With Scott Drew off board, 6 Kentucky basketball coaching candidates for Cats to consider (2024)

Ryan BlackLouisville Courier Journal

LEXINGTON — With Baylor's Scott Drew deciding on Thursday to withdraw his name from consideration to become the next coach ofKentucky's men's basketball program, athletics director Mitch Barnhart will have to turn his attention elsewhere.

The Wildcats reportedly did just that later Thursday: They tried to pitch UConn's Dan Hurley on a move to Lexington. But that didn't work out, either. According to CBS Sports senior writer Matt Norlander, there is "0% chance" Hurley leaves the Huskies for the Wildcats.

"Said one source on Hurley to Kentucky: 'They could offer $20 million a year and he wouldn’t go,'" Norlander wrote.

Even striking out on Drew and Hurley, Kentucky won't lack for potential candidates. But who will wind up being John Calipari's successor with the former coach now plugging away in Arkansas?

Even with Drew out of the running, some things won't change.

Namely, the qualities Kentucky — and its passionate fan base — demand in its next leader.

UK supporters seek a coach who will reestablish the program's preeminence in March Madness as well as theSEC Tournament, whichit hasn't won since 2018. With the possibility theentire 2023-24 rostercould look to transfer following Calipari's departure to Arkansas, alongwith the incoming signeeswho now likely will ask for releases from their national letters of intent, the Wildcats' next coach will need to dive head first intothe NCAA transfer portaland lean on Name, Image and Likeness (NIL) deals to help rebuild the ranks.

The purse strings should be open for Barnhart, too, since UK does not owe Calipari any money after he left for another job of his own volition. PerUSA TODAY Sports’ coaching salary database, UK was scheduled to pay Calipari $8.5 million for the 2023-24 season.

With all those factors in mind, here's a look at potential candidates for Kentucky's vacancy broken into categories and listed in alphabetical order:

Home-run hire for Kentucky basketball

Billy Donovan (Chicago Bulls)

Kentucky made two previous attempts to hire Donovan — each of the last two times the job came open. The first was in 2007 (after Donovan, then Florida's coach, led the program to the second of back-to-backnational championships).Donovan turned down the opportunity.The second try came two years later, after Kentuckyfired Billy Gillispie. Donovan once moredecided to remain in Gainesville, Florida.

Now in the NBA, in his fourth season with the Chicago Bulls, Donovan has popped up on the Wildcats' radar again. Donovan told reporters Tuesdayhe hadn't been contacted by UK and that he's committed to the Bulls, who will compete in theNBA Play-In Tournament next week.

National college basketball reporter Seth Davis pointed out Thursday that Donovan could "definitively and unequivocally say that he will not coach at Kentucky next year.

"He has not said that."

As long as the UK job is vacant, Donovan will be linked to it.

Though he hasn't been in the college game since the 2014-15 season ended, Donovan was one of the most successful coaches in SEC history during his 19-year run at Florida. He's responsible for four (2000, 2006, 2007 and 2014) of the Gators' five Final Four appearances.

He's the only SEC coach, aside from Hall of Famer Adolph Rupp, with multiple national championships (Rupp had four at Kentucky). Donovan ranks second to Rupp in wins at an SEC school; Rupp had 876 at UK, while Donovan earned 467 at Florida. Donovan's 200 victories in SEC regular-season games are third most in the league's annals, trailing Rupp (397) andDale Brown(238 at LSU).

Donovan also combined for 10 league titles: six regular season (2000, 2001, 2007, 2011, 2013 and 2014) and four tournament (2005, 2006, 2007 and 2014).

Next-in-line hires for Kentucky basketball

Nate Oats(Alabama)

Oats recently signed a new contract at Alabama that pays him more than $6 million per year and runs through March 14, 2030. And if he were to leave for another school, his payout figure is significant: $18 million if he takes another job within the first two years of his new deal.

At other schools, that buyout might be prohibitive.

But with UK no longer on the hook for Calipari's sizable salary, the money shouldn't be a hurdle to hiring Oats.

It simply would be about his interest.

On Monday, with rumors connecting him to Kentucky, he released a statement on social media reaffirming his commitment to the Crimson Tide.

That came before Drew's decision Thursday, however. With Baylor's coach remaining in Waco, Texas, might Kentucky make another run at Oats?

It's easy to see why UK, and any other program in need of a coach, would want him.

Oats has turned Alabama into an SEC power in his five seasons. The Crimson Tide has two regular-season championships (2021 and 2023) and doubled up by winning the SEC Tournament those same two years. He's advanced to the Sweet 16 three straight seasons andreached this year's Final Four, whereAlabama fell to UConn in the national semifinalsSaturday. Oats boasts a winning percentage of 68.4% (117-54) with the Crimson Tide. Prior to taking over at Alabama, Oats hada stout four-season run at Buffalo, where he went 96-43 (.691) and led the program to the NCAA Tournament on three occasions.

Along withboasting a near-70% winning clip in nine seasons as a college coach, Oats has other qualities a program like Kentucky desires:

Oats' biggest red flag:his handling of a fatal shootinginvolving an Alabama player in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in 2023 in whichhe made remarks he later called "unfortunate."

Back-to-the-future hire for Kentucky basketball

Rick Pitino (St. John's)

The longer the Wildcats lack a coach, the more steam will build behind Pitino among the fan base. Pitino often has said his biggest career regret is leaving Kentucky for the Boston Celtics in 1997.

He recently wrapped up his first season as St. John's coach, going 20-13.

His credentials at Kentucky are nearly without peer, however.

He owns the second-highest winning percentage (81.4) in program history, with a 219-50 record in eight seasons from 1990-97. He won a national title in 1996. While the Wildcats were ineligible for the NCAA Tournament during his first two seasons, he piloted them to the Elite Eight, or better, five times in his final six seasons in Lexington. He led Kentucky to five SEC Tournament crowns in a six-year span.

Pitino returned to the college ranks in 2001, leading UK's in-state rival, Louisville for 16 seasons. Pitino went 416-143 (.744) with the Cardinals, winning a national championship (later vacated by the NCAA) in 2013.

Any hard feelings caused by his tenure at U of L likely would be forgiven instantaneously by UK fans if Pitino returned to take the reins of the Wildcats' program.

3 other Kentucky basketball coaching candidates to consider

Tommy Lloyd, Arizona head coach

After spending 22 seasons asMark Few's right-hand man atGonzaga, Lloydtook over as Arizona's coachin April 2021. He's been a rousing success so far,setting an NCAA recordfor most wins by a head coach in his first two (61)andthree seasons (88). Lloyd,who has won 81.5%(88-20) of his games in three seasons, boasts a pair of Pac-12 regular-season titles as well as two conference tournament championships.

T.J. Otzelberger(Iowa State)

Just because Otzelberger is the youngest coach on this list doesn't mean he hasn'tproven his chops. The season before the 46-year-old arrived at Iowa State, theCyclones went 2-22 and winless(0-18) in Big 12 play. In the three seasons since, Iowa State is 70-35, with three straight trips to the NCAA Tournament, which includes a pair of Sweet 16 appearances. The Cyclones also captured the conference tournament title this season. Overall, Otzelberger is 169-98 (.633) in eight seasons as a coach, as he spent three years atSouth Dakota State(2016-19) and two atUNLV(2019-21) before taking over Iowa State.

Brad Underwood(Illinois)

Underwood has won everywhere he's been.After three scintillating seasons atStephen F. Austin, where he compiled an 89-14 record, threeSouthland Conferencetitles and a pair of NCAA Tournament berths, he went 20-13 in his lone season atOklahoma Statein 2016-17 — a campaign that ended with another NCAA Tournament appearance. After assuming the reins atIllinoisprior to the 2017-18 season, Underwood had to rebuild the proud program. He suffered consecutive losing seasons, but in the five seasons since, he's 117-49 (.705) with four NCAA Tournament bids, two Big Ten Tournament championships and one conference regular-season title. And he'scoming off a run to the Elite Eight— the Illini's deepest run in the Big Dance sincereaching the national title game in 2005.

Reach Kentucky men’s basketball and football reporter Ryan Black at rblack@gannett.com and follow him on X at @RyanABlack.

With Scott Drew off board, 6 Kentucky basketball coaching candidates for Cats to consider (2024)


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17 more rows

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