In this series, we’ll be giving props to some of the best assistants in college basketball.
For each conference, I polled at least 20 coaches (primarily assistants) and asked for them to name the top assistant coaches in their respective league. Is it a perfect way of determining the elite assistants? Maybe not, but it seems far more accurate than any other method.
I’ve also made sure to include some info on each coach that’s recognized — as well as quotes from both their boss and another assistant in the league.
David Velasquez, San Diego State | A former Aztecs manager (and eventual walk-on) from 2002-07, Velasquez graduated in 2007 and became a graduate assistant at Pacific. He then rejoined San Diego State as the director of player development and was elevated to an assistant coach nearly a decade ago.
“Loyalty is a quality all head coaches want in an assistant coach. Dave is entering his 19th season at San Diego State. His role in the program has grown from manager, walk-on, director of player development and now assistant coach. Dave oversees our nationally ranked defense. He is great at building and maintaining relationships.” – San Diego State coach Brian Dutcher
“He’s worked his way up. Dutch’s right-hand guy who has been a huge part of their success. Great defensive mind that has been a catalyst in their recent success. Dave has been a part of that program for 19 years and has learned from two really good coaches in both Dutch and Fish (Steve Fisher). He has made their defense one of the best in the country.” – Mountain West assistant
Mike Burns, Boise State | He started his coaching career at Highline (1992-95) and worked at his alma mater, Central Washington, from 1996-99 before assistant stints at Stephen F. Austin (1999-2000) and Eastern Washington (2000-03). He then became the head coach at Eastern Washington (2004-07). Burns was head coach at Spokane CC in 2007-08, an assistant at San Diego (2008-15) and at Pacific (2015-16) before joining Leon Rice at Boise in 2016.
“What makes Mike Burns a great assistant starts with his love for our players. His authentic connection to so many people makes him a great recruiter and terrific coach. The epitome of a servant leader. No job is too big or too small for Mike. You want something done, give it to Burney.” – Boise State coach Leon Rice
“I’ve always respected his basketball mind and ability to recruit. His ability with people is his biggest asset. Terrific recruiter. Great way about him on the sideline. Just a good dude.” – Mountain West assistant
DeMarlo Slocum, UNLV | The Las Vegas native played at Dixie State for two years before transferring to Georgia Southern. He was the head coach of the Las Vegas Prospects AAU team for five years, spent one season as an assistant at Dixie State, worked as the director of basketball operations at USC, served four years as an assistant at Colorado State, worked one season at Idaho and then became an assistant at Utah (2011-19) before joining T.J. Otzelberger’s staff in 2019.
“DeMarlo is a proven winner and prepared to be a successful head coach. He’s positively impacted our program with his on-court coaching, high basketball IQ and tremendous relationship-building skills. He’s elite in opponent scouting and implementing strategies. He’s worked for some high-level coaches and that is evident on a daily basis.” – UNLV coach T.J. Otzelberger
“Perfect fit because of Vegas ties. Total package as a person, coach and recruiter. Will be a great head coach. DeMarlo seems to have a great ability to strategize and has always been respected by his bosses to give input. Even though he’s only been at UNLV for one year, he’s one of the most well-respected assistant coaches in our league and on the West Coast. He can recruit, he coaches his players hard during games and is a tireless worker.” – Mountain West assistant
Chris Acker, San Diego State | The Los Angeles native played at Howard College before finishing at Chaminade University. Acker, who played professionally for four years, was an assistant at Citrus College before going to West Los Angeles College for two years as its head coach. Acker spent two years at Hawaii and two at Boise State before being hired at San Diego State.
“Chris Acker’s greatest quality is his intense desire to win. He is one of the best skill development coaches I’ve been associated with. I take great comfort that Chris has been a head coach at the junior college level. He has assisted in helping our offense to achieve national recognition. Chris has worked under great head coaches in Rick Croy, Eran Ganot and Leon Rice.” – San Diego State coach Brian Dutcher
“Even though Mike (Burns) ran the defense at Boise, Chris came to SDSU and really helped them offensively this past year. He is really well-known for his skill development, he’s very detailed and loves being on the floor working out guys. He’s a future head coach very soon.” – Mountain West assistant
JR Blount, Colorado State* | The Milwaukee native played at Loyola from 2005-09 and later spent one season playing professionally in the BBL. Blount was an assistant at Wisconsin-Stevens Point (2009-10) and Saint Leo (2011-14) before spending four years at Drake (2014-18). He would then follow Niko Medved to Colorado State.
“JR is the total package as a coach. He has great understanding — and is a great teacher — of the game. He is a tireless recruiter and cares deeply about all the young men he coaches. JR invests just as much time into all of these guys as people as he does as a player. He will make an outstanding head coach one day!” – Colorado State coach Niko Medved
“Very strong [recruiting] in the city of Chicago. Another young guy who will make a great head coach. JR does a great job with player development and recruiting.” – Mountain West assistant
Tim Buckley, UNLV* | Buckley played at Waubonsee Community College and then at Bemidji State. He began his coaching career at Bemidji before working his way up from assistant to head coach at Rockford from 1989-93. Buckley was an assistant at Wisconsin (1993-94), Ball State (1994-99) and Marquette (1999-2000), later returning to Ball State as head coach (2000-06). He was also an assistant at Iowa (2006-07), Marquette (2007-08) and Indiana (2008-17) before spending two seasons scouting with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He joined the UNLV staff in 2019.
“Tim is a professional in every sense of the word. He has proven to make every program better because of his intelligence, ability to connect and daily habits. He’s a tremendous coach, excels in player development and has a keen eye in evaluating talent. His work ethic is second to none and he has his imprint on every aspect of our program.” – UNLV coach T.J. Otzelberger
“He’s just one of those guys who does whatever the program needs. He works his ass off and can both recruit and also coach.” – Mountain West assistant
*Two-way tie for fifth place.