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft] has been playing professional for years. There’s a program in place to do that for him.

Why is there not something to protect these children that look like my son and me, to protect them as they pursue what their talents have afforded them to pursue? And I’m not talking about an agent, I’m talking about a not-for-profit organization to teach them and help them, and to teach them to stay close-knit and do the things so they can remain successful.

I’m going to stop because I will continue and go on and on. My mission, my goal and my understanding for being here is to protect and hopefully help everyone to see the need to surround the athlete and protect them and their families moving forward.