NBA coaching rumors: Which college coaches could be ready to turn pro?
The college season has come to an end, and with the NBA season winding down in a little more than a week, it appears that we will make it through an entire slate without one in-season coach firing. So, cheers to that.
But there could be a coach or two pushed aside in the coming weeks, and that will send NBA teams scouring the ranks for candidates. Sporting News asked around among scouts and league executives for the names of college coaches who might be ready to make the jump to the NBA — if not now, then sometime down the line. While there were some predictable names that came up, there were some surprises, too.
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And, just as a side note, Tom Izzo and Mike Krzyzewski remain desired assets for the NBA, but folks around the league have all but given up on the notion of them leaving their current posts.
1 John Calipari, Kentucky
Maybe we should give up on Calipari being determined to return to the NBA. Every year, Calipari is connected to an NBA job, with the presumption that he will want to take over front office duties, too, and every year Calipari tweets out his denial and remains in place with the Wildcats.
The rumor that Calipari wants to get back into the NBA persists, though, and with his ability to develop talent quickly and pull together schemes based on the short-lived talent he attracts in Lexington, there are teams that would certainly welcome him.
“I think the opportunity for him to be in the NBA is always going to be there for him,” one league executive said. “I just don’t think he’s ever going to be in a hurry to get there. I don’t blame him. You go to UK now, and he is absolute royalty there.”
2 Jay Wright, Villanova
For the last few years, Wright has been a mainstay on any list of potential college-to-pros coaches, and it’s no secret as to why.
He has the even, level-headed demeanor that would translate well to the NBA, especially in a rebuilding situation, and more importantly, he has the chops as an Xs and Os guy. Wright’s small-ball, motion offense is very much in tune with the way the NBA has been trending.
“I think if he made that jump, he would not have to change much,” one general manager said. “That’s why he is always getting consideration.”
3 Tony Bennett, Virginia
Bennett’s stock is fairly high at the moment, even with the Cavaliers’ disastrous second-round loss to Florida (65-39 was the unsightly score). His ability to drill discipline into his players, particularly with the pack-line defense his father championed at Wisconsin, is impressive, and he has shown the ability to get the most out of individual players.
He has tailored his style to winning in the college ranks, but as a guy who had a brief, three-year stint as an NBA point guard, he could easily make the transition to a more pro-oriented approach.
“In my view,” the GM said, “he is the guy who would have the highest likelihood of success. He checks all the boxes.”
4 Bill Self, Kansas
Self has a good thing going at Kansas and five years on his contract, so it would take a very enticing offer to draw him away from Lawrence. He was under consideration for the Cavaliers job when it went, eventually, to David Blatt, and it’s hard to imagine him leaving the Jayhawks for a rebuilding project.
He has had to manage some difficult situations and oversized egos, but has maintained a high level of success. It might be a few years before he takes the chance, but Self has been and will remain on the NBA’s radar.
5 Kevin Ollie, Connecticut
Ollie has been talked about as a potential NBA coach for a few years now — he was mentioned for the Thunder job, as well as the Lakers job last year — but he’s not done himself many favors after a rough season (16-17) with the Huskies, which included season-opening losses to Wagner and Northeastern.
Still, there are reasons Ollie managed to play in the NBA until he was 37 despite a career scoring average of 3.8 points: He is smart, disciplined and a good influence on young players. He’s also a very good Xs and Os coach, so despite the poor showing this year, Ollie will continue to attract attention from the league.
6 Chris Collins, Northwestern
Relax, Cats fans, Collins has a ways to go to build up his head-coaching resume. He won’t be leaving soon. Even Brad Stevens had six full years at Butler before the Celtics came calling, and that included two NCAA final appearances.
But Collins’ ability to turn around Northwestern’s moribund program has brought attention, and the fact that his father, Doug, has a long and well-respected career as an NBA head coach gives him added cachet. Throw in his 13 years on the bench next to Krzyzewski at Duke, and Collins has the profile to make the NBA jump.
“He’s smart,” one scouting director said. “He is a basketball junkie like his dad. He always seems to get that team to play to its strengths. You want to see more, where he goes from here. But I could imagine him coaching in the NBA someday.”
7 Larry Krystowiak, Utah
Krystowiak has the background for an NBA coach, having spent more than a season as the Bucks head coach after the firing of Terry Stotts, during a low point for the franchise.
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Krystowiak was just 31-69 in the NBA, but the job he has done rebuilding the Utes has restored his coaching reputation. He’s not exactly installing NBA-style systems at Utah — his teams are known for a particularly slow pace — but his familiarity with the league makes him an outside possibility.
“He has played, he has coached, a lot of people know Larry,” the GM said. “You’d be comfortable with his personality and his approach. And the Xs and Os, he could make those adjustments.”
8 Sean Miller, Arizona
Some of the glimmer has dimmed when it comes to Miller’s potential NBA star. Front office types do have concerns about how he carries himself on the bench — there is a bit too much emotion, and that wouldn’t play so well with professionals.
Moreover, Miller has proven to be a very good defensive coach, but his offense is seen as relatively unimaginative. The fact that he’s been unable to get the Wildcats over the Final Four hump is another downside.
“He is obviously a smart basketball guy, but he has some of the hallmarks of guys who have not done well in the NBA,” one scout said. “With the right team, he might have some success. But he’s not a sure thing at all.”
9 John Beilein, Michigan
The Wolverines’ strong finish, which included a run to the Big Ten Tournament title and a trip to the Sweet 16, helped rescue what had been shaping up as a mediocre season for Michigan. But Beilein has been considered an NBA possibility for a few seasons now, in part because his free-flowing, two-guard offense would be a good fit in the league.
At this point, there’s always been more talk of interest in Beilein than actual interest, but he is still a coach NBA teams have been watching.