Tate | Coaching carousel still turns in college basketball


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On opposite coasts, the stop-start basketball coaching searches at UCLA and St. John's showed themselves as awkward, bumbling and, most important, revealing two once-proud programs as residing in the past.

The Westwood home of John Wooden, having ousted Steve Alford in December, ran afoul of the massive contracts of John Calipari, Jamie Dixon and Rick Barnes.

The latter offered a shocking display of honesty by acknowledging that, yes, he would have abandoned Tennessee but for his buyout.

UCLA settled on Cincinnati's non-sexy Mick Cronin.

Meanwhile Chris Mullin, having relied on his "heart and guts" to step down at St. John's, watched as the Johnnies were rejected by Bobby Hurley, Porter Moser, Ryan Odom and Tim Cluess before settling on Mike Anderson, newly available following his ouster at Arkansas.

Dana O'Neil, writing for The Athletic, described these frustrating coaching quests as evidence these once-proud programs are "spinning on a hamster wheel."

Back in the Big Ten

You know where I'm going. With six head basketball coaches in 24 seasons dating back through Lou Henson's final year in 1996, Illinois is the Midwest example of how difficult it is to keep starting over.

Repeated shuffling might work, but it's the hard way to go.

In sharp contrast, Big Ten rivals Michigan State, Purdue and Wisconsin are prime examples of the value of stability ... a consistent message and an established brand.

Late MSU coach Jud Heathcote fought his administration, which preferred a national search, in seeing that assistant Tom Izzo was promoted in 1995. Next season will be No. 43 of the highly successful Heathcote-Izzo stewardship.

Bo Ryan, who won four Big Ten titles and never finished worse than fourth in 14 full seasons, quit after 12 games during the 2015-16 season, thereby forcing athletic director Barry Alvarez to promote Greg Gard ... when Alvarez and the Badger faithful were intent on enticing former Ryan aide Tony Bennett from Virginia. Despite a hiccup in 2018, Gard shows two Sweet 16 runs and finishes of second, third and fourth in the Big Ten.

Matt Painter, who played for Gene Keady, was the "coach in waiting" during Keady's final Purdue campaign in 2004-05. That collaboration has carried through 39 seasons, the Boilermakers boosting Painter when he dallied with Missouri. Illinois has won once (in OT) in West Lafayette since the 37-2 season of 2005.

Hoosier hysteria

The advantages of continuity (and success) are overwhelming. Happy fans are more willing contributors. Former players feel a greater attachment. Incoming players are drawn and know what to expect. The three aforementioned programs are annual stalwarts on the national stage and in Top 25 polls.

Continuity, of course, is a reach that usually escapes the grasp.

No school has more rabid fans — nor is there a greater demand for success — than at Indiana. But the magical Bob Knight era ended in divisiveness and dismay, Mike Davis was a six-year disappointment despite a run to the national title game in 2002 and Kelvin Sampson left Tom Crean with teams that went 1-17, 4-14 and 3-15 in his first three Big Ten ventures.

Like most fans in a conference that stretches from Nebraska to Maryland, Hoosier followers watch Romeo Langford and Juwan Morgan depart with more concern than optimism.

Around the world

The foundation seemed set at Illinois when Chicago-Peoria stars poured in and "the '80s belonged to the Illini." And Illinois won five Big Ten titles in eight seasons through 2005, all these past successes having the common theme of mostly home-grown products on the floor.

The state has become (1) less productive and (2) an open-season hunting ground for everyone.

It is striking that, if Brad Underwood can wind up the recruiting season with the players he most desires, there will be only two Illinois products on scholarship in 2019-20: Ayo Dosunmu and Da'Monte Williams, son of 2001 Big Ten MVP Frank Williams.

Otherwise, we could see a junior-college transfer hailing from Italy (Tomas Woldetensae), a New Yorker from Chad in central Africa (Bernard Kouma), a fifth-year transfer from Texas (TJ Holyfield) and a 7-footer from Jamaica and Oak Hill Academy (Kofi Cockburn) joining a transfer from Tulane (Kipper Nichols), sophomores from Arizona and New York (Tevian Jones and Alan Griffin), a center from Rustavi, Georgia, and Vienna (Giorgi Bezhanishvili), a JC transfer hailing from the Dominican Republic (Andres Feliz) and a 2016 immigrant from Senegal (Samba Kane).

Half the scholarship roster could go to players from Italy, Africa twice, Jamaica, Europe and the Dominican Republic.

Makes you wonder what the Flyin' Illini — all from the state — would think. And it makes all of us wonder whether Underwood can turn these foreign languages and disparate parts into a well-oiled machine.

Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at ltate@news-gazette.com.