By Joe Henricksen
The sudden assistant coaching opening at De Paul and, what appears to be coaching openings -- yes, that's plural -- could signal a couple of things. First, it could be a new lease on life as it relates to coach Jerry Wainwright's future, which unbelievably has never been in jeopardy despite a horrid 0-18 run in the Big East this past season. Or is pumping new life into recruiting and the program, which the hiring of new assistant coaches is supposed to do, just a band-aid on a program that has much bigger issues?
The need for a head coach to replace an entire coaching staff is nearly as glaring to me as going 0-18 in conference play. But that's just me.
A rising assistant coach can look at the DePaul job a couple of ways -- joining a program that's in the best high-major conference in the country with a fertile recruiting ground in Chicago or joining a potential sinking ship. In addition, there will be some pressure and expectations placed on the incoming assistants.
Keep in mind, the new assistants may not make an immediate impact -- unless they are coming as a package deal with Marshall's Darius Smith. Remember, the Hoops Report's top five prospects in the Class of 2010 are already committed and several others in the top dozen have zero interest in De Paul. DeKalb's Jordan Threloff, the mammoth 6-10 junior, has an offer from De Paul but is hardly the impact-type the Blue Demons need in the loaded Big East. Locally there just isn't a whole lot left in 2010 for DePaul.
No, this job as an assistant coach at DePaul all comes down to one thing: the Class of 2011. If the head coach at DePaul isn't connected, then the assistant coach has to be ultra-connected to both the Chicago Public League and the AAU scene in the city and suburbs. Aside from Mt. Carmel's Tracy Abrams, no one in this loaded class has committed. With that in mind, it's obvious the new assistant coach absolutely has to have some tie to the Mac Irvin Fire AAU program. That's where you will find the De La Salle tandem of Mike Shaw and Dre Henley, Morgan Park's Wayne Blackshear and Whitney Young's Sam Thompson playing their spring and summer ball.
If DePaul wants to have any relevance in Chicago, in the state and in the college basketball landscape in the Wainwright era, it positively has to cash in on the Class of 2011.
Are there really assistant coaches out there that can potentially bring DePaul back into recruiting prominence and help save Wainwright's job? Whether that can be done or not remains to be seen, especially with the obstacles already in place at DePaul. There a lot of names floating around, ranging from high school coaches to AAU coaches to current college coaches. In the end there are really only four names that fit the mold and bring with them contacts and personal relationships with the movers and shakers in Chicago prep basketball.
The first name is obvious. Southern Illinois assistant coach Lance Irvin is already rumored to be a target. There is no assistant coach more tied into the Mac Irvin Fire AAU team than Lance Irvin, who comes straight from the family tree. Irvin has been all over the map in his coaching career, including short stints with Southern Illinois, Loyola, Iowa State, Illinois State, Texas A&M, Missouri and SMU. Ironically, his longest run was at DePaul from 1992-1997 with Joey Meyer.
Another name is Paris Parham, the fast-rising and well respected assistant coach at Illinois State. Parham is a Chicago guy who played at Dunbar and has strong ties to both the Chicago Public League coaches and Mac Irvin Fire. Last fall those ties with the Fire continued to grow as he was instrumental in helping Illinois State sign a pair of players from the Mac Irvin Fire AAU program -- North Lawndale's Terry Johnson and Chicago Lab's Zeke Upshaw.
Former Whitney Young star and current Northern Illinois assistant Dennis Gates will be high on the intrigue list as well. Gates might be much more useful and influential as an assistant at DePaul than at Northern Illinois, which is 16-40 the last two years and has become a recruiting burial ground.
Finally, Tracy Webster is available after the Kentucky staff was let go this past week. Though he left Illinois prior to the recruiting bonanza coach Bruce Weber hit, Webster was very influential in getting the ball rolling. He played a big part in landing a commitment from Jereme Richmond, the single, most influential recruit at Illinois in over two decades, along with current sophomore Mike Davis and a couple of others that are coming on board next fall. He's a graduate of Thornton and has been recruiting the Chicagoland area for years as an assistant at Ball State, Purdue and Illinois.