- Myron Medcalf, ESPN Staff Writer
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Let me start by saying this is not a definitive list. There are hundreds of talented assistant coaches around the country.
The following, however, is a list of coaches 40 years old and under who have put themselves in a position to earn a head-coaching job in the future.
Orlando Antigua (Kentucky): The former Pitt standout helped John Calipari sign another top-ranked recruiting class. He’s also assisted Calipari in developing the young prodigies who have come to Lexington. After Kentucky won the national title in April, Antigua was a candidate for multiple jobs, including Duquesne. It’s just a matter of time before he’s leading his own show. He turns 40 next year.
Travis Steele (Xavier): Xavier has produced some of the top coaches in the country (Skip Prosser, Sean Miller, Thad Matta, John Groce). Current coach Chris Mack says assistant Steele, 27, is next in line. The Butler graduate has been on Mack’s staff for the past three seasons. Mack says Steele, who has helped develop and recruit the players who have led Xavier to four Sweet 16 appearances in five seasons, is “3-4 years” away from a head-coaching gig.
Tim Fuller (Missouri): When opposing coaches say you’re on the rise, that means something. Fuller has amassed a solid reputation in coaching circles. After just a season with the Tigers, Frank Haith promoted Fuller to associate head coach. Fuller, who played at Wake Forest from 1997-2000, is just 34. But his stock is rising fast.
Steve Wojciechowski (Duke): The 35-year-old might be Coach K’s heir after a lengthy stint as one of his top assistants. He started out as an assistant in 1999 but was promoted to associate head coach in 2008. “Wojo” was known for slapping the floor on defense during his playing career and he’s equally passionate on the sidelines for the Blue Devils, who have won two national titles during his tenure.
Adrian Autry (Syracuse): The former Orange standout joined the staff prior to last season. And during a tumultuous year that included the firing of Bernie Fine over sexual abuse allegations and the dismissal of Fab Melo, the 39-year-old helped the program remain focused. He’s a reputable recruiter with strong ties to the D.C. area, connections that helped the Orange lock up the No. 15 recruiting class in 2012, according to ESPN.com.
Mike Rhoades (VCU): In a short span, Rhoades has gone from a Division III assistant at Randolph-Macon (Ashland, Va.) to a top assistant under Shaka Smart. VCU has been defined by its gritty defense, better-than-they’re-ranked prospects and passion. Rhoades has helped the Rams embrace every tenet of Smart’s philosophy, one that helped VCU reach the Final Four last season. “He’s great,” Smart says.
Jeff Boals (Ohio State): The former Ohio forward joined Matta’s staff in 2009. The Buckeyes have enjoyed success in all areas during his time with the program. He’s helped Matta develop top players such as Jared Sullinger and Evan Turner. And he’s an energetic and effective recruiter. Boals, 39, won’t be an assistant for long.
Kevin Ollie (UConn): The program went south last season. But the year that preceded it ended with a national title. And Ollie was credited with equipping Kemba Walker & Co. for that run with his coaching on and off the floor. Ollie might take over the Huskies' program if Jim Calhoun retires. But even if he doesn’t, he’ll be an attractive candidate for multiple openings in the near future.
Matthew Graves (Butler): Last year, Brad Stevens promoted Graves, who’s in his late 30s, to an associate head-coaching position, a credit to his role in the program’s success. You don’t reach back-to-back national title games as a mid-major program by accident. Stevens and his staff put the program on the national map. With a move to the Atlantic 10, the Bulldogs will attain even more national exposure. And Graves, who’s been vital to the program’s efforts in recent years, will end up on a multitude of lists once jobs open up again after next season.
James Whitford (Arizona): Sean Miller’s longtime assistant was pursued by Miami (Ohio) in the offseason but decided to stay in Tucson, where he helped the Wildcats sign one of the top recruiting classes in the country. The Wildcats struggled during the 2011-12 campaign. But with Mark Lyons and some talented recruits headed to Arizona, the Wildcats could win the Pac-12 next season. It’s easy to see why Whitford, 40, stayed put.