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.
Brian Ayers, Belmont | The Clarksville, Tenn. native was the captain at Lipscomb for two seasons and graduated in 1993. He was an assistant at Austin Peay, spent two years on staff at Vanderbilt and has been on staff at Belmont for the past 22 seasons — including the last nine as the associate head coach.
“Brian touches all the bases a head coach would want. High basketball IQ, does a terrific job on scouting reports of opposing teams, really detailed and extremely loyal to Belmont and the basketball program. He really cares about the players and they know it. He’s an extremely good recruiter, very good at identifying the kind of player Belmont has been successful with. Brian is a really good teacher, excellent with post players. You rarely have to even give him a task as he is usually a step ahead, but is totally dependable to do anything and do it right. He deserves the opportunity to be a D-1 head coach — he is more than ready.” – Former Belmont coach Rick Byrd
“Belmont through and through. Has his handprint on the program as an assistant as much as Casey Alexander did as an assistant under Coach Byrd. Classy guy, who I would expect to be the next head coach there if and when Alexander gets a high-major job. Brian has the ability to recruit and develop all-conference post players, including Evan Bradds and Nick Muszynski. He is also very involved in scouting and bench coaching.” – OVC assistant
Shane Nichols, Murray State | Nichols was a three-year starter at Wofford, graduated in 2008 and played one season overseas in Israel. He was an assistant at Radford High for one season and then was an assistant at his alma mater from 2010-12. He was also an assistant at Niagara (2012-13) and Hofstra (2013-15) before joining Matt McMahon’s staff at Murray State in 2015.
“Shane Nichols is an elite basketball coach. He does a great job of establishing trust and accountability with our players. He is a relentless recruiter with a wise basketball mind. Shane has been instrumental in the player development of our guards like Ja Morant, Jonathan Stark and Tevin Brown. He has played a critical role in building our program at Murray State.” – Murray State coach Matt McMahon
“Shane Nichols has helped Murray State to at least a share of the OVC regular season championship in each of the last three seasons. They have also qualified for two of the last three NCAA Tournaments. Shane was very instrumental in the development of Ja Morant and seems to be the lead guy on all the really good players they have signed. He does a great job evaluating talent and scouting opponents.” – OVC assistant
Tim Kaine, Murray State | The Oak Ridge, Tenn. native graduated from Winthrop in 2002 and began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Austin Peay in 2002-03. He had stops at Guilford College (2003-04), Newberry College (2004-07), Winthrop (2007-08), FAU (2008-14) and Georgia Southern (2014-15) before arriving at Murray State in 2015.
“Tim Kaine is the total package as a basketball coach. He is organized and hard-working, a strong recruiter and an excellent teacher of the game. His scouting and game preparation are off the charts and he has done a terrific job with the development of our post players. Tim has been an integral part of our success at Murray State.” – Murray State coach Matt McMahon
“He’s a guy who can really do a lot of different things. He is a proven recruiter, but can also coach and develop guys.” – OVC assistant
Chase Richardson, Jacksonville State | The Elizabethtown, Ky. native graduated from Western Kentucky in 2011. He was a volunteer assistant at WKU in 2011-12, video coordinator the next season and director of basketball operations from 2013-15. He then spent the 2015-16 campaign as an assistant coach at Troy before joining Ray Harper at JSU in 2016.
“Chase is a grinder who provides great value in every aspect of our program. He is a very dedicated and detailed recruiter and a great relationship builder. He really knows the game and will be a very successful head coach in the near future.” – Jacksonville State coach Ray Harper
“Chase Richardson has helped Jacksonville State go from the bottom of the OVC to one of the top programs. Chase helped take JSU’s recruiting to a new level through junior college and Division I transfers. He’s also very detailed from a scouting standpoint, and JSU beat Belmont an astounding five straight times from 2017-2019.” – OVC Assistant
Jonathan Mattox, Morehead State* | He started his collegiate playing career at Anderson (S.C.) and finished at Emmanuel, graduating in 2011. Mattox was a graduate manager at Morehead from 2013-15 and then director of operations in 2015-16. He was elevated to assistant coach during the 2016-17 season.
“Jonathan is the total package. He is not only a relentless recruiter, who knows the landscape and works hard to build meaningful relationships, but he sells our vision consistently. He’s a great basketball mind and uses his calm demeanor to communicate with players and the people on our campus.” – Morehead State coach Preston Spradlin
“He’s helped Morehead be able to be successful with the resources and location that Morehead is in. Has helped Morehead get to the OVC Tournament the last two years.” – OVC assistant
Tommy Wade, Jacksonville State* | The Hopkinsville, Ky. native graduated from Southeast Missouri State in 1992 and then played professionally overseas for four seasons. Wade has been an assistant at Oklahoma City, Kentucky Wesleyan, Missouri State, Murray State, South Alabama and St. Catherine College. He also worked as the director of student-athlete development at Saint Louis and the director of player development at Oklahoma State before re-joining Ray Harper’s side at Jacksonville State in 2016.
“Tommy has been by my side for 15 years. He’s a guy with amazing energy and infectious personality. He is very loyal and an elite recruiter who refuses to be outworked in recruiting. He has overcome many obstacles but continues to bring that positive energy and outlook each day.” – Jacksonville State coach Ray Harper
“He’s been around for a long time and he’s one of those guys that just still knows how to grind and knows how to coach.” – OVC assistant
Jerry Nichols, Tennessee State* | Nichols starred at Westwood High in Memphis and then at Walters State Community College before finishing at Arkansas State, where he graduated in 2006. He was an assistant at Walters State in 2006-07 and then went to Union College (Ky.) from 2007-09. Nichols was the head coach at Motlow State from 2009-13, then spent five seasons as the head coach at Southwest Tennessee Community College (2013-18) before joining Penny Collins at TSU in 2018.
“Former Juco head coach, relentless worker, great basketball mind, top-notch recruiter. Will not be with me long.” – Tennessee State coach Penny Collins
“His impact was seen on that Tennessee State team this year. He is a guy who can both coach and also recruit.” – OVC assistant
*Three-way tie for fifth place.