SEC basketball: Which coaches were the best players?
Those who can, do. Those who can’t, get coaching jobs and earn their money telling others.
Sure, that’s a slight rewrite of the old aphorism about experience and teaching, but in some cases, it holds true. The SEC coaching ranks hold 1 legitimate basketball legend, and … well, some less imposing resumes. A few coaches opted to star at lower levels of competition, while a few were role players at D-I schools. A couple of coaches didn’t even suit up in college basketball.
But all things considered, here’s our ranking of the 14 SEC hoops coaches … as players. Consider it Jerry and the Other 13.
14. Bruce Pearl
Pearl didn’t play high school basketball, much less college. He suffered a shoulder injury playing football that kept him from playing. Nowhere to go but up from here.
13. Buzz Williams
Williams didn’t play college basketball, either. He did play in high school, and one ESPN article called him “a decent player” and said he could have made the roster at some small schools, but he wasn’t interested.
12. Kermit Davis
Davis played for 2 seasons at Phillips County Community College in Arkansas, and the 5-11 guard then transferred to play at Mississippi State under his father, who had played there in the 1950s. The younger Davis didn’t make much impact as a player, playing 45 minutes in 2 seasons and scoring 12 points in 14 games in Starkville.
11. Rick Barnes
Barnes played at Division II Lenoir-Rhyne and didn’t make much of a mark as a player, despite lettering for 3 seasons. His name doesn’t appear in the school’s basketball record book, and 1 account noted that he never averaged more than 3 points per game.
10. John Calipari
Coach Cal played 2 seasons at Division II Clarion. He scored 202 points in those seasons, sustaining a double fractured cheekbone in his 1st. Cal had 143 assists in his 2nd season and could have returned for another, but he headed to Kansas to coach under Larry Brown, which was probably a wise move.
9. Lamont Paris
Paris played at Division III Wooster, where he became a steady contributor on teams with a combined 84-25 record. As a senior, Paris averaged 10.4 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game. Paris came off the bench and averaged 7.9 points per game as a junior.
8. Nate Oats
Oats was an all-conference player and scored 970 points in 4 seasons at D-III Maranatha Baptist, where he also began his coaching career. Nate’s father, Dr. Larry Oats, is now the Dean of Maranatha Baptist Seminary, which might help account for how he ended up playing there.
7. Eric Musselman
Muss played at San Diego, and in his senior season, his team made the NCAA Tournament, losing to Auburn in its 1st-round game. That said, the 5-7 Muss didn’t get much clock and scored just 1.2 points per game for that squad.
6. Chris Jans
Jans played at tiny Division III Loras College. But did he ever play! Jans scored 1,206 points and finished his career in style, averaging 28.3 points per game as a senior with 133 made treys. Both of those are school records, and nobody has come close to the trey mark — Loras’ 2nd-place holder, Jason Driscoll, made 97. Is it better to bomb D-III schools into submission or sit on the bench at a D-I school? Well, we gave Jans a boost for crushing his competition.
5. Matt McMahon
McMahon played 4 seasons at Appalachian State as a 6-1 guard. He scored 5.8 points per game at App State, playing under Buzz Peterson. McMahon was a 38 percent 3-point shooter who made 135 treys in his career. The Mountaineers reached the NCAA Tournament in McMahon’s senior year, and he finished his career with 3 points in a 1st-round loss to Ohio State.
4. Dennis Gates
Gates was a fairly highly regarded recruit out of Illinois, and he went west to Cal and saw his career never really take hold. A 2-time academic all-conference pick in 4 seasons at Cal, Gates finished with 432 points, and he averaged 5.6 points per game as a senior. Gates had 15 points in 3 NCAA Tournament games, including hitting a pair of 3-pointers in a win over Penn in his senior year.
3. Todd Golden
Golden played 4 seasons at St. Mary’s, and the 6-3 guard averaged 5.5 points per game in his career. St. Mary’s reached 2 NCAA Tournaments with Golden, and his 83.2 percent free-throw mark is still 1 of the best in the school’s history. Golden was a 3-year starter, and his best game may have been a near triple-double as a junior, when he had 15 points, 11 rebounds and 9 assists against San Francisco.
2. Mike White
Michael White, as he was then known, started for 4 seasons at Ole Miss in the late 1990s. If there was a knock on White, it’s that he basically was the same player as a senior that he was as a freshman. He averaged 5.1 points and 3.2 assists per game, and he finished with 370 assists and led the Rebels to 3 NCAA Tournament appearances. White finished with 7 points and 15 assists in 4 NCAA Tournament games, with 7 assists in the Rebels’ win over Villanova his senior year.
1. Jerry Stackhouse
This was the easiest ranking on the list. Stackhouse starred in 2 seasons at North Carolina under Dean Smith, averaging 19.2 points and 8.2 rebounds per game as a sophomore on a team that reached the Final Four. He went 3rd in the NBA Draft and scored 16,409 points over 18 seasons (16.9 points per game), making a pair of All-Star teams and delivering some filthy dunks.
When asked at Media Days if he was the best player of the SEC coaches’ roster, Stackhouse admitted that he was, and he singled out Oats as somebody who could give him trouble in a game of “HORSE.”