By Joe Henricksen
The City/Suburban Hoops Report's annual look at the "Super Six" highlights those assistant coaches who have a pulse in recruiting the state of Illinois. This is a list of hot assistant coaches in the business whose names are most often mentioned by the players, their families and both the high school and AAU coaches.
These coaches have earned a reputation in the city, suburbs and around the state of Illinois as they target prospects in the Land of Lincoln, many of which bring a whole lot more to the role of assistant coach than just recruiting. They are the ones working behind the scenes as the head coaches take in the higher salaries and deal with the media pressures. But make no mistake, these six assistants are highly valued by their bosses.
The "Super Six" is a tough club to crack over the years. It's like those Minor League baseball umpires waiting for a Major League Baseball umpire to finally retire. "Super Six" alums have moved on to head coaches (Brian Wardle at Wisconsin-Green Bay and Howard Moore at UIC) and bigger job titles (Rick Ray as associate head coach at Clemson). There have been several "Super Six" mainstays who repeat as club members with the work they've done in the last 12 months. All in all there are four repeats and two newcomers to the 2010 version of the "Super Six."
The following "Super Six" are listed in alphabetical order.
TAVARAS HARDY, Northwestern
There aren't many assistants in the business who have done more to help their program than Hardy has with the Wildcats. While Hardy isn't the lone reason Northwestern is in perhaps the best shape it's ever been in as a program, he's a very big reason why. Today a Northwestern assistant coach can actually attract attention in a crowded high school gym, thanks to Hardy's presence and persona. There is a definite sense of professionalism that surounds Hardy and the work he does. Northwestern has been in on prospects throughout the Chicagoland area more than ever before, with Hardy playing an instrumental role in landing the likes of former Hoops Report Player of the Year Drew Crawford out of Naperville Central and several other recruits in the program. It won't be long before Hardy gets the opportunity to be a head coach. In the meantime, Hardy continues to help elevate a Northwestern program by getting in on prospects that in the past they've had no chance at being involved with or signing.
JERRANCE HOWARD, Illinois
Yes, there has been a lot of hype and headlines with the personable and energetic Howard, who has helped Illinois bring in a loaded Class of 2011. In this case, however, the hot assistant has earned the reputation, is far from being a flavor-of-the-month and is building quite an impressive resumé. Howard, a three-time member of the "Super Six", has shown an ability to make successful inroads with prospects and those around them quickly and very early in the recruiting process. That philosophy requires a tireless work ethic, which is another attribute Howard brings to the table. And it's paid off. The personality he possesses and passion he has for his particular job and the school he works for is infectious. Prospects relate to him and parents warm up to him during the recruiting process. After helping keep Jereme Richmond committed and helping in landing the likes of Crandall Head, Mycheal Henry, Nnanna Egwu and Tracy Abrams, Howard is trying to go the distance with De La Salle's Mike Shaw, one of the top uncommitted prospects remaining in Illinois. There aren't many assistant coaches in the country who would want to go head-to-head in a recruiting battle with Howard. As an assistant under Bruce Weber, Howard continues to learn his trait and become more and more of an all-around assistant coach. As his craft continues to emerge, he continues to make himself more marketable as a head coaching candidate sooner than later.
PARIS PARHAM, Illinois State
A quick glance up and down the Illinois State roster and it's easy to see the fingerprints of Parham, who has helped coach Tim Jankovich land plenty of talent from the Chicago area. Parham has been quick to make his presence felt on a staff that also includes another venerable and standout assistant -- Rob Judson. This ISU staff has hit the Chicago area extremely hard since taking over three seasons ago. This summer the Redbirds, with Parham as the lead recruiter, locked up Glenbard East's Johnny Hill prior to the July evaluation period. The personable Parham has an innate ability to relate to anyone and everyone on the recruiting trail, which includes close contacts throughout the city and suburbs. Plus, the positive interaction Parham has with fellow coaches, players in the program and with recruits and their families goes a long way in recruiting and maintaining a quality program. A product of the Chicago Public League -- both as a high school player and a former head coach (at Phillips and Morgan Park) -- Parham is a student of the game and has earned respect and established a growing basketball pedigree after 13 years as a college assistant. Parham remains a "Super Six" fixture and on the cusp of being targeted by high-major programs.
KAREEM RICHARDSON, Drake
A debut appearance in the "Super Six" for the Drake assistant. Just this year, in a place that isn't always that easy to recruit to, Richardson helped head coach Mark Phelps nab a pair of talented prospects out of Illinois -- Champaign Centennial's Rayvonte Rice and Springfield Lanphier's Karl Madison. In addition, Richardson helped land David Smith of Lake Forest Academy, who will be a redshirt freshman this coming season, and is on a number of top talents in Illinois in the Class of 2012 and has already had a few on campus. A graduate of both Rantoul High School in Illinois and Evansville, Richardson is much more than just a silver-tongued assistant. Richardson, who was a two-time Missouri Valley Conference All-Academic selection as a player at Evansville, has thrived in player development and is regarded as having a bright basketball mind and an ability to teach the game. While experienced and extremely polished as an assistant, Richardson has certainly made his presence felt recruiting the state of Illinois over the past two seasons at Drake. He has a very bright future in the business and will certainly be a high-major assistant sooner than later. Previously, Richardson had a three-year stint at Indiana State, spent a season at Wright State and four years at Evansville.
BOB SIMON, Fairfield
This name will receive the most scrutiny of all the names on the list. While his name may not be as recognized among fans here in Illinois, his presence has been felt for a number of years. Simon has made connections in the Chicago area and is respected by those programs and people he has recruited. He was the lead recruiter at Toledo in his six seasons there from 2000-2006, where he targeted and secured Illinois prospects, including former Crane stars Florentino Valencia and Tyrone Kent, along with St. Rita's Jerrah Young. Currently, Simon has helped Fairfield and head coach Ed Cooley improve each season, with win totals increasing from 13 wins in 2006-2007 to 23 wins and falling just short of a NCAA Tournament berth this past season. The present and future are bright at Fairfield, thanks to the impact of freshmen Derek Needham of De La Salle and Colin Nickerson of Waukegan, a pair of players Simon helped nab. Needham was sparkling as a freshman, winning MAAC Freshman of the Year honors with 16.3 points and 5.2 assists a game. Simon, who is Fairfield's associate head coach and is beginning his fifth season at the Connecticut school, continues to keep Fairfield in the mix for current prospects in the state of Illinois and is poised to be a head coach in the not-to-distant future.
TRACY WEBSTER, Nebraska
When sitting in a gym talking college basketball recruiting and college coaching with talented prep prospects and "their people" throughout the Chicagoland area, along with their families and coaches, the name Tracy Webster will undoubtedly be brought up. He's a veteran coach and a regular member of the "Super Six" after having assisted in the Big Ten, SEC, Big East and now the Big 12. Webster's background of being born and raised in the Chicago area (he starred at Thornton High School) and then recruiting the area during coaching stops at Purdue, Ball State, Illinois, Kentucky, DePaul and now Nebraska, have allowed him to build relationships while others in the profession are still laying the foundation. While Nebraska is and always will be a football school, Webster could go a long way in helping coach Doc Sadler's program begin to get the Husker faithful interested in hoops as well. You better believe Webster and the Huskers, who will soon be a part of the Big Ten, will be hitting the state of Illinois hard.
Todd Townsend, Northern Illinois ... This young, talented assistant coach has made the most of a tough situation in DeKalb (10 wins last season) and blossomed in a short time. NIU is involved with more kids and getting more prospects on campus, thanks in large part to Townsend and his assertiveness and attention to detail.
Dana Ford, Tennessee State ... An absolute workhorse who just gets after it on the recruiting trail. This go-getter has had a tremendous impact on the TSU program, has hit Illinois hard and signed a steal last November in Hales Franciscan's Pat Miller.
Armon Gates, TCU ... Did some work at Kent State this past year (helping sign Hillcrest's Eric Gaines) before landing at TCU this summer. Now the Horned Frogs are involved with a handful of prospects in Illinois, thanks to the up-and-coming Gates.
Rob Judson, Illinois State ... Still regarded as one of the classiest and most well-liked assistant coaches around. Judson brings a whole lot to the table and has been a fixture in recruiting the state for decades.
Derek Thomas, Detroit ... Don't look now but the Detroit Titans are poised to make a push toward the top of the Horizon League. Thomas, the former head coach at Western Illinois, continues to have strong ties in Illinois, pound the Chicago area and be extremely active in recruiting the state.
Dennis Gates, Nevada ... The Chicago native, who starred at Whitney Young and played his college ball at Cal, is a two-time member of the "Super Six." It's only a matter of time before Gates' presence and reputation in Illinois pays off again at his most recent spot -- Nevada in the Mountain West Conference.
Lance Irvin, Southern Illinois ... The well-rounded Irvin remains a constant and well-connected assistant who has worked for and learned a great deal from a host of coaches in the various programs he's worked in and the coaches he's worked for.
Jay Price, Illinois ... A lot of work has been put in by Price behind the scenes and possesses perhaps the most underrated attribute in an assistant -- loyalty.
Jack Owens, Purdue ... There is no doubt Owens has played a part in the recent Boilermaker success and in helping coach Matt Painter stay involved with prospects in Illinois. Purdue was in it until the end with Nnanna Egwu, has made Chasson Randle's final three and have a commitment from 2012 big man Jay Simpson of Champaign Central.
In The Discussion
These coaches continue to make inroads in the state, are connected and remain high-quality assistants for their respective programs.
Chad Altadonna, Eastern Illinois
Pat Baldwin, Loyola
Tony Benford, Marquette
Chrys Cornelius, Wisconsin-Green Bay
Rodell Davis, Providence
Billy Garrett, DePaul
Chris Hollender, Evansville
Ben Johnson, Northern Iowa
Daniyal Robinson, Houston
Nate Pomeday, Oregon State
Isaac Chew, Murray State