Dribble Handoff: Dan Hurley, Nate Oats among college basketball coaches in line to make jump to NBA

Written by on June 14, 2024

UConn coach Dan Hurley’s flirtation with the Los Angeles Lakers is over, putting an end to a dramatic saga that threatened to wrestle a college basketball coaching giant away to the NBA. Not since Larry Brown left Kansas for the San Antonio Spurs job in 1988 has the coach of the reigning national champions left for an NBA gig.

But plenty of other college basketball coaches have been lured to the NBA since then. The most recent was John Beilein, who made it less than a year with the Cleveland Cavaliers following a great run at Michigan. Others, such as Brad Stevens, have done it and enjoyed success.

However, recent history shows the transition from college basketball to the NBA is not easy. Take Billy Donovan for example. He won back-to-back national championships at Florida in 2006 and 2007. But in nine years as an NBA coach, he’s gone deeper than the first round of the playoffs just once. And Donovan’s NBA stint has actually been more successful than the professional attempts made by colleagues such as Beilein and Fred Hoiberg.

Despite the mixed track record of the college-to-NBA coaching pipeline, there will inevitably be others who catch the attention of professional franchises in the years ahead.

Who is most likely to make the jump to the NBA from the college ranks in the years ahead? Our writers gave their answers for this week’s Dribble Handoff.

Dan Hurley, UConn

I’ll start this list with the reason this list even exists and submit Hurley as an obvious candidate to someday leave college basketball for the NBA. He passed on the opportunity this time, sure. But I remain skeptical that he’ll remain tied to college basketball forever — or even much longer.

When Hurley announced his decision to reject the Lakers and stay at UConn, some interpreted that as him picking college basketball over the NBA. I don’t think that’s an accurate way to frame things, though. In reality, all Hurley did was pick his current situation at UConn (i.e., a chance to win a third straight national championship with a team that’s currently listed as a co-favorite to win the 2025 NCAA Tournament) over the situation he would’ve been taking over in Los Angeles (i.e., a team that just finished seventh in the Western Conference with a best player who will turn 40 later this year). Like I wrote Monday, I completely understand Hurley’s decision, mostly because I imagine it would be difficult to forgo a historic opportunity at a place that you love to move your family 3,000 miles across the country for a big bag of uncertainty.

But the circumstances will be different going forward.

Presumably, Hurley won’t always be coming off back-to-back national titles with a chance to join John Wooden as the only person to ever win three straight in this sport. And the next NBA franchise that pursues Hurley will likely A) make more sense geographically for his family of Northeasterners, B) have a much younger best player, and C) put much more guaranteed money on the table than the reported $70 million the Lakers just offered over a span of six years. In other words, all things considered, it was probably pretty easy for Hurley to reject the Lakers once all of the so-called cards were on the so-called table. But the next time he’s pursued by an NBA franchise, the pull to the pros could be stronger. — Gary Parrish

Tommy Lloyd, Arizona

The 49-year-old Lloyd waited nearly two decades to become a head coach, patiently helping build Gonzaga into a giant under Mark Few. After three seasons in the desert, Lloyd is 88-20 at Arizona, giving him one of the winningest starts to a career in men’s D-I history. The Wildcats have been a No. 1 or 2 seed in all three seasons and set up to be Top 25-good yet again in Year 4 under the affable Lloyd. 

But that’s only part of why he’s my pick. 

Lloyd just coached USA Basketball to a U18 championship over the weekend. He’s becoming a key cog in the USA Basketball machine. Beyond Lloyd’s early success and his general temperament matching the NBA mold, the fact he’s already working in the USA Basketball pipeline (with increased access and relationship-building to people at the pro level) could set him up for the NBA to call before the end of the decade if the winning continues and Lloyd is able to get Arizona to a Final Four. (Which I think he will, eventually.) Hurley rightfully got a lot of credit for his offense at UConn, but Lloyd is similarly smart and inventive on that end at Arizona. 

He coaches a style that can translate to the highest level, and don’t forget: Lloyd has long-established his ability to recruit and coach up foreign-born players (won’t that be a key selling point with a pro franchise as the NBA gets more international by the year). I’d be surprised if he doesn’t seriously flirt with the NBA before his time at Arizona is up, whether that be two years from now or sometime in the 2030s. — Matt Norlander

Eric Musselman, USC

Musselman is the only one on the list who you don’t have to imagine coaching in the NBA. He’s done it before. Prior to stops at Arizona State, LSU, Nevada, Arkansas and now USC, Musselman coached both the Kings and the Warriors for brief stints, and also had assistant gigs with the Magic, Hawks and Grizzlies.

Neither head coaching stop Muss had in the NBA was wildly successful, to be clear, but he was fired after one season. The jury might still be out on his acumen as an NBA coach.

For as good as Musselman has been as a college coach, he’s been something of a nomad for hire, with USC now his fourth school in the last decade. Such is life in college coaching, but perhaps more stability in the NBA — where he would do less recruiting, less haggling over NIL, and less leg work constructing rosters — might do him well at some point if he helps turn USC around in a hurry. 

Some of his best teams over the years ran up-tempo, NBA-spaced offenses and in general he has done well adapting his system based on personnel. If he can flip the Trojans from middle-of-the-pack Pac-12 program to a consistent force in the Big Ten, he might once again become a hot name worth monitoring given his lengthy track record as a proven winner at every stop. — Kyle Boone

Micah Shrewsberry, Notre Dame

There are few college basketball coaches with better reputations in the world of Xs and Os than Shrewsberry. If you’re willing to look deeper than what his 50-51 record through three seasons as a college coach shows, it’s obvious he’s got NBA head coaching potential. For starters, he worked under Brad Stevens as a Celtics assistant from 2013 to 2019, meaning he was part of five consecutive playoff runs and knows firsthand what it takes at that level. Since then, he’s worked as an assistant for Matt Painter at Purdue, for two seasons as Penn State‘s head coach and for a year as Notre Dame’s head coach.

Shrewsberry devised a creative system to maximize Penn State’s roster in the 2022-23 season and took the Nittany Lions to their first NCAA Tournament since 2011. It was a 3-point-oriented, five-out philosophy that showed his forward-thinking schematic creativity and a grasp on how to maximize matchup advantages. Then, at Notre Dame, he took over an 11-win program that was decimated by departures and molded it into a team that was playing its best basketball at season’s end. The Fighting Irish are well-positioned to make a run at the NCAA Tournament — or to at least show marked improvement — in 2024-25. 

Once he gets the Fighting Irish to the Big Dance, don’t be surprised to hear his name come up in NBA head coaching searches. His combination of strategic savvy and well-rounded experience are more than enough to get him a look at the next level. — David Cobb

Nate Oats, Alabama

While Oats has zero NBA coaching experience, he’s built Alabama into one of the elite offenses in college basketball, which could make him the ideal candidate to jump to the next level. Alabama finished with the top-scoring offense (90.1 ppg) this past season and reached the Final Four for the first time in program history. The year before that, the Crimson Tide earned the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and reached the second weekend before being eliminated by San Diego State

Oats’ player development has been positive, too. Brandon Miller (No. 2 overall) and Noah Clowney (No. 21) were first-round picks in the 2023 NBA Draft after productive seasons at the school under Oats’ watch. The one thing that could prevent Oats from jumping to the next level – or even another college job – is his hefty buyout, which is set at $18 million if he leaves in the next two years. With so much change happening in college basketball, Oats is positioning himself as one of the top coaches in the sport. It wouldn’t be surprising if NBA teams start taking notice. — Cameron Salerno

The post Dribble Handoff: Dan Hurley, Nate Oats among college basketball coaches in line to make jump to NBA first appeared on CBS Sports.


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