Head coaching hires generate a lot of buzz every off-season; there are precious few things that alter a basketball program’s trajectory more than a head coaching hire so it makes a lot of sense that people focus on them. Buzz Williams going to Texas A&M, Fred Hoiberg going to Nebraska, Nate Oats going to Alabama are all very significant hires. For that matter, John Beilein leaving to go to the Cleveland Cavaliers is just as big a change as any. With that said, Texas made a pair of assistant coaching changes that should be about as big in aggregate as any of those head coaching hires. I don’t know if people quite grasp how big a deal it is that Texas managed to replace Darrin Horn and Daniel Roose with Luke Yaklich and Andrea Hudy, respectively; it is rare to have two highly-respected assistants leave and a program manage to upgrade at each spot, but Shaka Smart and the Texas Longhorns administration landed some very big fish in each position. Let’s discuss each of them.
When it comes to defensive minds in the college basketball game, there are two assistant coaches who are mentioned more than any other: Texas Tech assistant Mark Adams and now-Texas assistant Luke Yaklich. Last season their defenses ranked 1st & 2nd in defensive efficiency and they achieve stellar results in entirely different ways. (I discuss the Tech defense a bit in a later piece, but if you want a great comparison check out this Jordan Sperber breakdown.) John Beilein has long been considered one of the best offensive minds in college basketball, but his defenses have rarely been elite. In the four seasons prior to hiring Yaklich, his defensive efficiency was ranked 89th, 100th, 92nd, and 69th; in the two seasons Yaklich was on staff their defensive efficiency was 3rd & 2nd nationally. Any questions?
Coach Yaklich builds defenses that from a certain point of view are almost remarkably old-school. He doesn’t switch much, he doesn’t send help defenders until extremely late (if at all); it is in many ways a straight-up man defense. In a world where defenses get incredibly complex, his defense is less about intricate design and more about intricate execution. Yaklich isn’t trying to shut everything down, rather he’s trying to force the offense into a contested two followed by a defensive rebound. He has a concept called “killboxes”, which is shorthand for spots on the floor - like the two short corners - that are offensive dead ends. He’s trying to push the offense into these spots to help force a contested two-point shot that’s less likely to succeed.
Yaklich is less about the pace of a practice than he is about getting things exactly right; where most coaches try to cram in as many reps as possible given the NCAA time restrictions, Yaklich would rather stop the practice entirely to go into details about a player’s foot placement, defensive angle, etc. He’s a stickler, and this year’s defense should be about as disciplined as humanly possible as a result. Shaka Smart has said he’s letting Yaklich run the defensive side of the floor and the few reports I’ve heard privately are in line with this. The blend of Yaklich’s half-court defense with the Smart pressure defenses - they’ll still roll out the diamond press this year from time to time - will be fascinating to watch. As I mentioned in the previous article, I’m willing to roll with a head coach if the changes they make in response to a failure are logical. Last season, Texas’ defense faltered in the stretch run of conference play and it led to the Longhorns missing the NCAA Tournament. The coaching hire they made this off-season should address that failure. It isn’t the only coaching hire they made this offseason.
Daniel Roose left much later in the off-season than is typical. It certainly surprised me, usually that sort of move happens in April. Apparently he wanted to get back closer to home, and moving back to VCU accomplished that goal. It left Texas in the lurch a bit, and it’s reasonable to guess they weren’t exactly planning on this given Roose went on a podcast literally the week prior talking about how much he was looking forward to the next season in Austin. The response to this unforeseen event is that Texas went and hired maybe the most sought-after strength & conditioning coach in high-major D-I in Andrea Hudy. Coach Hudy has been the Kansas Jayhawks S&C coach for 15 years; prior to that she was the S&C coach at Connecticut. She was the S&C coach for Geno Auriemma and Jim Calhoun, so you could make the argument Bill Self is the worst coach she’s worked for in the past two decades. What a bum, that guy.
Andrea Hudy’s mark on the Texas program may not be felt a ton this season on account of how late she got to campus; S&C coaches make a lot of their impact in off-season workouts and Roose was the S&C coach for ⅔ of the off-season. What she can impact now is load management, fatigue levels, and integrating her preferred strength strategies as the year allows. Next April-September will be her time to really reset the program’s strength and conditioning goals. In the meantime, she is moving into what Shaka Smart described as a more ‘Olympic strength’ model, which probably means the players are doing a lot of squats, box jumps, deadlifts, snatch and jerks (boom phrasing), and similar. Perhaps she was able to get Texas to order some of the force plate technology she used at Kansas. Regardless, she is a major addition to the Texas staff; Kansas fans reacted like Texas just pulled Bill Self away from the school. Even now, every Instagram post she makes has at least one Kansas fan lamenting her defection. This was a big deal for both schools. I mean, not “Snoop Dogg brought stripper poles to Midnight Madness” levels of feigned outrage, Kansas fans were legitimately upset about this.
Pro Leagues Are Still Comin’
This is the third year I’ve written about the various pro leagues around the world coming for NCAA talent, and there are no signs this is abating any time soon. (I won’t relitigate every point I’ve made in previous years, you’re welcome to read the previous pieces if you’re so inclined.) If you want to understand what’s happening, RJ Hampton was a top-10 recruit in the 2020 cycle. He had offers from Kansas, Kentucky, Memphis, Duke, you name it and they were interested. Instead, he reclassified to 2019 and signed with an Australian pro league for one year under their ‘Next Stars’ program. Instead of playing “for free” at a D-I school, he gets paid six figures while training against high-level pros before entering the NBA Draft. He’s not the only one who took this route this season as LaMelo Ball (yes, of *that* Ball family) went to the NBL as well. Both of them are projected to go in the top five in 2020 mock drafts, both get paid a salary that would be in the top 20 percentile in the US, and they play against other pros so they get tested by fire. Terry Armstrong similarly decommitted from Arizona to head to the land of Crocodile Dundee and pro triathlete domination for a year. They aren’t the only ones choosing to avoid the D-I ranks for a year; MarJon Beauchamp had offers from Arizona, UCLA, and Washington among others, but he chose to skip the year of college and work with personal trainers to prep for the NBA Draft Combine. Kenyon Martin, Jr (we are all so old) is spending a year with IMG Academy instead of going to Vanderbilt. This is a thing, and it will continue to be a thing for the foreseeable future unless the NCAA drastically alters its stance on basketball players earning a living prior to going to the NBA. It will inevitably impact Texas recruiting at some point in the future, so keep an eye on this.