By Joe Henricksen
As it relates to recruiting, a college basketball program that is set up properly should resemble a talented bullpen of a Major League Baseball franchise. If a school is fortunate enough, the head coach is the closer--i.e. Mariano Rivera or Francisco Rodriguez. One would think there would be more true, knockout closers out there in the college coaching ranks. In reality, there are fewer than you would believe.
The setup men, though, are also vitally important. Those save opportunities for the closer in baseball are only there if the short relievers did their job. And in college basketball recruiting, it's often the assistants that make that initial contact and form that early bond with the potential recruit. While it's the head coach that gets the glory, just as the closer is rewarded with the mega-million dollar contract, the assistant coach is often undervalued by many. As previously mentioned, a program is on much more solid ground if the head coach possesses the closer ability and mentality.
When it comes to recruiting the Chicago area, there are endless coaches trying to make their way into the city and suburbs to land prep players. Whether it's a coach from the East Coast, the West Coast, the Big Ten, Missouri Valley or the Horizon League, there are players available in the Chicago area for everyone--and plenty of them. And there are several coaches that are a step above the rest when it comes to recruiting the area.
The City/Suburban Hoops Report highlights the "Super Six" that, despite coaching at different levels--from low-Division I to a high-major--are masters in the Chicago area. These are the coaches that lay the groundwork, are at the tip of the tongue of AAU coaches, high school coaches and players throughout the city and suburbs. There are many but these coaches (in no particular order) are a major presence - and hottest names - in and around Chicagoland.
Jerrance Howard, Illinois
People forget just how young and relatively green Howard is as an assistant coach. Howard is just 27 and, stunningly, is just beginning his second season as an assistant coach after brief stints in the roles of administrative assistant and basketball operations. But that's just one reason why what he's doing has been so impressive. There haven't been many assistants that have garnered the accolades Howard has in such a short time. Parents respect him, prospects love him. And he's an absolute tireless worker who is always looking to make a new contact. There just isn't an assistant out there that brings more energy and passion to the job and to the school he works for than Howard. It goes without saying the University of Illinois will always target Chicago, but Howard has established relationships with those he needs to in a hurry. There were doubts when he was hired by Bruce Weber - "he's too young... he's not experienced... he's not a Chicago guy... " - but he has been the perfect fit and just what the program badly needed.
Dennis Gates, Northern Illinois
He's a former Chicago Public League kid who starred for a state champion - and legendary team - at Whitney Young a decade ago. He's smart and articulate (he was a first-team Pac-10 All-Academic selection). He's beloved and, more importantly, trusted by city and AAU coaches. And since returning from California, where he played and coached for two years, he has had a major presence recruiting the Chicago area. That's good news for coach Ricardo Patton and the NIU fan base. The bad news is that the Hoops Report would be shocked if Gates were in DeKalb long. He's just too talented and brings so much potential in recruiting to a college program. He will be coveted by a high-major program soon.
Tracy Webster, Kentucky
In some respects, Webster was labeled a failure by some Illini fans due to not landing some of the big names that were targeted during his time in Champaign. In reality, it's not really even close to being true. Don't forget he provided much of the groundwork for several of the heralded recruits that have committed to Illinois. He is well connected throughout the city and suburbs, having starred for Thornton in the late 1980s and coaching at Illinois, Ball State and Purdue. And now he has the Kentucky name and tradition as ammunition. There is no high-major school outside Illinois that is hitting Chicago's underclassmen harder than Webster and the Wildcats. Kentucky, with Webster at the lead, is very much in on the sophomore trifecta of Mt. Carmel's Tracy Abrams, Curie's Wayne Blackshear and DeLaSalle's Mike Shaw.
Paris Parham, Illinois State
You want a true rising star? Here's your man. Since the Kevin Stallings era at ISU, it was if there was a roadblock on Interstate 55 between Chicago and Normal. With Parham the Redbirds gained instant credibility in the city. Parham is a true Chicago guy and is as well connected as anyone due to his pedigree. He played in the Chicago Public League in high school. And after recruiting the Chicago area as a college assistant for 10 years, he came back to coach where he grew up. He coached AAU basketball and in the Public League as head coach at both Phillips and Morgan Park, where he was named one of the top five young high school coaches in Illinois by the City/Suburban Hoops Report just three years ago. He seems to know everyone, is as personable as they come and is thought of as family by recruits and their parents. Parham was front and center in the recruiting of recent commitments Terry Johnson of North Lawndale and Zeke Upshaw of Chicago Lab.
Tavaras Hardy, Northwestern
Of all the assistant coaches on this list, Hardy has the toughest job. You try recruiting to a conference doormat that has higher academic standards than anyone else in the conference. And, like Jerrance Howard at Illinois, it's awfully impressive how much he has managed to get done with such little experience. Remember, he was working for JPMorgan Chase & Co. just a few years ago. But suddenly, thanks in large part to Hardy, local talent is staying home - and it's actually quality local talent. Talk with prospects that are being recruited by Hardy and those that have already signed or committed to the Wildcats, and they absolutely gush about Hardy. He has been instrumental in keeping the likes of Lincoln Park's Juice Thompson, Glenbard East's Mike Capocci, Batavia's Nick Fruendt, Glenbard West's John Shurna, Lake Forest Academy's Kyle Rowley and, most recently, Naperville Central's Drew Crawford.
Brian Wardle, Wisconsin-Green Bay
The former City/Suburban Hoops Report Player of the Year in 1997 while playing at Hinsdale Central is not going to be outworked by anyone. There isn't an out-of-state college coach that spends more time cultivating the Chicago area. Wardle, who worked two years as director of basketball operations at Marquette, is constantly in Chicagoland no matter if its winter, spring, summer or fall. Ask a prospect who is in on them and Wisconsin-Green Bay is at the tip of their tongue. The end results may not be there yet, but it's been no fault of Wardle.
The Next Five
Rob Judson, Illinois State
Rick Ray, Purdue
Howard Moore, Wisconsin
Derek Thomas, Detroit
Lance Irvin, Southern Illinois
Honorable Mention: Tim Buckley, Indiana; Chad Altadonna, Eastern Illinois; Tracy Dildy, UIC, Nate Pomeday, Oregon State; Isaac Chew, Murray State; Rodell Davis, Providence; Billy Garrett, Texas A&M Corpus-Christi
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