From preps to coaches: A look at the 18 Division I basketball coaches from Illinois

Here is a rundown of college head coaches — from their playing days in Illinois to their coaching résumé.

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Loyola (Md.) head coach Tavaras Hardy works the sideline against Colgate during an NCAA college basketball game in the finals of the Patriot League tournament, Sunday, March 14, 2021.

Loyola (Md.) head coach Tavaras Hardy works the sideline against Colgate during an NCAA college basketball game in the finals of the Patriot League tournament, Sunday, March 14, 2021.

John Munson/AP

College basketball coaches were finally back on the road recruiting last month, starting with two “live” weekends in June watching players with their high school teams. 

This July it’s back to the club circuit with three “live” weekends of AAU basketball across the country. 

The recruiting world is starting to resemble what it did prior to the start of the pandemic 16 months ago. There will be unofficial and official on-campus visits for prospects and college coaches evaluating players in gyms rather than on a computer screen. 

Among those college coaches, many former local players from this state have had their fingerprints all over the college basketball landscape as head coaches. In total, there are an impressive 18 head coaches at the Division I level who all played their high school basketball in Illinois.

Here is a rundown of those college head coaches — from their playing days in Illinois to their coaching résumé. 

Chris Collins, Northwestern (Glenbrook North - Class of 1992)

As a prep: A McDonald’s All-American who went on to play at Duke, Collins was a prolific scorer and shooter as a high school star in Illinois. He averaged 31.2 points a game as a senior. He scored 40-plus points six times, including in a super-sectional loss to Stevenson, and he had a 50-point performance in a win over Deerfield that season. 

As a coach:After a long run as an assistant at Duke — Collins spent 13 years as an assistant coach under Mike Krzyzewski — he took over in Evanston and led the Wildcats to the program’s first-ever NCAA Tournament berth in 2017. In eight years he has compiled a record of 118-134 with a pair of 20-plus win seasons and a 49-100 mark in the Big Ten. 

Billy Donlon, Missouri-Kansas City (Glenbrook North - 1995)

As a prep:Prior to a solid college career at UNC-Wilmington, Donlon was a star guard at Glenbrook North. 

As a sophomore, following in the steps of Collins, Donlon helped the Spartans to the Elite Eight. He returned there again as a senior when he averaged 22.5 points and 7.2 assists a game. As a consensus all-stater in 1994-95, Donlon’s Spartans finished the regular season ranked No. 7 in the state and finished the year 29-2 overall. 

In his three years he helped Glenbrook North to a 80-10 record. 

As a coach:Donlon recently received his second go-around as a college head coach, taking over the UMKC job two years ago. He went 16-14 in his first season and 11-13 this past season. 

Donlon, who served as an assistant at both Michigan and Northwestern before taking over at UMKC, also spent six seasons as the head coach at Wright State. While there he compiled a record of 109-94. The year Donlon was let go at Wright State, he led his team to a 22-13 record in 2015-16.

Dana Ford, Missouri State (Tamms-Egyptian - 2003)

As a prep: Ford was quite the high school player at little-known Tamms-Egyptian High School in the far southern part of the state. While growing up in Tamms with a population of 500 or so people, he finished his career with a whopping 2,222 career points. He went on to play college basketball at Illinois State. 

As a coach:When he was hired as the head coach at Tennessee State at the age of 29, Ford became the youngest head coach in Division I basketball. In his first season he went 5-26. The next season he led the Tigers to 20 wins and the biggest turnaround in the country. 

Ford went 16-16 and 16-17 in his two seasons as head coach at Missouri State in the Missouri Valley Conference before going 17-7 this past season. He led the Bears to a 12-6 mark in the MVC and a third-place finish. 

Ford has a career record of 106-105 in seven seasons as a head coach. 

Dennis Gates, Cleveland State (Young - 1998)

As a prep: Was a key member of one of the state’s greatest teams at Young. The 6-4 guard was the running mate of the Quentin Richardson-led Dolphins that won the 1998 state title. Gates was the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s No. 9 ranked player in Illinois in the Class of 1998, which is arguably the greatest collection of talent in one class in state history. Gates went on to play for years at Cal. 

As a coach: Gates put together a 14-year run as an assistant coach, including a highly successful stop at Florida State from 2011-2019. While in Tallahassee he was a part of seven NCAA Tournament teams, including a pair of Sweet Sixteen teams and an Elite Eight team. 

Gates landed his first head coaching job two years ago, taking over a downtrodden Cleveland State program. He finished 11-21 in his first year of a major rebuilding project, including winning seven league games, while sharing Horizon League Coach of the Year honors. 

This past season was even better as he evolved into a hot, young name in college coaching. He was again named the Horizon League Coach of the Year after winning the regular season title, finishing 17-7 overall, and leading the Cleveland State to the NCAA Tournament. 

Brian Gregory, South Florida (Hersey - 1985)

As a prep:As a senior star he led Hersey to the state quarterfinals in 1985, averaging 17 points and seven assists a game. Hersey lost to eventual state champion Mt. Carmel in the Elite Eight. 

As a college player he played at Navy with David Robinson for one season before transferring to Oakland, where he set assist records. 

As a coach: The 54-year-old has been around the college game since 1990. In total, Gregory spent 10 years with Jud Heathcote and Tom Izzo at Michigan State, along with brief assistant coaching stops at Toledo and Northwestern. 

Gregory spent eight successful seasons as head coach at Dayton. He won a NIT title there and made two NCAA Tournaments while compiling a 172-94 record. He left Dayton for Georgia Tech in 2011. He was fired at Georgia Tech after five seasons and just completed his fourth season as head coach at South Florida.

In 17 years as a college head coach, Gregory has a combined record of 306-246. 

Tavaras Hardy, Loyola-Maryland (Providence - 1998)

As a prep:Before playing four years at Northwestern where he was a two-time All-Big Ten selection and scored 1,122 career points, the Joliet native starred at Providence. Hardy finished his career with 1,238 points (5th all-time at Providence) and 719 rebounds (3rd all-time). 

Hardy was the City/Suburban Hoops Report’s No. 22 ranked player in the state in the Class of 1998, arguably the most talented and loaded class in state history. 

As a coach: Hardy was named the head coach at Loyola-Maryland following 11 years as a college assistant, including six at Northwestern, three at Georgetown and two at Georgia Tech. 

Hardy took over a program that had suffered through four five straight losing seasons, including a 9-22 record the year before he arrived. In three seasons at Loyola, Hardy has compiled a 32-49 record overall. 

Juwan Howard, Michigan (Vocational - 1991)

As a prep: Regarded as one of the best players in the country, Howard was named a McDonald’s All-American after averaging 26.9 points, 8.4 rebounds and 3.4 assists as a senior at CVS. He was a consensus top 10 player in the country as a senior at Vocational and went on to Michigan where he was a part of the famed Fab Five before putting together a long, successful NBA career. 

As a coach: After a decorated high school, college and pro basketball career, Howard is now emerging as one of the hot coaching names in the game.

Following several years of being an assistant in the NBA with the Miami Heat, Howard returned to his alma mater in 2019 to take over for John Beilein. He’s winning big on the court and on the recruiting trail. 

In his first year as head coach at Michigan two years ago, Howard led the Wolverines to a 19-12 record. 

This past season Michigan won the Big Ten regular season championship and earned a top seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Wolverines, who have the No. 1 ranked recruiting class in the country coming in next year, finished 23-5 and reached the NCAA Elite Eight. 

Brad Korn, Southeast Missouri State (Plano - 1999)

As a prep:As a Class A all-stater as a senior, the 6-9 Korn led unknown Plano to Peoria as a senior. The Reapers finished third in the state as Korn averaged 21 points a game, including a 47-point game and nine games with 30-plus points. Korn is the all-time leading rebounder in Plano history, single-season scoring and rebounding leader and finished with 1,765 career points. 

Korn went on to become a key piece for some great Southern Illinois teams that reached three NCAA Tournaments.

As a coach:After assistant coaching stops at Southern Illinois (eight seasons), Missouri State (three years) and Kansas State (five seasons), the highly-respected and likable Korn gets his shot at a head job. Korn was hired last spring at Southeast Missouri State. 

He took over a program that was last in the Ohio Valley Conference the previous season with just three wins. In his first season SEMO made a jump, winning nine league games and finishing seventh in the 12-team conference with a 9-11 mark (11-16 overall). 

Mike Krzyzewski, Duke (Weber - 1965)

As a prep: Yes, one of the biggest names in basketball began his basketball career at Weber, a Catholic prep school on the Northwest side of Chicago that closed in 1999. He led the Chicago Catholic League in scoring for two seasons before playing under Bob Knight at Army. 

As a coach:Where do you begin with Coach K? We’ll start with being in the Hall of Fame and go from there. 

In 41 years as the head coach at Duke, Krzyzewski has won five national championships, reached 12 Final Fours and coached the U.S. Olympic team to gold medals in 2008, 2012 and 2016. Overall, he’s won 79 percent of his games at Duke and has recorded the most wins of any Division I basketball coach in history with 1,168 career victories. 

However, this past season was Duke’s worst ACC finish in Coach K’s illustrious career.

Jim Les, UC-Davis (Niles Notre Dame - 1981)

As a prep: Les had a modest high school career considering how his college career took off and led him to the NBA. Les began his college career at Cleveland State and transferred to Bradley where he starred. He put together a seven-year NBA career in the 1990s. 

As a coach:A veteran Division I head coach for 18 years, Les spent nine years leading the Bradley program. He led the Braves to a NCAA Sweet Sixteen appearance in 2006 and finished with a record of 154-140 at Bradley. Les has spent the past 10 years as the head coach at UC-Davis in California with a NCAA Tournament berth in 2017. 

Les has a career record of 265-291 in 19 years as a head coach. 

Matt Lottich, Valparaiso (New Trier - 2000)

As a prep: Regarded as one of the best all-around athletes in state history, Lottich was an all-state caliber player in football, basketball and baseball. 

As an all-state senior the 6-4 guard averaged 24 points, nine rebounds and six assists a game while leading the Trevians to a 28-4 record and the Elite Eight, including a 40-point performance against Homewood-Flossmoor. He averaged 22 points a game as a junior and is the all-time leading scorer in New Trier history.

Lottich had a standout career at Stanford and is among the program’s single-season and career leaders in three-pointers made. 

As a coach:Lottich joined Bryce Drew’s staff as an assistant at Valpo in 2013 and took over the program as head coach in 2016. Lottich, who went 24-9, shared a Missouri Valley Conference regular season championship and reached the NIT in his first year, has compiled a 83-78 record in five seasons as head coach. 

Cuonzo Martin, Missouri (East St. Louis Lincoln - 1991)

As a prep: Played with LaPhonso Ellis for two years and emerged as an all-stater and a star in the postseason. Martin’s teams at Lincoln won state titles in 1988 and 1989 and finished third in 1990. The 6-6 forward was voted among the “100 Legends of the IHSA Boys Basketball Tournament.” 

Martin starred at Purdue in college and scored 1,666 career points in four seasons. 

As a coach: After spending eight seasons on Gene Keady’s staff as an assistant at Purdue, Martin has been a head coach for three seasons each at Missouri State, Tennessee and California. He’s in his fourth season at Missouri. 

Martin has led three different teams to the NCAA Tournament in 13 years, including a Sweet 16 appearance at Tennessee in 2014. He took Missouri to the NCAA Tournament this past season. He has a career record of 252-177.

Porter Moser, Oklahoma (Benet - 1986)

As a prep:In three varsity seasons at Benet, Moser led the Redwings to a 70-14 record and three East Suburban Catholic Conference championships. As a senior he was named ESCC Player of the Year. He went on to play at Creighton and was part of the 1989 NCAA Tournament team. 

As a coach:What a run it’s been for Moser.

First, he spent three seasons as the head coach at Arkansas Little Rock (2000-01 through 2002-03) and four seasons as head coach at Illinois State (2003-04 through 2006-07).

Moser then built Loyola from the ground up, including leading the transition for the Ramblers from the Horizon League to the Missouri Valley Conference. Moser won 20-plus games five times in his 10 years at Loyola. That includes the magical 2017-18 season where the Ramblers won 32 games and stunned the college basketball world with a trip to the Final Four.

This past season Loyola won its third MVC regular season championship in four years and reached the NCAA Tournament. The Ramblers stunned top-seeded Illinois in the second round, reached the Sweet Sixteen and finished 26-5 on the year. 

He took over for Lon Kruger at Oklahoma this past March. 

Bryan Mullins, Southern Illinois (Downers Grove South - 2005)

As a prep:A dynamite point guard who led Downers South downstate as a sophomore and senior, the latter of which the Mustangs finished third in the state in 2005. Mullins was an all-state selection as a senior when he averaged 16.9 points, 5.6 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 5.3 steals a game. Finished DGS career with the most assists, steals and wins in program history. 

Mullins then enjoyed a standout career at Southern Illinois, where he became one of SIU’s all-time great players and fueled a Sweet 16 run and school record 29 wins in 2007.

As a coach:He worked six years under Porter Moser at Loyola — two as the director of basketball operations and four as an assistant coach — before being named the head coach at Southern Illinois two years ago. 

In his first season he guided SIU, which was picked last in the Missouri Valley Conference in the preseason, to a fifth-place MVC finish and a 16-16 record in his first season. This past year the Salukis battled injuries and finished 12-14 overall. 

Scott Nagy, Wright State (Champaign Centennial - 1984)

As a prep: A key player as a senior for a Centennial team that went 26-4 and reached Assembly Hall and the Elite Eight in 1984. That team, which was led by the great Roger McClendon, beat Joliet West in the Super before falling to Kenny Battle and West Aurora in the state quarterfinals. Nagy scored 23 points in the two state tournament games.

As a coach:Nagy has been a head college coach for 26 years, including the last five at Wright State. He’s led Wright State to four 20-plus win seasons, a NCAA Tournament berth in 2018 and back-to-back trips to the NIT. 

This past season Wright State finished 18-6 and shared the regular season Horizon League title. 

Prior to Wright State, Nagy spent 21 years at South Dakota State — the last 12 as a Division I school. He averaged 23 wins a year over his finals six seasons, reaching three NCAA Tournaments (2012, 2013 and 2016).

In total, Nagy has compiled a terrific 519-289 career record as a head coach. 

Marty Simmons, Eastern Illinois (Lawrenceville - 1983)

As a prep: As the star of one of the iconic high school teams in state history — Lawrenceville went 68-0 with two state championships in 1981-82 and 1982-83 — Simmons was one of the most celebrated prep players in state history.

The 6-5 Simmons, who averaged 31.9 points a game as a senior, scored 2,986 career points and was named Mr. Basketball in 1983. He remains the sixth highest scorer in state history.

He went on to play two years at Indiana for Bobby Knight and then transferred to Evansville for his final two seasons. 

As a coach: Simmons returned to his home state this past spring when he was named the head coach at Eastern Illinois. 

Prior to EIU, Simmons had spent 17 years as a head coach, including one season at Division III Wartburg and five seasons at what was then Division II SIU-Edwardsville. He had a long run at Evansville (2007-2018), where he spent 11 years and went 184-175. 

Brian Wardle, Bradley (Hinsdale Central - 1997)

As a prep:Wardle has the unique distinction of being the only player on the list who is a former City/Suburban Hoops Report Player of the Year in 1997. 

Before Wardle’s arrival at Hinsdale Central, the program had won 65 games total the previous six years combined. In Wardle’s junior and senior year the Red Devils won 55 games and reached the Elite Eight both years. Wardle scored a program best 1,632 points in his career while averaging 22 points and 12 rebounds a game as a senior. 

Wardle went on to have a terrific career at Marquette where he’s the eighth all-time leading scorer. 

As a coach:Wardle, who just completed his sixth season as head coach at Bradley, led the Braves to three consecutive 20-win seasons, winning two Missouri Valley Conference Tournament titles and qualifying for two NCAA Tournament berths from 2018-2020. This past season the Braves went 11-15. 

Prior to Bradley, Wardle spent five years at Wisconsin-Green Bay as the head coach, where he won 48 games in his final two years there and reached the NIT both seasons.

Wardle, who spent two years as an assistant Marquette and five as an assistant coach at Wisconsin-Green Bay, has a 187-166 career record in 11 seasons as a head coach. 

Luke Yaklich, UIC (LaSalle-Peru - 1994)

As a prep: Yaklich played at LaSalle-Peru under legendary coach Chips Giovanine. The 1994 L-P grad was part of a Sweet Sixteen team as a junior. He played and was part of a 14-13 team coached by Paul Kramarsic as a senior before attending Illinois State, where he served as student manager for the men’s basketball team. 

As a coach:It’s been a meteoric rise for Yaklich in the coaching profession. He began coaching high school girls’ basketball team at LaSalle-Peru — for one season in 1989-90. He then spent three years at Sterling, returned to LaSalle-Peru to coach the boys for four years and then headed to Joliet West where he went 104-62 in six seasons. 

In a matter of seven years the 43-year-old went from Joliet West head basketball coach to college assistant stops at Illinois State (four years), Michigan (two years) and Texas (one year) before being named the head coach at UIC in March of 2020.

In his first season the Flames finished 9-13 overall and 6-10 in the Horizon League. 

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