NBA Execs Say These College Coaches Are Perfect for the Pros

Brad Stevens has become the poster boy for college coaches making a successful move from the college ranks to the NBA since leaving Butler for the Celtics. Former Florida coach Billy Donovan has made the NBA playoffs four consecutive seasons and even has Oklahoma City in position to return despite losing Russell Westbrook and Paul George. However, for every Brad and Billy there are at least two coaches who have failed to adequately make the move.

Whether it was Rick Pitino and John Calipari, Tim Floyd and Leonard Hamilton, or Fred Hoiberg and current Cavaliers coach John Beilein, life in the pros hasn’t exactly been kind to college coaches.

That inspired us to poll 25 NBA executives, including multiple general managers, for their list of the five college coaches that they’d currently want to hire in the Association.

Here are the results, including anonymous quotes from NBA executives.

1) Jay Wright, Villanova – 64 points (6 first-place votes)
“I’m not sure he leaves for anything except for the Sixers job, but obviously he’s proven he can really coach and develop young guys. Look at what he has done over the years with guys like Josh Hart, Ryan Arcidiacono, Jalen Brunson. He gets guys ready and that’s important.”

2) Tony Bennett, Virginia – 63 points (6)
“I know the big question is whether he can do it offensively, but he’s a bright guy. He’d figure it out, like he did when he won a national title with guys who could score. But he’s got no ego, played in the league and is obviously a terrific coach.”

3) Bill Self, Kansas – 48 points (6)
“I know there’s plenty of speculation that he’ll get the Spurs job when Pop (Gregg Popovich) retires, but I’m not sure about that. He’s not only an elite coach, but also one of those guys that would be able to connect with players. He’s got an ego, but you’d never know it.”

4) Matt Painter, Purdue – 41 points (2)
“I think his stuff will translate offensively and he’s a great communicator. Players would love playing for him.”

5) Kelvin Sampson, Houston – 28 points
“He’s a really good coach and he knows the league. Remember, he was with the Spurs, Bucks and Rockets. That would give him some credibility.”

6) Chris Holtmann, Ohio State – 17 points (2)
“I think he has some Brad Stevens in him, which makes sense since he and Brad both coached at Butler. Low-key and knows it’s not about him. Really underrated as an X’s and O’s guy.”

7) Chris Mack, Louisville – 16 points (2)
“He’s not an egomaniac and has a presence about him. We know he can make adjustments, and I think he’d be able to deal with the players in our league.”

8) Mark Few, Gonzaga – 12 points
“The guy always figures it out. I’m not sure he’d have any desire to do it, but he’s got the right demeanor with the players and can really coach.”

9) Juwan Howard, Michigan – 11 points (1)
“He played in the NBA for a long, long time so there’s immediate credibility. He’s been much better in college than I thought, but he’s a guy who has a terrific reputation in the league and now he has the head coaching experience that held him back from getting a head job in the NBA.”

10) Dana Altman, Oregon – 10 points
“He’s one of the best tacticians in college, and he’s so even-keeled that he can deal with just about anything. The question would be whether he could connect with NBA stars, but he’s been at this long enough to be able to figure it out.”

11) Tom Izzo, Michigan State – 9 points
“He’s smart and not analytic averse. He’s had opportunities, and would probably have to make the move soon because of his age. He’d have to adjust, and can’t coach the same way, but he’s smart enough to know that and figure it out.”

T12) Mike Krzyzewski, Duke – 8 points
“It depends on the team. If I was the Knicks, I wouldn’t hire him. But if I had a chance to win now, like the Lakers or someone like that, I’d do it. If he wins it all and retires the next day, so be it. I’m obviously not hiring him for the next 10 years at his age, but he’s coached the best in our game in the Olympics, so there’s a level of immediate respect that you don’t get with every other college coach.”

T12) Chris Beard, Texas Tech – 8 points
“He’s a different type of guy, but, man, can he coach his ass off. I’d have confidence that he’d be able to figure it out because his players seem to love playing for him.”

T12) Anthony Grant, Dayton – 8 points
“He worked for Billy Donovan in the NBA, so he knows the league and he just has a presence about him. I love what he does with his offense at Dayton. He’d be high on my list.”

15) Mike Hopkins, Washington – 7 points
“Just love his approach. I know he hasn’t proven it yet in college, and he’d be a risk for sure, but he’s young, energetic and players would love playing for him.”

T16) Mike Brey, Notre Dame – 6 points
“He’s lost some of his luster lately, but I still think he’d be good in the NBA. He gives guys freedom and would have no trouble building relationships with players. He’s a players’ coach.”

T16) John Calipari, Kentucky – 6 points
“People forget he made the playoffs in his second year in New Jersey. It would have to be the right team and franchise for him to leave Lexington, but I think he’d be much better this time around.”

T18) Rick Pitino, Panathinaikos – 4 points
“I know it didn’t work in Boston, but that was a long time ago, and he’s been humbled. The bottom line is the guy can coach, and part of the reason it didn’t work in Boston was his ego, and (the other) part was that he was also given control of personnel. But he’s probably the best coach in the world that isn’t coaching in the NBA.”

T18) Fred Hoiberg, Nebraska – 4 points
“He’s smart and just wasn’t given the right pieces in Chicago. I also think he’d learn from his first chance and be even better, but he’s a terrific offensive coach who is easy to play for.”

20) Lorenzo Romar, Pepperdine – 3 points
“He’s got the right mentality to deal with NBA guys, and he is a former player. The ultimate players’ coach, and I think it would work.”

MORE: Ranking the College Basketball Coach of the Year Candidates