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Travis Ford and Saint Louis Billikens Set Sights On The Most Fertile of Recruiting Grounds

The first year Saint Louis coach aimed high by hiring assistants with ties to New York and Chicago.

NCAA Basketball: Oklahoma State at Iowa State Reese Strickland-USA TODAY Sports

Many just-fired power five coaches don’t have to wait long for that next head coaching offer and things were no different for Travis Ford. After spending eight years at Oklahoma State, he found himself a great landing spot at Saint Louis.

The Billikens aren’t a perennial mid-major power, but Ford has every chance to win there. While the A-10 isn’t the Big 12, it’s a league that routinely sends teams deep into the tournament and provides multiple chances for resume building wins throughout the year. It’s also a conference he knows - at least somewhat - after leading UMass from 2006-2008.

The program itself is just a few years removed from a string of three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances. Yet it’s also a program in need of a talent infusion after falling to 11-21 in both of the last two seasons under Jim Crewes. The way he’s filled out his staff shows where he hopes to find that talent, and he’s certainly aiming high.

Having a recruiting presence on the East Coast is an obvious box Ford checked by hiring Van Macon off of the staff at Rutgers. Macon spent six years with the Scarlet Knights, and was at Hofstra the nine years before that. Ford will hope this instantly connects his program with that part of the country.

In fact, here’s what Ford told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in April:

"He has exceptional recruiting ties in the East from New York City to Florida, which includes the A-10 footprint.”

Ford also honed in on the A-10 footprint by poaching Will Bailey off of John Giannini’s staff at La Salle. Bailey has a reputation for working well with guards, which doubles down on one of Ford’s traditional strengths.

During his time in Oklahoma State, Ford’s teams generally revolved around good back court play, with teams led by Byron Eaton, Keiton Page, Marcus Smart, Markel Brown and Phil Forte.

But Bailey’s greatest asset may be his ties to the fertile recruiting ground a few hundred miles north of St. Louis.

The opportunity to get back closer to home really excites me most, and the ability to recruit from Chicago—that’s where, really, most of my contacts are from,” Bailey told the The University News in April.

The Billikens had some recent success with Chicago area players Dwayne Evans and Mike McCall, who were two key pieces of tournament teams in the Rick Majerus/Jim Crewes era. Bailey will try to keep that pipeline open.

Ford’s final addition was an obvious one, at least in principle. He hired Corey Tate off Kim Anderson’s staff at Missouri, likely because of Tate’s connections to St. Louis high schools and the St. Louis Eagles AAU program, which he coached before spending one year with the Tigers.

This was important ground to cover even for a head coach that played briefly at Missouri and has coached in the Midwest for nearly ten years, but the impact may not be as immediate as it seems. As Rock M Nation’s Sam Snelling points out, Tate was not able to parlay his St. Louis connections into signings in his brief time at Missouri. Still, he’ll play a key recruiting role and should set up some interesting recruiting battles between Saint Louis and Missouri.

Ford is certainly not the only coach focusing recruiting on his own city, or basketball hotbeds like Chicago and New York. But the way he’s assembled his staff shows that he expects his program to be player at the national recruiting stage. And given the history for the Billikens, this isn’t an unreasonable expectation.