By Joe Henricksen
Recruiting is the lifeblood of a college basketball program. Yes, games are won and lost from November to March in arenas around the country, but locking up those impressionable young high school basketball players on signing day often defines the success of a college basketball program.
And in today's world of recruiting, finding the right assistant coach is absolutely imperative. Just as it is with any business, there are superstars out there in the profession but they are far and few between. There are over 1,000 Division I assistant coaches across the country. While it's a little easier to find retreads and non-factors in the college coaching profession than influential assistant coaches, the stars are out there. There aren't many superstars, though, especially when talking about the small number that have a firm grasp recruiting Chicago and the state of Illinois.
There wasn't a whole lot of movement in this year's City/Suburban Hoops Report's "Super Six," an annual look at the hottest assistant coaching names in the business as it relates to recruiting Chicago and the state of Illinois. These are the coaches whose names are most often mentioned by the players, the high school coaches, AAU coaches and families. These are the coaches that have earned a reputation that is a cut above the rest, possess a presence in gyms, bring some class to a seedy business, look to have some staying power, bright futures and truly bring something special to the art of recruiting.
In the end, these are the coaches that just have "it." Here are the Hoops Report's "Super Six" (in alphabetical order).
DENNIS GATES, Nevada
It will be interesting to see what type of impact Gates will have over a thousand miles from Chicago. Then again, he was instrumental in getting current Cal star Jerome Randle from Hales Franciscan to Berkeley. Gates simply has so much going for him in the business. He's sharp, articulate and easy to relate to. He has a strong education background that parents appreciate, which includes earning his bachelors degree in three years and being a first-team Pac-10 All-Academic selection. He's a former Chicago Public League kid who starred for a state champion at Whitney Young. He's beloved and, more importantly, trusted by city and AAU coaches in Illinois. Ultimately Gates, who certainly has the staying power, will be back in the midwest with a high-major program.
TAVARAS HARDY, Northwestern
There aren't many assistants in the country who are currently more important to their program than Hardy is at Northwestern. Talk with prospects who are being recruited by Northwestern and they overwhelmingly mention the presence and relationship they have with Hardy as being paramount in their individual recruitment. He is genuine in his love and belief in Northwestern. And having played at Northwestern, he truly knows the selling points of the university and program. Hardy continues to get it done while facing some tall obstacles at Northwestern (lack of program success, high academic standards). He has been instrumental in keeping the likes of Lincoln Park's Juice Thompson, Glenbard West's John Shurna, Glenbard East's Mike Capocci and Lake Forest Academy's Kyle Rowley home. And, most recently, was pivotal in landing Naperville Central's Drew Crawford, the City/Suburban Hoops Report's 2009 Player of the Year and an absolute recruiting coup for Northwestern.
JERRANCE HOWARD, Illinois
In just a short period of time the 28-year-old has gone from a young, energetic, wet behind the ears assistant coach to a legitimate star in the business whose presence can not be underestimated at the University of Illinois. Howard established connections quickly and continues to constantly establish new contacts. He meets and exceeds so many of the standards of a great recruiter: tireless worker, connected, respected and as personable as they come. Howard, with a budding reputation, is a big brother-like figure to prospects while still being able to earn the respect of adoring parents. There isn't a coach that expresses more passion -- maybe a few with as much but not more -- for his job, school and program than Howard. The Illinois graduate bleeds Illini orange and blue and has been the ideal fit for coach Bruce Weber's program.
PARIS PARHAM, Illinois State
Parham continues to impress and will soon be coveted by a high-major program. He's the ideal assistant coach to get things done in Chicago and is quickly rising in the coaching ranks. Just take a look at the Illinois State roster and you will see the recruiting thumbprint of Parham on the Redbird program. Parham brought instant credibility to the ISU program among Chicago high school and AAU coaches, thanks to his coaching pedigree and Chicago ties. The Chicago native both played and was a head coach in the Chicago Public League. He has coached AAU basketball and has also spent over a decade as a college assistant at the Division I and Division II levels. Along the way he's gained the respect, loyalty and trust of recruits and their support systems. Parham has the ability to relate to anyone on the recruiting trail, is goal driven, possesses a high-level basketball I.Q. and brings a relentless work ethic.
RICK RAY, Purdue
You just can't find people who have anything negative to say about the veteran college assistant, including the most important people -- prospects, the prospect's family, high school and AAU coaches. While the younger classes in the state of Indiana are highly talented, the highly-respected Ray has made some major inroads in the state of Illinois over the last six years, including two years at Northern Illinois prior to beginning his fourth season this year at Purdue. Ray, making his first appearance in the Super Six, has been instrumental, along with Purdue assistant Jack Owens, in keeping the Boilermakers involved with several Illinois high school players, including Rock Island's Chasson Randle, St. Ignatius' Nnanna Egwu and more importantly some of the younger talent in the state. Best of all, Ray and the Purdue staff does things the right way in this beast known as high-major college basketball recruiting.
TRACY WEBSTER, DePaul
The veteran of the "Super Six" remains a key figure in recruiting Chicago and the state of Illinois. Webster laid a lot of the groundwork for the recent recruiting success at Illinois as an assistant there from 2004-2007. While Jerrance Howard has kept star recruit Jereme Richmond committed to Illinois, Webster was huge in actually getting the Richmond commitment three years ago. Webster's profile has always been big in the Chicago area, starting as a prep star in the south suburbs at Thornton and continuing on through his playing days at Wisconsin and coaching stops at Ball State, Purdue, Illinois and Kentucky. Webster has built relationships and maintained them well over the years. He is very tied in and knows the recruiting game from A to Z. Webster has shown he can recruit with anyone in his previous coaching stops and now takes on arguably his biggest challenge as a first-year assistant at DePaul.
Just Missing ...
(These four round out the top 10)
Lance Irvin, Southern Illinois ... He just recently added the title of associate head coach at SIU. Irvin, whose family runs the Mac Irvin Fire AAU program, is always on the radar of other programs looking for an assistant due to his family and Chicago connections to top prep talent.
Rob Judson, Illinois State ... The veteran coach is as respected as anyone in Illinois prep basketball circles. He brings loyalty, honesty and integrity in a business that is often lacking it, while understanding that no job is too small and becoming a jack-of-all-trades in the business.
Howard Moore, Wisconsin ... It won't be long before Moore is heading up a college program of his own. He compliments the personality and strengths of the head coach, which is a key component in a successful assistant. And he loves coaching for the right reasons, helping players grow and develop.
Kareem Richardson, Drake ... In a little over a year he's made a big impact at Drake after stints at Evansville and Indiana State. His stock is skyrocketing as he's made a big splash in Illinois of late and is making a strong push towards the "Super Six."
The Next Wave ...
Tim Buckley, Indiana ... With 20-plus years in college coaching, both as a head coach and an assistant, the Illinois native brings a lot to the table and will surely hit the state hard now that he's at neighboring Indiana.
Tracy Dildy, UIC ... The Chicago native just recently was named associate head coach at UIC. Dildy has been a Chicago recruiting fixture after starring at King and UIC in his prep and college playing days and, as an assistant, establishing a recruiting bonanza at DePaul a decade ago.
Jack Owens, Purdue ... Another key cog on a terrific Purdue coaching staff as he's front and center in the recruitment of Chasson Randle of Rock Island and Nnanna Egwu of St. Ignatius. He had success while at Southern Illinois and has JUCO experience.
Derek Thomas, Detroit ... Works Chicago and the state of Illinois hard after establishing roots while head coach at Western Illinois. He has had Detroit involved with several Illinois prospects.
Chad Altadonna, Eastern Illinois ... Another well respected coach in the business who helped secure a recruiting steal in Shaun Pratl of Richards last year.
Brian Wardle, Wisconsin-Green Bay ... Spends a ton of time recruiting in Illinois and throughout the Chicago area after starring at Hinsdale Central and Marquette as a player.
Honorable Mention: Dana Ford, Tennessee State; Armon Gates, Kent State; Chrys Cornelius, Eastern Illinois; Angres Thorpe, Wisconsin-Green Bay; Daniyal Robinson, Iowa State; Nate Pomeday, Oregon State; Billy Garrett, DePaul; Isaac Chew, Murray State; Jay Price, Illinois; Rodell Davis, Providence
The City/Suburban Hoops Report is set to begin its 15th year of publication. For more information or to subscribe to the Hoops Report, call (630)-408-6709 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. First issue of the season is due out mid-November.