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October 4, 2008

Roundtable: Best young coach in America

Previous roundtables: Can UNC go undefeated? | Who was left out of Top 65?

At the College Basketball Roundtable each week, we ask each member of the coverage staff for their opinion about a topic in the sport.

THIS WEEK'S QUESTION: Who is the best young (40 or under) coach in America?

  • Xavier's Sean Miller is as good a coach as anyone under 40 - and is better than many top coaches who are older than that.

    Think back to the memorable Xavier-Ohio State matchup in the second round of the 2007 NCAA tournament. Xavier was one free throw away from knocking off a Buckeyes team with three first-round picks (Greg Oden, Michael Conley and Daequan Cook) that went on to reach the title game. The Musketeers had one top-100 prospect on their roster, 5-foot-7 point guard Drew Lavender.

    Xavier lost two four-year starters from that team, including leading scorer and rebounder Justin Doellman. The Musketeers responded in 2007-08 by winning 30 games and reaching the Elite Eight. They would have been near the top in any conference. They beat Auburn by 23 points, Kansas State (an NCAA tournament team) by 26 and Virginia by 38.

    Miller obviously knows his X's and O's. But it's his ability to recruit that sets him apart from the latest wave of great young coaches. Lavender was a transfer from Oklahoma. The Musketeers landed four-star guard Dante Jackson last year. Their latest class features three top-150 recruits, including Kenny Frease, a 6-11 center who was the No. 42 prospect in the nation. Frease turned down scholarships from Kentucky, Michigan State and Notre Dame, among others. And the Musketeers already have a commitment from a top-100 prospect in the 2009 class, Kevin Parrom.

    Miller turns 40 next month, so he won't be part of this discussion soon. But if Miller continues to recruit like he has, he should be discussed among the best coaches in the game at any age.

  • Andy Kennedy has been a head coach for three seasons. His teams have made the postseason and won at least 21 games in each of those seasons.

    Only slightly impressed? Fine, there's more. In 2006-07, his first season at the helm at Ole Miss, the Rebels were picked to finish last in the SEC West. They hadn't finished higher than third in the division in five seasons. They had a combined 13-35 record in conference play in the past three seasons. Kennedy promptly led them to a tie for first in the West.

    What did it get the Rebels? No respect. They again were picked to finish sixth in the SEC West last season. For an encore, they burst from the gate 13-0 and finished third in the West.

    Mind you this is at Ole Miss, not exactly a bastion of basketball tradition.

    So can he recruit? Let's take a look. He unearthed three-star point guard Chris Warren in the 2007 class: Think anybody else in the SEC wishes he had made a play for Warren after he averaged 15.8 points and 4.5 assists?

    This year's freshman class includes two members of the Rivals150, four-star power forward Terrance Henry (No. 65 overall) and three-star small forward Murphy Holloway (No. 133). If that weren't enough, the coaches are every bit as excited about another recruit, three-star shooting guard Terrico White, a 6-5 Memphis product.

    And recruiting already has picked up for the 2009 class. Kennedy has secured a commitment from another top Memphis player, four-star power forward Reginald Buckner. He's the No. 30 overall prospect in the class.

    This season, it's conceivable the Rebels will be picked atop the SEC West. Finally, some well-deserved respect for Kennedy and his budding program. They already have mine.

  • Most folks don't even know there is a Wright State, and some who have heard of the school don't know that it's in Dayton, Ohio. But if you want to watch some good basketball there, you don't need to go to a Dayton game. Instead, you can attend a Wright State game and watch Brad Brownell ply his trade.

    Brownell, who turns 40 in November, is heading into his third season at Wright State (the school is named for the Wright Brothers, who were Dayton natives). He took the Raiders to the NCAA tournament in 2007. Before that, he spent four seasons at UNC Wilmington and led the Seahawks to two NCAA appearances. He has won 44 games at Wright State after winning 83 at UNCW, and has had four 20-win seasons in his six seasons as a head coach.

    Brownell has been an assistant for Jim Crews (at Evansville) and Jerry Wainwright (at UNCW), and their philosophies are in line with how Wright State plays. There is nothing fancy about a Brownell-coached team. They're fundamentally sound, play aggressive, physical defense and hit their 3-pointers.

    UNCW never should have let him get away, but athletic director Mike Capaccio and Brownell had a falling out of sorts and Brownell bolted. UNCW's loss is Wright State's gain. The Raiders return six of their top eight scorers from last season, including the top two, and should again be a factor in the Horizon League race. Brownell is 3-2 against league standard-bearer Butler and 4-1 against Wisconsin-Green Bay, which likely will be the Horizon's preseason favorite this season.

    Give Brownell a few more seasons at Wright State and he'll take the Raiders to a few more NCAA tournaments. A bigger school will snatch him up, and everyone will know who he is then.

    Mississippi State NEWS


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