By Joe Henricksen
As the college basketball season comes to a close in March for programs across the country, there is a whirlwind of movement in the coaching ranks. This year in particular, there were major shifts locally (Northern Illinois, Bradley and Loyola all with new bosses in place) with both head coaches and assistants that will certainly impact recruiting the Chicago area and the state of Illinois.
College basketball programs, especially across the state of Illinois and across the midwest, try to find their in, their connection, their niche to recruiting the state, city and suburbs. There are plenty of times where the impact a coach can have on this geographical area plays a part in the college coaching hiring process.
The City/Suburban Hoops Report takes a look at the various changes in the college coaching ranks, where coaches with local ties ended up and how it has impacted the recruiting landscape here in Chicago and the state of Illinois.
The one school that has made the quickest impact in recruiting the state’s talent is Northern Illinois, which hired Michigan State assistant coach Mark Montgomery. In a relatively short period of time, NIU has taken a big jump forward this spring as the Huskies landed both De La Salle’s Dre Henley and Niles North’s Abdel Nader, along with Keith and Kevin Gray from Brooks. Montgomery has himself a quality staff, which began by retaining up-and-coming Todd Townsend from the previous staff. Townsend is quickly establishing himself as a respected, hard-working assistant who has pounded the Chicago area.
In addition, Montgomery’s staff includes Jon Borovich, a bright assistant who worked under Brian Gregory at Dayton for four years. Plus, Lou Dawkins, a successful high school coach in Michigan joined the staff. Dawkins coached another top NIU spring recruit, highly-regarded 6-2 guard Marquavis Ford of Saginaw, Mich. While the state of Illinois will be NIU’s strongest recruiting pool, between Montgomery and Dawkins, look for the Huskies to hit the state of Michigan hard as well with all the ties and connections those two have built over the years.
Loyola has three Chicago-area natives on its coaching staff, starting with Loyola head coach Porter Moser, who was raised and went to high school (Benet Academy) in the western suburbs. Moser immediately made a splash with two rock solid hires, naming Rodell Davis and Armon Gates as assistant coaches.
Davis is a Chicago native who has numerous ties to the area from his days playing and coaching in the Chicago area — he coached at both Proviso East and Thornwood prior to his college coaching. Davis spent the last four seasons working for Keno Davis at Providence. Gates, meanwhile, is a young coach on the rise. He spent last season at TCU after spending two years as assistant at Kent State. Gates was born and raised in the Chicago area and attended high school at Hillcrest.
The Rambler staff immediately hit a home run by landing Iowa transfer Cully Payne, who starred at Schaumburg, this past spring and are already involved with a number of prospects in the city and suburbs.
Missouri hired head coach Frank Haith from Miami, who brought in Murray State assistant coach Isaac Chew, who is a Chicago native. Under Mike Anderson, Missouri paid little attention to recruiting Chicago. But Haith, with the help of Chew’s ties to the state of Illinois, has changed that philosophy and has made Illinois and the Chicago area a recruiting priority. The Tigers have spent more time in Illinois and are making more inroads with the city and suburbs in three short months than the previous Missouri staff did in the last couple of years.
Saint Louis head coach Rick Majerus added a great basketball man in former Loyola head coach Jim Whitesell to his coaching staff last week. The veteran coach, who has been recruiting the state of Illinois as a college coach for decades at Elmhurst College, Lewis University and Loyola, is one of the great people in the business and is as genuine and down-to-earth as they come.
Paul Lusk, the former assistant coach at Purdue who starred in the southern part of the state in high school at Trenton-Wesclin, took over at Missouri State and hired Pat Baldwin as an assistant. Baldwin brings recruiting ties to Chicago and the state of Illinois after spending the last seven years recruiting the Chicago area and state of Illinois as an assistant at Loyola.
Over the years, Tennessee has had very little influence in recruiting Chicago. The Vols are hoping to target Chicago and the state of Illinois as well with the hiring of veteran assistant Tracy Webster. The former star at Thornton in the late 1980s, Webster has spent the last eight seasons as a high-major assistant at Purdue, Illinois, Kentucky, DePaul and Nebraska. Webster immediately landed Niles Notre Dame’s Quinton Chievous this past spring, the Hoops Report’s No. 18 ranked senior in Illinois. Look for Webster, a repeat member of the Hoops Report’s “Super Six” assistant coaches that recruit Illinois, and the Vols to be involved with Illinois prep prospects more than in the past.
In addition, the Tennessee staff includes three coaches, including head coach Cuonzo Martin, who are all natives of Illinois. Martin starred at East St. Louis, Sr., while assistants Jon Harris (Edwardsville) and Kent Williams (Mt. Vernon) are also southern Illinois high school standouts.
Bradley first-year head coach Geno Ford retained assistant Willie Scott, a Chicago native and former coach at Malcolm X College in Chicago, from the previous coaching staff.
Staying in the Missouri Valley, Wichita State brought on hard-working Dana Ford as an assistant coach this spring. Ford did a terrific job of recruiting the Chicago area while at Tennessee State the last few years, landing both Robert Covington of Proviso West and Pat Miller of Hales Franciscan. He also helped secure Illinois State transfer Kellen Thornton, a former standout at Hillcrest. Between Ford and current Shocker assistant coach Chris Jans, Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall’s staff will be involved with Illinois prospects and are among the leaders for Rockford Auburn point guard Fred Van Vleet.
It remains to be seen how much Florida State will be involved with Chicago prospects, with the distance a factor and the fact there is already so much talent in the region. Nonetheless, Dennis Gates, who recently left Nevada for Tallahassee, is a very respected and well liked assistant coach among Chicago area high school and AAU coaches. With the ACC as a selling point, Gates, who prepped at Whitney Young and helped lead the Dolphins to the 1998 state championship, may be able to entice and get involved with more players locally.
Look for Xavier to continue to stay involved with Illinois prospects, especially with the addition of Drake assistant coach Kareem Richardson to its staff this week. Richardson, who recently landed Champaign Centennial’s Rayvonte Rice and Springfield Lanphier’s Karl Madison at Drake, is an underrated assistant coach with a lot of value. He was a new member of the annual Hoops Report’s “Super Six” assistant coaches last year and has established himself quite well in recruiting the state he played his high school basketball in at Rantoul. Xavier has been involved with Illinois prospects early, particularly Jaylon Tate, a top Class of 2013 prospect, and will likely enhance their presence in Illinois with the addition of Richardson.