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Larry Brown To SMU: Assistants Are The Real Story

Brown is bringing in two of the top recruiters in the country, but how will they fit in with rumored coach in waiting Tim Jankovich?


While Larry Brown was an excellent hire for SMU, the ultimate success of the move will depend on the coaching staff he assembled, one of the best money could buy.

Brown brought two of the best recruiters in the country: Rod Strickland, a former NBA All-Star who has learned under John Calipari at Kentucky and can dominate recruiting in the area, and Illinois assistant Jerrance Howard, widely regarded as one of the top recruiters in the country. With Brown, Strickland and Howard in the fold, SMU is instantly in the running for every major recruit in the area.

SMU's immediate success will be determined by Brown and his assistants' ability to recruit, but long term stability will be essential to solidifying the program's standing as a legitimate basketball school. Which brings us to the reported coach-in-waiting, Illinois State's Tim Jankovich.

Jankovich worked under one of the top coaches in college basketball, Bill Self, at Illinois and Kansas. Given that tutelage, much of which can be traced back to Larry Brown, he would appear to have a solid coaching background.

However, he's never led a team to the NCAA tournament. He posted a sub-.500 winning percentage during his time at North Texas, but he's fared much better at Illinois State. During his time in Normal, Illinois, Jankovich has eclipsed the 20-win mark 4 out of his 5 years there and made the NIT in each of those 4 years.

And while he posted a middling record at UNT, he inherited a 5-22 squad that went 14-15 the next year and posted an even 9-9 conference record. So there's some evidence the man can coach. Where it gets interesting is what happens if he loses Howard and Strickland.

Without Howard and Strickland, the recruiting effort becomes an uphill battle. Jankovich has next to no name recognition with recruits or fans. He's never held a high profile job. While he may have the basketball brains to coach, his recruiting acumen is largely an unknown, especially in the context of an elite league setting -- is Tim Jankovich from SMU even getting his calls answered by top tier recruits?

In sum, SMU fans should be hoping Jankovich's sentimental attachment to a 21-14 team returning all its key players at Illinois State keeps him there. But it probably won't. SMU is a top job in waiting. It has a beautiful campus right in the heart of Dallas. The program is now armed with two top tier recruiters and a coaching legend to learn under. This is the best opportunity that will come along in the near future.

All of this, of course, hinges on whether Strickland and Howard are committed to the succession plan at SMU. If they are, it's a whole different situation. If they stick around, Jankovich will have the opportunity to build his and the school's name. But I doubt Howard or Strickland are ready to sign on to the Tim Jankovich Mustangs. While I'm willing to trust his coaching, I'm not even close to there on his recruiting.

Though the immediate future looks bright on the Hilltop, mediocrity may well await beyond the Brown years should the coach-in-waiting arrangement with Tim Jankovich end up working out. It's not the set-up that's the problem, though. It's the man pegged to take the reigns.

Photographs by jamesbrandon, jdtornow, phlezk, flygraphix, mcdlttx, tomasland, and literalbarrage used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.