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First-year college basketball coaches set for success on the recruiting trail


The coaching carousel has just about stopped spinning in 2022 and it was a busy cycle, with over 50 openings including numerous high-profile national jobs like Florida, Maryland, Louisville, and LSU among others.

Of course, Duke will have a new head coach next season as well, although that hire was made 10 months ago, giving Jon Scheyer a remarkable head start in building out his recruiting class. It’s almost hard to believe that at the time, the college basketball world was waiting to see whether a non-Coach-K led Duke program would carry the same cache on the recruiting trail. Since then, Scheyer has answered that question and then some, assembling the top-ranked incoming class in 2022, featuring four five-star prospects (Dereck Lively II, Kyle Filipowski, Dariq Whitehead, and Mark Mitchell), a fifth top-100 prospect (Jaden Schutt), and six overall players in the class (Christian Reeves). Lively, Filipowski and Whitehead are the Nos. 1, 3 and 5 players in the class of 2022 according to the industry-generated 247Sports Composite.

So, while next season will be Scheyer’s first as the program’s head coach, the 2023 recruiting class will actually be the second under his leadership. The reality is though, most of the heavy lifting is already done. While there may still be some fluidity amidst the classes, the 2023 group is equally as impressive as 2022 and also tops overall in the country, as it currently stands. Mackenzie Mgbako, Caleb Foster, Tyrese Proctor, and Jared McCain are all five-star prospects, while Sean Stewart is a fifth top-30 prospect in the country.

Beyond Scheyer though, who are the new coaches best positioned to achieve recruiting success right from the jump?

1. SEAN MILLER, XAVIER

The last time Sean Miller roamed the sidelines at Xavier, the program was in the Atlantic 10 Conference and Miller was perceived as one of the nation’s best young coaches. Now, they’re in the Big East and Miller is back, after spending 12 seasons at Arizona and last year away from coaching. The other major difference is that Miller is now one of the most recognizable names in all of college coaching — a brand in and of himself, if you will. When Miller walks into the gym, people recognize him right away, and he has a long history of recruiting and developing future pros to sell in the process.

Miller has also assembled an excellent staff. By retaining Dante Jackson from Travis Steele’s staff, Miller not only helped solidify the return of Xavier’s core lineup, but also two key incoming 2022 recruits in four-star wing Kam Craft and four-star point guard Desmond Claude. Landing Adam Cohen from Stanford as associate head coach gives Miller someone who is known for his ability to evaluate and his national recruiting contacts. Finally, while Xavier and Miller have both changed since their first run together, there’s no denying the familiarity with the lay of the land will help ease the transition and allow him to get to work sooner than most first-year head coaches.

2. TODD GOLDEN, FLORIDA

Golden’s hire has been met by perhaps more skepticism than optimism nationally. He’s drawn the dreaded “staff will be important” line, which essentially equates to “we’re not sure he’s ready to recruit this level on his own.” On the surface that’s understandable – Golden is young, has only been a head coach for three years and is literally going across the country to make the move from San Francisco to Florida. But I think he’s possessed to surprise people. Golden comes from the coaching tree of Washington State head coach Kyle Smith, which now includes multiple D1 head coaches and an NBA general manager, but he also spent two years at Auburn working for Bruce Pearl. That means he’s not only well-versed in advanced analytics but also in the pragmatic reality of getting players.

The casual fan may chuckle at Golden’s baby face, and yet have no idea the killer instinct that lies beneath it. In short, he’s smart, he’s driven, he’s charismatic, and I believe he’s going to be better, sooner, than most people think.

3. DENNIS GATES, MIZZOU

No conference was more impacted by the coaching carousel than the SEC, which saw six different jobs turnover this spring in Florida, Georgia, LSU, Mississippi State, South Carolina, and Missouri, and more than one prominent recruiter depart the league. There are a ton of heavy-hitters programs in the SEC who have shown they’ll contend for top national talent on an annual basis, and yet there is still likely enough players and resources for more to emerge. Gates, like Golden, could be a top candidate.

While this is his first stint as a high-major head coach following a three-year tenure at Cleveland State, he’s no stranger to the level, having made stops at Florida State, Marquette, and California among others. It was those eight years at Florida State, under Leonard Hamilton, that he will likely be the prototype at Mizzou, especially now that he’s added Charlton “CY” Young to his staff from the Seminoles. Together, those two made a lethal tandem on the road at Florida State and they should be poised to return to those ways at Missouri.

4. KENNY PAYNE, LOUISVILLE

A year ago, Kenny Payne departed John Calipari’s staff at Kentucky to join the coaching staff of the New York Knicks. Now, he’s returned to take over at his alma mater and Calipari’s intrastate rival, Louisville.

Payne’s first few weeks on the job have shown us that we can expect him to be shrewd, strategic, and very calculated. The Cardinals haven’t yet made a big splash on the recruiting trail, but this is more like a general who is positioning his pieces on the board before striking, rather than one who just rushes right into battle. By landing assistant coach Nolan Smith from Jon Scheyer’s staff at Duke, Payne showed that he’s willing to go head-to-head with anyone in college basketball. Then, of course, the elephant in the room will be his potential pursuit of the top overall prospect in the class of 2023, DJ Wagner, and what other moves on his coaching staff could be involved in such efforts (more on that from me later this week). Wagner’s Crystal Ball is roughly split, 50-50, between Kentucky and Louisville predictions.

5. ARCHIE MILLER, RHODE ISLAND

This was a tremendous off-season for the Atlantic 10. They added proven head coaches like Archie Miller, Frank Martin (UMass), and Fran Dunphy (La Salle), along with a well-known up-and-comer in Chris Caputo ( George Washington), to give the conference their latest boost of national recognition. Of all the newcomers, Miller’s Rhode Island program is the one that I believe is poised to make an immediate impression. Like his older brother Sean at Xavier, Archie too has that national recognition that makes a big difference, especially in the A10, not to mention a proven history of success in the league from his time at Dayton. He has also put together a very impressive staff in Kenny Johnson, Duane Woodard, and Austin Carroll, who collectively have New England, New York/New Jersey, and the DMV areas all covered.

6. STEVE LAVIN, SAN DIEGO

Speaking of well-known coaches getting back in the game, how about Steve Lavin at San Diego?

The former UCLA and St. John’s head coach has a long history of being able to get players wherever he is and while the San Diego program may not be as nationally relevant as his previous two stops, the campus and location comes pretty close to selling itself . In the vernacular of college coaches, it is the type of job where “all you have to do is get the kids on campus.” Meaning, once they come for a visit, they usually won’t want to leave. If history is any indication, Lav will get them, and keep them, on campus.

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