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Despite a strange path to SDSU, T.J. Otzelberger is primed to carry on the winning tradition

The first-time head coach is poised to make his mark at the helm of the Jackrabbits.

Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

When T.J. Otzelberger concluded his meeting at UW-Milwaukee on April 6, athletic director Amanda Braun told him that he would be the next head coach of their program and would be introduced at a press conference the following day. Otzelberger would bring his wife and kids to the presser and a new era in Milwaukee basketball would be set to begin.

But before Otzelberger could be formally introduced as the new coach, UWM Chancellor Mark Mone stepped in and overruled the decision. On April 7, former Michigan assistant Lavell Jordan was named the new Panthers head coach.

Most assistant coaches would be discouraged if their first head coaching gig was seemingly pulled from their grasp like Charlie Brown trying to kick a football. Not Otzelberger. He was considered one of the hottest coaching prospects on the market, and quickly secured a gig as the head coach at South Dakota State.

For the first time since 1995, the Jackrabbits will have a new face patrolling the sidelines, as Otzelberger replaces Scott Nagy, who left SDSU to be the new head coach at Wright State. Nagy leaves behind big shoes to fill, and has established a program that is a perennial contender in the Summit League.

Otzelberger seems to be more than up to the task, though. He served as an assistant coach at Iowa State under Greg McDermott, Fred Hoiberg, and Steve Prohm, and also had a short stint under Lorenzo Romar at Washington in between. His former bosses believe that this is a home run hire for the Jackrabbits.

Just ask McDermott, who contributed to the news release announcing Otzelberger's hiring, saying:

"T.J. has worked his entire career to prepare himself for this opportunity. His engaging personality will allow him to immediately connect with players, alumni and fans at SDSU. He is truly a rising superstar in the coaching profession."

In that same release, Romar added:

"T.J. is very well known for his ability to recruit but what South Dakota State is getting with him is much more than that, he's extremely well-rounded. From game management to running a staff and fundraising — everything a head coaching position entails — T.J. is very capable of. He's ready to take over that program and do a fantastic job."

Otzelberger is widely considered to be an elite recruiter, and was largely responsible for bringing Georges Niang, Korie Lucious, Craig Brackins, Melvin Ejim, and many others to Ames. He helped Iowa State become a hot destination for potential transfers, and was a key cog in the Cyclones' rise to national prominence.

Otzelberger will be expected to continue the success that the Jackrabbits have had in recent years. He inherits a team that made the NCAA tournament last year for the third time in five seasons. The Jackrabbits return star forward Mike Daum, guard Reed Tellinghuisen, and add graduate transfer A.J. Hess to the roster. And Otzelberger is also already up to his old ways, nabbing former Kansas State and Northern Illinois point guard Michael Orris.

There's always a learning curve to someone's first head coaching job. If Otzelberger is able to continue to be a force on the recruiting trail, especially on the transfer market, he will make sure the Jackrabbits are always near the top of the Summit League.