40 Under 40: We rank the best young coaches in college basketball

ByMyron Medcalf, Jeff Borzello and John Gasaway ESPN logo
Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Although the college basketball coaching landscape continues to be dominated by legendary and established names including Mike Krzyzewski (age 74), Jim Boeheim (76), Roy Williams (70) and others, the game also features an abundance of talented young coaches who've collectively made their marks in the early stages of their careers. At ESPN, we hope to recognize some of those rising stars of coaching's next generation with our "40 Under 40" list.

ESPN college basketball writers Myron Medcalf, Jeff Borzello and John Gasaway began this project with a long list of candidates culled from all 32 Division I conferences, before debating, revising and finalizing our list of the top 40 coaches and assistant coaches in college basketball who were under 40 years old as of April 30, 2020. The final list, which attempts to rank coaches according to both achievements and potential, features a diverse collection of elite young coaches who could secure some of the top jobs in the sport in the coming years.

1. Wes Miller, UNC Greensboro (age: 37)

Three years after playing on a North Carolina team that captured the 2005 national title, Miller started his coaching career as an assistant at Elon in his mid-20s, and the No. 1 coach on our list hasn't looked back. After accepting the head-coaching job at UNC Greensboro as a 27-year-old, Miller emerged as one of the top young coaches in college basketball. Since the start of the 2016-17 season, Miller has amassed 104 wins in a stretch that includes the program's first NCAA tournament appearance in 17 years (2018). -- Myron Medcalf

2. Travis Steele, Xavier (38)

At the tender age of 38, Steele already has two full seasons under his belt as head coach at a program that has launched everyone from Skip Prosser and Thad Matta to Sean Miller and Chris Mack. Who knows, the Musketeers might have made the tournament in 2020. Either way, the future's bright in Cincinnati. -- John Gasaway

3. Will Wade, LSU (37)

In terms of pure on-court coaching and recruiting abilities, Wade would be No. 1 on this list and it wouldn't be particularly close. He won 40 games in two seasons at Chattanooga, went to the NCAA tournament both seasons at VCU and then won the SEC regular-season title his second season at LSU. But there have been issues. He was heard on an FBI wiretap discussing the recruitment of a player and was suspended for a month as a result. -- Jeff Borzello

4. Mike Boynton, Oklahoma State (38)

Signing Cade Cunningham (his brother, Cannen, is an Oklahoma State assistant), the No. 2 prospect in the 2020 recruiting class per ESPN, has elevated Boynton's profile entering the 2020-21 season. Now the rising star who made stops at Furman, Coastal Carolina, Wofford, South Carolina and Stephen F. Austin before his stint at OSU has a chance to capitalize on that momentum and secure his first trip to the NCAA tournament. -- Myron Medcalf

5. Bob Richey, Furman (37)

Not that the Southern Conference is tough or anything, but Richey has a career record of 41-13 in the league and has yet to guide the Paladins to the NCAA tournament. How can that be? See No. 1 on this list, above, and keep in mind that Wofford was undefeated in the SoCon last season. One of these years, though, the Dins will be in. -- John Gasaway

6. Richard Pitino, Minnesota (37)

Being named a high-major head coach at 30 years old is an achievement in itself, which outweighs some of the struggles Pitino has had during his seven-year stint with the Golden Gophers. He has been to two NCAA tournaments, and he won 18 games his lone season at FIU. Got his first college coaching job at 22 years old. -- Jeff Borzello

7. Andy Toole, Robert Morris (39)

He's widely recognized as the young coach who led Robert Morris to a win over Kentucky during the opening round of the NIT in 2013, but he also has recorded seven winning seasons over 10 years at the school. He led his team to its second NEC tournament title in March and enhanced his standing as a candidate for bigger jobs. -- Myron Medcalf

8. Jordan Mincy, Florida assistant (33)

This whole staff in Gainesville is youthful. Fellow UF assistant Darris Nichols (see below) is 34, and head coach Mike White ("the old man") clocks in at 43. Mincy's name has come up in head-coaching searches after previous stops as an assistant at Louisiana Tech, Toledo, College of Charleston and his alma mater, Kent State. -- John Gasaway

9. Jon Scheyer, Duke assistant (32)

After winning a national championship with the Blue Devils, Scheyer played overseas for a couple of seasons and then went back to Durham to join Mike Krzyzewski's staff. He has developed as a recruiter and has played a key role in Duke's highly ranked recruiting classes. The next in line to reach head coach from the Krzyzewski coaching tree. -- Jeff Borzello

10. Luke Murray, Louisville assistant (35)

It's only a matter of time before Murray is the head coach of a high-major program after working with Sean Miller, Dan Hurley, Towson's Pat Skerry and now Chris Mack as one of the most impressive assistants on this list. He was instrumental in the assembly of Louisville's 2019 recruiting class, ranked 10th by ESPN. -- Myron Medcalf

11. Shantay Legans, Eastern Washington (38)

The reigning Big Sky coach of the year led his team to a breakthrough season in 2020, posting a 16-4 record in conference play and winning the regular-season title. Before taking the job with the Eagles in 2017, Legans served as an assistant in Cheney for eight years. -- John Gasaway

12. Brian Michaelson, Gonzaga assistant (38)

Has been in the Gonzaga family since 2000, when he joined the basketball team as a walk-on. He returned to Mark Few's program in 2008 and eventually became an assistant coach under Few in 2013. Michaelson has quietly been a key part of the Bulldogs' recruiting success over the past several seasons, and he led the charge for 2020 guard Jalen Suggs, Gonzaga's highest-ranked recruit ever. -- Jeff Borzello

13. Ulric Maligi, Texas Tech assistant (35)

The Howard University product has identified and recruited some of the most talented players in the state of Texas and beyond, as proved by successful tenures as an assistant with Texas A&M, SMU and Stephen F. Austin before joining Chris Beard's staff before last season. By all accounts, Maligi possesses the attributes and leadership qualities necessary to one day guide a Power 5 program. -- Myron Medcalf

14. Jamion Christian, George Washington (38)

Christian landed his first head-coaching job at the age of 29 at Mount St. Mary's, his alma mater. After a one-year stop at Siena, he took the helm at GW in March 2019. The Colonials are seeking their first NCAA bid since 2014. -- John Gasaway

15. Todd Golden, San Francisco (34)

Golden has been a head coach for just one season, but he guided the Dons to a 22-12 record and a 9-7 WCC record. He succeeded Kyle Smith, for whom he was an assistant coach at Columbia and at San Francisco. Also spent a couple of seasons at Auburn under Bruce Pearl. -- Jeff Borzello

16. Richie Riley, South Alabama (37)

He has finished .500 or better in back-to-back seasons, a feat previously achieved just once in the past decade at South Alabama, which was positioned to vie for a spot in the NCAA tournament as the No. 2 seed in the Sun Belt Conference tournament. The former Clemson assistant has recorded 20-win seasons with two Division I programs (Nicholls State, South Alabama) -- Myron Medcalf

17. Eran Ganot, Hawai'i (38)

Though he still qualifies for "under 40" lists, Ganot has been in charge in Honolulu since April 9, 2015. The Rainbow Warriors memorably knocked off a Cal team with one-and-done star Jaylen Brown in the 2016 round of 64. -- John Gasaway

18. Darris Nichols, Florida assistant (34)

Nichols has steadily worked his way up the Division I coaching ladder, starting at Northern Kentucky and Wofford and then joining Mike White's staff at Louisiana Tech before following him to Florida. Nichols has been effective on the recruiting trail, including being the lead recruiter for five-star wing Scottie Lewis in 2019. -- Jeff Borzello

19. Amir Abdur-Rahim, Kennesaw State (39)

He's clearly in the throes of a massive rebuilding project after a one-win season. But Abdur-Rahim, who played a key role in signing Anthony Edwards as an assistant under Tom Crean at Georgia, has contributed to multiple successful programs, and, over time, he should reboot Kennesaw State's program too. -- Myron Medcalf

20. Jeremy Ballard, Florida International (38)

Ballard made a splash at KenPom.com as a rookie head coach in 2019 when his Panthers led Division I in adjusted tempo. FIU is 39-27 overall under Ballard, who arrived in Miami via a one-year stint as associate head coach at VCU. -- John Gasaway

21. Jerrance Howard, Kansas assistant (39)

Howard has had a reputation as one of the nation's best recruiters dating back to his time at Illinois 2008-11. The Peoria native is well-connected in Chicago and the Midwest but also had success at SMU under Larry Brown. Bill Self, who coached Howard as a player at Illinois, hired him in 2013, and Howard has continued his recruiting prowess in Lawrence. -- Jeff Borzello

22. Matt Abdelmassih, Nebraska assistant (35)

As Fred Hoiberg turned Iowa State into an elite program that attracted some of the best players in the country, Abdelmassih was the pivotal orchestrator behind the scenes. That's why he's back with Hoiberg at Nebraska (after a stint at St. John's), where he has the facilities and potential to rapidly upgrade the talent pipeline to Lincoln. -- Myron Medcalf

23. Gerry McNamara, Syracuse assistant (36)

An assistant to Jim Boeheim since 2011, McNamara has been on staff for 213 wins and six trips to the NCAA tournament. Oldsters still talk about how his 19-of-40 3-point shooting over four close games led the Orange to the 2006 Big East tournament title. -- John Gasaway

24. Austin Claunch, Nicholls State (30)

One of the youngest guys on this list, Claunch also is the youngest Division I head coach. A native of Argentina, Claunch didn't get a full-time assistant coach job until 2016 under Richie Riley at Nicholls. When Riley left for South Alabama, Claunch was promoted. Last season, Claunch and Nicholls went 21-10 overall and 15-5 in the Southland, finishing tied for second in the league. -- Jeff Borzello

25. Joel Justus, Kentucky assistant (38)

When he first joined Kentucky's staff for the 2014-15 season, he was an analytics coach who put together detailed profiles of each player on the roster. Now, he's one of the nation's top assistant coaches and a rumored candidate for multiple jobs that could open in the coming year or two. -- Myron Medcalf

26. Kim English, Tennessee assistant (31)

Already in five seasons as an assistant, English has made stops at Tulsa, Colorado and, now, Tennessee. As a player, he scored 20 points to lead Missouri past Clemson in the 2010 round of 64, the last NCAA tournament win recorded by Mizzou. -- John Gasaway

27. Jay McAuley, Wofford (36)

McAuley had big shoes to fill when Mike Young left for Virginia Tech last spring and he was promoted to the top spot. McAuley had plenty of experience in the Southern Conference, spending eight seasons as an assistant at Wofford and Furman, and reached the conference title game in his first season in charge. -- Jeff Borzello

28. Matt McCall, UMass (38)

It's fair to wonder if McCall is too low, considering his role as director of operations and an assistant for Florida teams that won a national title and reached the Final Four, respectively, before his 29- and 19-win seasons as the head coach at Chattanooga. He hasn't found the same mojo at UMass, where he has finished under .500 in three consecutive years. -- Myron Medcalf

29. Christian Webster, Virginia Tech (29)

Webster was an assistant for three seasons to Buzz Williams in Blacksburg and then stayed put last season for the dawn of the Mike Young era. As a player in 2012, Webster was part of the first Harvard team to appear in the NCAA tournament in 66 years. -- John Gasaway

30. Joe Krabbenhoft, Wisconsin assistant (33)

A former Wisconsin forward, Krabbenhoft played professionally for a couple of seasons before returning to the Badgers as a video coordinator under Bo Ryan. He cut his teeth as an assistant coach at South Dakota State but was back in Madison under Greg Gard in 2016. Krabbenhoft is key in player development and is an active recruiter. -- Jeff Borzello

31. Ryan Ridder, Bethune-Cookman (35)

He has finished above .500 in two of three seasons at Bethune-Cookman. That's impressive for a coach who spends the first half of the season on the road in buy games against bigger programs and is rare in the MEAC. -- Myron Medcalf

32. Kyle Neptune, Villanova assistant (35)

Back in the aughts, Neptune scored almost 900 points over four seasons with Lehigh. Though his name has come up in connection with various head-coaching searches, he has stayed put on Jay Wright's staff for seven seasons. -- John Gasaway

33. Mike Morrell, UNC Asheville (37)

The Tennessee native worked his way up the coaching ranks, starting at then-NAIA King University in 2005. He eventually joined up in 2011 with Shaka Smart, whom Morrell knew from his time as a graduate assistant at Clemson. After following Smart to Texas and establishing himself as a high-level recruiter, Morrell got his first shot as a head coach at UNC Asheville. He oversaw an 11-game improvement from 2019 to 2020. -- Jeff Borzello

34. Ashley Howard, La Salle (39)

When you're endorsed by Chris Mack and Jay Wright, both of whom Howard has been an assistant under, you're probably doing something right. Howard won two national titles as an assistant at Villanova and continues to mold a La Salle program that finished 15-15 in his second season.-- Myron Medcalf

35. Dana Ford, Missouri State (35)

Ford just completed his second year as head coach of the Bears after a four-season run as the head man at Tennessee State. TSU improved from 5-25 the season before Ford arrived to 20-11 in just his second campaign. -- John Gasaway

36. Baker Dunleavy, Quinnipiac (37)

Dunleavy ticks a lot of boxes as a potential coaching star. He's the son of former NBA coach Mike Dunleavy Sr. and spent 11 seasons playing and coaching under Jay Wright at Villanova. Dunleavy hasn't quite broken through with the Bobcats just yet. He's 43-51 through three seasons in the MAAC. -- Jeff Borzello

37. Ali Farokhmanesh, Colorado State assistant (32)

He'll always be recognized for his miraculous shot in Northern Iowa's win over Kansas in the 2010 NCAA tournament. But he has matured into a solid assistant who contributed to Colorado State's 20-win season this year. -- Myron Medcalf

38. Jared Grasso, Bryant (turned 40 on May 11)

In 2020, the Bulldogs jumped about 100 spots in the KenPom rankings in Grasso's second season as head coach in Smithfield, Rhode Island. Before landing his first head-coaching gig, he served for eight years as an assistant at Iona. -- John Gasaway

39. John Andrzejek, Washington State assistant (27)

The youngest coach on this list, Andrzejek has been a Division I assistant coach for just two seasons, one at Dartmouth and one at Washington State. He's considered proficient in analytics and has experience recruiting high-academic players at Dartmouth and Johns Hopkins. -- Jeff Borzello

40. Bryan Mullins, Southern Illinois (33)

His profile and prospects were magnified when he served as the associate head coach under Porter Moser during Loyola Chicago's run to the Final Four in 2018. His first season as the head coach at Southern Illinois this season included a respectable 16-16 mark and a 10-8 record in Missouri Valley Conference play. -- Myron Medcalf

Just missed: Kevin Kruger (UNLV assistant); Chris Ogden (UT-Arlington); Chris Caputo (Miami assistant); Matt Lottich (Valparaiso); Greg Paulus, (Niagara); Adam Cohen (Stanford assistant); Bashir Mason (Wagner); Jamal Brunt (VCU assistant); Chester Frazier (Virginia Tech assistant), Bruce Shingler (South Carolina assistant), Jai Lucas (Texas assistant), Brandin Knight (Rutgers assistant), Grant Billmeier (Seton Hall assistant), Brian "Penny" Collins (Tennessee State); Drew Valentine (Loyola Chicago assistant)