The COVID-19 pandemic has changed college basketball’s offseason landscape.
While you would think the cancellation of NCAA postseason tournaments would speed up the actual hiring process, the coronavirus has definitely slowed it down.
The traditional March coaching turnstile has slowed across the country. But the UIC job is one that’s more coveted than some would think following the release of former head coach Steve McClain after five seasons on the job.
UIC has a fresh face and new man in charge in Director of Athletics Michael Lipitz, who was hired last October after eight-plus years at North Carolina State. Every coach would prefer the boss he works for to be the one who hired him, so the opportunity to be Lipitz’s “guy” going forward is appealing.
The hope is the UIC athletics infrastructure makes positive strides moving forward under Lipitz, which would only advance the basketball program.
Plus, UIC has a fertile recruiting ground with an endless talent pool in the Chicago area, throughout Illinois and one that extends into Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan. The Flames play in a very winnable Horizon League and have strong resources in comparison to other teams in the conference.
There are long-shots, obvious names and some outside-the-box candidates in every college coaching search. Here is a short list of some prime candidates who are poised to make a jump from hot assistant coach to up-and-coming head coach and might fit the UIC profile (listed alphabetically).
Rashon Burno, Arizona State assistant
Coach Bobby Hurley’s associate head coach in Tempe has ties to Chicago from his playing days at DePaul from 1998-2002. Burno, who blends personality with toughness and competitiveness, has learned from some great ones.
Burno played his high school ball in New Jersey under legendary prep coach Bob Hurley, Sr., and he sat on the bench beside coaching star Billy Donovan at Florida, where he went deep into the Jabari Parker sweepstakes. More impressively, he was an assistant coach on teams that went to a Final Four and an Elite Eight while at Florida.
He recruited former Thornton star Alonzo Verge to ASU and had the Sun Devils involved with Morgan Park star Adam Miller.
This is a head-coach-in-waiting and it won’t be long before he’s running his own program.
Chin Coleman, Illinois assistant
A long shot due to Coleman’s youth, short stint as a high-major assistant and that he was once on fired UIC coach Steve McClain’s staff.
But Coleman is at the flagship state university, and he’s Chicago through-and-through. He has city ties and roots in the local prep and grassroots scene as a former coach with the Mac Irvin Fire club program and as an assistant coach at Whitney Young. He’s helped Brad Underwood revitalize the Illinois basketball program, helping land Morgan Park stars Ayo Dosunmu and Adam Miller.
Jerrance Howard, Kansas assistant
The Peoria native is a well-known name around Chicago after his years as an assistant at Illinois and while continuing to recruit Chicago
as an assistant at both SMU and Kansas. The high-energy Howard has been a part of a monster program at KU and experienced a ton of success under coach Bill Self the past six seasons, including being a part of a Final Four team in 2017-18.
Ben Johnson, Xavier assistant
A sharp, polished, all-around assistant coach who in the past couple of years has been deeply involved in head coach openings. He’s had stops at Northern Iowa, Nebraska, Minnesota and currently Xavier. The experience coaching in urban college settings at Xavier and Minnesota would be beneficial. He’s a key, hands-on aide who has been a part of NCAA Tournament teams at both Northern Iowa and Minnesota while helping the Xavier program get back on track this past season.
Luke Murray, Louisville assistant
Murray is a hot assistant coaching name who is working his way to a top job. Now it’s a matter of what job will tempt him to leave a basketball thoroughbred like Louisville? Murray emerged as a young head coach candidate while working for Chris Mack at both Xavier and Louisville. He was a part of three NCAA Tournament teams while at Xavier, one with Louisville and was part of a top 25 team with the Cardinals this past season.
Regarded as an exceptional recruiter, Murray helped bring in a top 10 recruiting class in 2019 as the Cardinals’ recruiting coordinator. Murray was also instrumental in the recruitment of Bryce Hopkins, a 2021 Louisville commit who plays locally at Fenwick.
Roger Powell Jr., Gonzaga assistant
There is certainly name recognition with the very likable Roger Powell, but he would be more than just a flashy hire. The fast-rising assistant coach is in a great spot at a college basketball giant, so he can afford to be a little picky. But the Joliet native and former Illinois star has a natural presence about him. He’s on the fast-track and will be a head coach sooner than later, but he may be better suited to wait.
Craig Robinson, New York Knicks executive
An outside-the-box choice and the lone name on the list with head coaching experience at the college level.
A recognized name with high-major head coaching experience is a big plus. The resume on paper, with an overall head coaching record of 123-132 at Brown and Oregon State may not stack up, though it did come at two very challenging coaching spots. The vast basketball experience and strong Chicago ties — a native of Chicago, former Northwestern assistant and brother-in-law of Barack Obama — are intriguing.
Daniyal Robinson, Iowa State assistant
The former Rock Island native has been on the cusp of landing a head coaching job at the mid-major level in recent years. He’s spent the past five seasons at Iowa State and reached the NCAA Tournament three times with the Cyclones. Robinson, who has heavily recruited the Chicago area throughout his career, has had assistant stints at both Illinois State and Loyola under coach Porter Moser.
Luke Yaklich, Texas assistant
The former Joliet Township head coach and current associate head coach for Shaka Smart at Texas has had a meteoric rise in the college ranks. He spent four years at Illinois State before making a name for himself as John Beilein’s assistant at Michigan, where he was a part of back-to-back Sweet Sixteen teams and a team that reached the NCAA championship game.
The Illinois native is extremely comfortable and familiar recruiting the state of Illinois and has relationships with current high school coaches and club programs across the state.