Shortly after the invention of basketball in 1891, the college version of the game became an integral part of American sports. At its highest level, college basketball has produced transformative and innovative male and female coaches. Here are eight that had a significant impact on the game.
1. Tex Winter, five colleges (1951-1983)
ACHIEVEMENT/INNOVATION: Triangle Offense | Hall of Fame Induction: 2011
Although Winter is best known for his accomplishments as an NBA assistant, he spent 30 years as a college head coach, with stints at Marquette (1951-53), Kansas State (1953- 68), Washington (1968-71), Northwestern (1973-1978) and Cal State Long Beach (1979-1983). While at Kansas State, Winter won eight Big Eight titles and made two Final Four appearances.
The Triangle offense, developed by Winter in the 1950s, emphasized team play and effective movement rather than individual play. In the NBA, coach Phil Jackson implemented the offense with the Chicago Bulls (and later, Los Angeles) as a way to keep defenses from focusing on Michael Jordan and keep Jordan’s teammates involved during the first parts of a match.
Although the offense’s rigid principles often frustrated Jordan (and later Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles), it helped the Bulls win six NBA titles in the 1990s and the Lakers win three in the 2000s. .
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2. John Wooden, UCLA (1948-1975)
ACHIEVEMENT/INNOVATION: Pyramid of Success | Basketball Hall of Fame Induction: Player (1960) | Coach: 1973
Wooden, known as “The Wizard of Westwood”, was the most accomplished men’s college basketball coach of all time. He led UCLA to a record 10 championships – seven in a row from 1967 to 1973.
Despite his immense success, Wooden was not a results-based coach, rarely using the word “winning” around his players and instead emphasizing the process of continuous improvement. He created his own definition of success, which was on his pyramid of success: “[It] is the peace of mind that results directly from the self-satisfaction of knowing that you have done your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.
The pyramid – 25 characteristics and traits that he believed offered a roadmap to lasting success – was a refined educational tool by Wooden for decades. Sports and economic leaders have used the Pyramid since its creation.
3. Dean Smith, North Carolina (1961-1997)
ACHIEVEMENT/INNOVATION: Aanalytical approach | Basketball Hall of Fame Induction: 1983
Smith, North Carolina’s head coach for 36 years, was one of the game’s most forward-thinking thinkers and statistical minds. He used advanced analytics as early as the 1960s, when his coaches team were scoring points per possession.
“All signs point to him being the father of basketball analysis,” longtime NBA executive Daryl Morey said at New York Times in 2015. In the modern game, advanced analytics are so entrenched that NBA teams have departments dedicated to them.
Smith, who led North Carolina to 11 Final Four and NCAA championship appearances in 1982 and 1993, was also known for his holistic, player-focused approach to building a program. He fought for desegregation, treated players and managers equally and graduated over 96% of his players.
4. Mike Krzyzewski, Duke (since 1980)
ACHIEVEMENT/INNOVATION: Adaptability to recruitment | Basketball Hall of Fame Induction: 2001
In more than four decades at Duke, Krzyzewski has won more than 1,100 games, grown his program to 12 Final Fours and won five national titles. His ability to accept change stands out, especially in recruitment.
In 1983, he launched Duke’s revival by signing Mark Alarie, Jay Bilas and two-time All-American Johnny Dawkins. This trio played in a national championship game and opened the door to more recruiting success.
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In 1991, Coach K won his first national title with a roster that included stars Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley and Grant Hill. The team repeated as champions the following season. In 2001 and 2010, Duke won titles with rosters full of future NBA players who stayed in college for multiple years.
Then, in the 2010s, the NBA’s “one-and-done” rule (which prohibits prospects from entering the NBA draft until they’re one year out of high school) had a significant impact on the college game. In 2015, Krzyzewski’s Blue Devils won the national title with one-time stars Tyus Jones, Justise Winslow and Jahlil Okafor.
5. John Calipari, Kentucky (2009-present)
ACHIEVEMENT/INNOVATION: Adopted the “one-and-done” rule | Basketball Hall of Fame Induction: 2015
In 2009, Calipari — which had Final Four runs with Massachusetts (1996) and Memphis (2008) — relaunched a floundering program in Kentucky with aggressive recruiting. He coached outstanding freshmen before sending them to the NBA next season.
“My comment to a lot of those kids was, ‘If you want to do what’s right for you and your family, you put your name in the draft. If you want to do what’s right for me and my family, why not stay a few more years? “, he told the Official Pittsburgh Postal Journal. “It’s not my rule. It was an NBA rule… Here’s what it comes down to: what about these kids?
Since taking over at Kentucky, 43 of his players have been drafted by the NBA, 31 as freshmen. In 2010, John Wall (#1 overall) and DeMarcus Cousins (#5) were among five Kentucky freshmen drafted in the first round by NBA teams.
6. John Thompson, Georgetown (1972-1999)
SUCCESS: Father figure and role model | Basketball Hall of Fame Induction: 1999
Thompson, who in 1984 became the first black coach to win an NCAA men’s basketball title, was more than a great coach. He was a leader, father figure and champion for African American players at a time when many in the NCAA and elsewhere in society treated them unfairly.
In 1989, after the NCAA implemented Proposition 42, a measure barring academically ineligible freshmen from receiving scholarships, Thompson walked off the field in protest during a game. Proposition 42 disproportionately affected minority students.
While many were ready to quit star guard Allen Iverson after his role in a bowling alley brawl before his senior year in high school, Thompson stood by his rookie. (Iverson’s sentence was overturned.) During his induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame, Iverson thanked Thompson for “saving his life.”
7. Geno Auriemma, Connecticut (since 1985)
ACHIEVEMENT: enduring supremacy | Basketball Hall of Fame Induction: 2006
Like Wooden, Auriemma ruled the sport, winning a record 11 women’s national titles, including four in a row from 2012 to 2016. During that period of dominance, the winningest female coach in Division history I had six unbeaten seasons and six unbeaten seasons.
Auriemma’s dynasty was the product of excellent coaching and superior recruiting. From 2014 to 2017, the Huskies won an NCAA record 111 straight games, 108 by 10 or more points. In the 2013 national title game, the Huskies defeated Louisville, 93-60, the largest margin of victory in championship game history.
Since 1995, Connecticut has had Associated Press Player of the Year 12 times: Rebecca Lobo (1995), Jennifer Rizzotti (1996), Kara Wolters (1997), Sue Bird (2002), Diana Taurasi (2003), Maya Moore (2009 and 2011), Tina Charles (2010), Stewart (2014, 2015 and 2016) and Paige Bueckers (2021).
8. Pat Summitt, Tennessee (1974-2012)
ACHIEVEMENT: Advancement of the women’s game | Basketball Hall of Fame Induction: 2000
Summit, who won 1,098 games and eight national titles at Tennessee, brought legendary intensity and passion to the game. Early in her career, when the sport received far less support than the men’s program, she washed the uniforms and drives the team van to away games.
In 1976, Summitt testified in court on behalf of Victoria Cape, a high school player who sued the Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association over its archaic rules to limit contact in games. At the time, unlike men’s basketball, Tennessee allowed three players from each team to be on one side of the court.
“His legacy…is much more measured by the generations of young women and men who admired Pat’s intense competitiveness and character, and as a result found in themselves the confidence to train hard, play harder and live bravely on and off the court,” President Obama said after Summitt’s death in 2016.
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