While there are 358 Division I college basketball programs, most of the national attention focuses on a select group of coaches, many of whom are known by one name only - or sometimes even a single letter. K, Calipari, Pitino, Bennett, Few and Wright have earned their place among the best to call a play through years of sustained competitive excellence.
But there’s always another generation coming. As time rolls on, new opportunities become available for the next wave of sharp coaches. And while some of these coaches may not have had their signature moment just yet don’t be surprised when you hear more about them the next time the coaching carousel starts spinning. This dandy dozen has what it takes to lead any program.
Kenny Blakeney, Howard - He played for two of the best to ever coach the game - Morgan Wooten at DeMatha Catholic and Mike Krzyzewski at Duke. In three seasons at Howard, he has signed high-level recruits, scheduled high-profile games and developed a high-octane offense expected to make the Bison a consistent contender in the MEAC.
Jeff Boals, Ohio - Anyone who watched or competed against his Stony Brook teams is not surprised to see Ohio near the top of the MAC standings under Boals’ leadership. This season’s 13-2 squad avoids turnovers, takes quality shots and battles under the boards. In six seasons as a head coach, Boals’ teams are 44-32 in conference games.
Austin Claunch, Nicholls State - The Colonels are enjoying unprecedented sustained success with Claunch at the helm, reaching the Southland title game last season and poised to contend for March Madness again. He was the nation’s youngest coach from 2018-21 and spent three years working for respected tactician Brad Brownell at Clemson.
Dana Ford, Missouri State - After an outstanding four-year run elevating Tennessee State from the dregs of the Ohio Valley, the 37-year-old Ford is restoring Missouri State to prominence in the MVC, creating one of the nation’s most exciting offenses this season. He and his wife, Christina, also started the Rebound Foundation, to assist victims of domestic violence.
Dennis Gates, Cleveland State - The Vikings were in dismal condition when Gates took over prior to the 2019-20 season and now they’re a squad no Horizon League opponent takes lightly. He led Cleveland State to the NCAA tournament in 2021 and the program is 23-5 in the conference the last two seasons.
Shaheen Holloway, Saint Peter's - The former sensational Seton Hall point guard is now a rising star in the coaching ranks, leading the Peacocks to a 27-15 MAAC mark over the last three seasons. After a long pro career in Europe, he developed his coaching skills under Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard and his Saint Peter’s teams are known for tenacious defense, ranking top 100 in efficiency the last three seasons.
Mike Magpayo, UC Riverside - Even as UC Riverside considered dropping out of Division I due to financial issues last season, Magpayo guided the program to its best season in 20 years - 14-8 overall and 8-4 in the Big West. The Highlanders have sustained the momentum this season with wins over Arizona State and UTEP and a 9-5 overall record.
Lamont Paris, Chattanooga - In his fifth season, Paris (picture above) has returned the Mocs to familiar territory atop the Southern Conference. The combination of excellent recruiting, player development and sharp in-game moves have the Mocs poised to not only make the 68-team NCAA field in March but to advance past the first round. Chattanooga is 52-35 over the last three seasons.
Ryan Ridder, UT Martin - A successful three-year run at Bethune-Cookman prepared Ridder to rebuild a UT Martin program that was dealing with the tragic death of former coach Anthony Stewart. Before his time at Bethune, the 37-year-old Ridder built the Daytona State College program into a winner.
Mike Schrage, Elon - Perhaps no coach in the nation has enjoyed better mentors. Coach K, Bobby Knight, Johnny Dawkins and Chris Holtmann were Schrage’s bosses before he took the helm at Elon prior to the 2019-20 season. He’s been magical in March, steering the Phoenix to a 5-2 record in the last two CAA tournaments.
Todd Simon, Southern Utah - Out in Big Sky country, Simon is well-respected for his tremendous effort building the Thunderbirds into a contender. Consider they were 3-15 in the conference during his first season (2016-17) and 12-2 last season, recording a 20-win season for the first time since 2003.
Danny Sprinkle, Montana State - It’s raining 3-pointers again in Bozeman as Sprinkle’s squad has raced to a 12-5 mark to land in the thick of the Big Sky race with a 4-2 conference mark. Sprinkle, in his third season, starred on the court for the Bobcats in the late 1990s and was a finalist in 2020 for the Joe B. Hall Award, given annually to the nation’s best first-year coach.