Three-Point Play: Coaches, Atiki Ally Atiki, Big East
The coaching carousel has picked up on the assistant coaching side. Today, we look at new assistant coach hires, gives an introduction to senior big man Atiki Ally Atiki and looks at the continued ascension of the new Big East.
Wednesday's Mailbag: Is it SEC for Brandon Huntley-Hatfield?
1. ASSISTANT COACHING TALK
The coaching carousel was relatively quiet this spring and summer due to the pandemic, but that was put aside in recent weeks thanks to a flurry of activity with assistant coaching hires. What should Indiana, Kentucky, Texas and UConn fans expect from these newest staff members?
Indiana: Archie Miller didn't have to look far to replace Bruiser Flint, who left for a spot on the Kentucky staff. Former UConn assistant Kenya Hunter coached Miller during his travel ball days and was an assistant for Miller's older brother, Sean, at Xavier. Hunter is a tremendous pick-up for the Hoosiers and he should hit the ground running thanks to knowing what his head coach expects from his staff and personnel.
He is a tremendous recruiter that has done great work along the East Coast as is just as effective as a coach on the court. Hunter brings a different background than the other two Indiana assistant coaches and it feels like this is his final stop as an assistant before he lands his own head coaching gig.
Kentucky: Kenny Payne started this assistant coaching carousel of sorts when he left for a spot with the New York Knicks. Thanks to Payne's large salary, John Calipari was able to make two hires to fill that role. Bruiser Flint, who spent time on Calipari’s staff at UMass, brings a wealth of experience and an understanding of a head coach's responsibilities, which should allow for him lighten Calipari’s workload.
Former Texas assistant Jai Lucas will take an administrative gig with the Wildcats and, while he will be missed along the recruiting trail, it won’t be long before he is back on it. Lucas is one of the top up-and-coming names in the sport and has deep ties to the state of Texas.
Texas: The loss of Lucas is a major blow, especially since the Longhorns were catching up with Oklahoma as the potential favorite for Diamion Collins. Lucas was Collins' primary recruiter for the Longhorns, which is why Kentucky might now have a chance with the elite shot blocker.
Shaka Smart's hire of KT Turner is definitely a win for UT. Rumor has it that Turner originally turned down the gig in Austin before Smart circled back around and landed a commitment from his new assistant coach. Turner has a great rapport with the powers that be in the Lone Star State and is responsible for the Longhorns' inclusion as a finalist for Bryce Hopkins.
UConn: Hunter didn’t leave Dan Hurley empty-handed thanks to his successful recruitment of Jordan Hawkins and Javonte Brown-Ferguson over the past 12 months. While the shoes that he leaves at UConn will be difficult to fill, Kevin Freeman is among the few that should be up for the task. Freeman returns to his alma mater after proving that he can get the job done at the high-major level during his time at Penn State. A Huskies’ favorite that helped lead the program to a national title in 1999, Freeman completes a coaching staff that is among the best in the Big East.
2. INTRO TO ATIKI
The pandemic, and its affect on the travel season, has made it difficult for programs to find and evaluate new options along the recruiting trail. As a result, programs are already looking at different ways to fill out their rosters for the coming years.
The international landscape is one avenue that is being heavily explored, and that should remain the case over the coming years with more and more overseas talent looking to compete in college instead of playing professionally in Europe.
This brings us to Atiki Ally Atiki.
The 2021 prospect has narrowed his college decision to BYU, Oklahoma and San Diego State. Born in Tanzania, Atiki moved to Canada in 2018 and is now finishing up his studies at London Basketball Academy.
Were he playing in the United States, Atiki would be rated as a solid three-star prospect and under consideration for inclusion in the Rivals150. He is not the most polished prospect, but Atiki possesses traits that cannot be taught. Atiki is more than intriguing thanks to his 6-foot-10 standing and humongous wingspan.
Atiki runs the floor from rim-to-rim with a purpose, resorts to a patented hook over his left shoulder and can finish with touch and toughness in the paint. Most valued for his defensive abilities, Atiki is a tremendous shot blocker that hits the glass with a vengeance.
He will need more time to sharpen various portions of his game once he hits a college program next year, but Atiki might be one of the better late-bloomers in the 2021 class.
3. BIG EAST UPRISING
Members of the Big East have put in a lot of work already with the 2021 class, and that is reflected by the Rivals.com Team Recruiting Rankings where four of the conference's programs boast a top-16 class.
Villanova boasts the second-ranked class nationally behind only Florida State and the Wildcats could actually make the leap to the top of the rankings if Trevor Keels picks Jay Wright's program. Regardless, the Wildcats remain the face of the league and that should remain the case for next several years thanks to a class that will likely go down as one of Wright’s best.
Not only should UConn compete for a top-three finish in the Big East this season, but the Huskies should also be in contention to be among conference's best over the next five years. The Huskies have a tremendous weapon in James Bouknight but, even if he leaves for the NBA in the spring, an entirely retooled backcourt featuring Rahsool Diggins and Jordan Hawkins should be enough to uphold the new and improved culture in Storrs. The Huskies are rolling.
DePaul sits with three Rivals150 commitments that should all make a quick impact on the Blue Devils' program. Charlie Moore’s graduation and the potential two-and-done campaign of Romeo Weems could sting Dave Leitao’s squad but David Jones, Ahamad Bynum and Keon Edwards will soften that blow. Optimism is warranted for Blue Demon fans, who haven't seen a winning Big East record since 2007.
Fans of the Seton Hall program haven’t become entirely accustomed to seeing their program ranked highly in recruiting rankings but are used to watching top-25 squads in the national polls. They may get both thanks to a solid three-person class that should do well under Kevin Willard’s watch.
Butler, Georgetown, Marquette and Xavier have also left their marks already which goes to show that the new Big East, if we can even call it that anymore, will be here to stay as one of the best leagues year in and year out.