It’s been said that you’re only as good as the assistant coaches you have around you.
Mike Young was sitting on cloud nine with Wofford’s outstanding success last season. The Terriers got ranked for the first time ever, finished with a 30-5 mark and became the first SoCon team to win an NCAA Tournament game since Stephen Curry’s Davidson club in 2008.
On top of all that, five SoCon championships in 10 years was enough to grab the interest of Virginia Tech, which hired Young after Buzz Williams left for Texas A&m. It had been a long time coming for one of college basketball’s good guys and one of the more astute teachers of the game.
Young wasn’t alone in his journey to Blacksburg, however, as he brought some Wofford ties with him. Assistant Kevin Giltner, a former Terriers guard, had a tough decision to make: join Young in Blacksburg or interview for the opening at his alma mater. He ended up joining Young up in Blacksburg.
One unique thing about Young, is that at three of his former assistants have gone on to head coaching jobs. Here’s more on how that tree has spread throughout college basketball.
Jay McAuley has seen success at every stop in his coaching career
With Young gone, that left assistant Jay McAuley to interview for the opening, along with an outside-the-box candidate, in Ed Conroy and former player Tim Johnson. On April 8 McAuley was named Wofford’s mext head coach.
Through 10 games, he’s led Wofford to a 6-4 record, including a second win in three seasons over a ranked North Carolina squad, as McAuley’s Terriers downed the 17th-ranked Tar Heels, 68-64, at Carmichael Auditorium last time out. It was Wofford’s second-ever win over ranked opponent.
McAuley has seen it from both perspectives—as an assistant under Young in 2017 and as a head coach two years later—and he was part of history, winning in both the Dean Dome and Carmichael Auditorium. Not many coaches on the planet can say that.
In 2013, McAuley left Wofford to go to Furman to become an assistant under former Furman head coach Niko Medved. He would stay there until 2017, returning to Wofford as an assistant in 2017 and was a big part of Wofford’s remarkable run of perfection through the SoCon last season.
McAuley was also a significant part of Furman’s turnaround story, helping develop standout big man Matt Rafferty and helping Furman to the 2016-17 Southern Conference regular-season crown.
Dustin Kerns doing his thing at App State
It’s funny how things work sometimes. The reason McAuley was able to return to Wofford as an assistant and where he eventually would become head coach was because another Mike Young assistant—Dustin Kerns—left to take his first head coaching job at Presbyterian in the spring of 2017.
Kerns helped get the Blue Hose program get out of the doldrums of the Big South Conference. At Presbyterian, Kerns was responsible for helping the Blue Hose experience their first success as a Division I member.
In his second season at the helm, Kerns helped the Blue Hose accomplish a slew of firsts: not only their first winning season, but also their first 20-win season, and two postseason wins in the CIT.
Following that success, the former Young assistant was highly sought after. Appalachian State was where Kerns ended up landing.
Kerns has already improved how Appalachian State defends, and the toughness and grit which the Mountaineers play with—two hallmarks of Young-coached teams.
After Saturday’s 81-59 win over Howard, Appalachian State has now held nine of its last 10 opponents to 62 points or less. The Mountaineers are now 6-4 and have one game remaining against non-conference competition, taking on NC State on Dec. 29. The Mountaineers open Sun Belt play Thursday night at pre-season league favorite South Alabama.
Kerns’ job at Appalachian State is a small snapshot of a rather impressive sample size of up-and-coming coaches from the Young tree.
Kerns spent two different stints as an assistant coach in Spartanburg as an assistant from 2004-07 as and was the associate head coach at Wofford from 2013-17. He was responsible for securing the record-breaking career of Fletcher Magee at Wofford, as he was his primary recruiter.
Tim Johnson’s journey to Furman
You aren’t ever going to replace a big man like Rafferty and what he meant to Furman basketball overnight.
This time last season, Furman was far from the mind of first-year Paladin assistant Tim Johnson. He was busy plying his trade and establishing himself as an assistant at James Madison. Rafferty was busy putting up a record-breaking season for the Paladins.
Then came this past Spring, and the dominoes would begin to fall. The biggest of those dominoes was Young leaving for Virginia Tech.
Johnson played a significant role on the first two Wofford SoCon championship teams as a player, and as a coach, for developing big men like Cameron Jackson into a player that would end up being just as important to that incredible run last season.
When McAuley was hired as head coach at Wofford to replace Young, it was easier to set the dominoes falling in order to see Johnson eventually end up at Furman.
That’s because McAuley hired as one of his assistants Dwight Perry, who coached with McAuley at Furman from 2013-17, and had remained on staff for a couple of years after McAuley to left to re-join Young’s Terriers as an assistant.
Meanwhile, Johnson was an assistant at James Madison at the time, where he was responsible for bringing in some high-profile recruits like guards Stuckey Moseley, Matt Lewis, DeShon Parker and Darius Banks. Johnson spent two seasons as an assistant on staff at James Madison before ending up at Furman.
With Perry leaving, Furman head coach Bob Richey was familiar with Johnson and his acumen as a coach. He was brought in, interviewed, and even worked out Furman’s bigs as a part of the interview process.
After working out the Furman big men, they were all in on bringing Johnson in, and according to coach Richey in a podcast this past spring, one particular player said that it was the hardest, but most informative workout he had ever had as a big man.
Johnson, of course, was eventually brought on staff. The improvement of Furman big men this season has been noticeable. Clay Mounce, Noah Gurley and Jalen Slawson have all seen better numbers and percentages this season.
While Furman lost a player like Rafferty, they certainly gained a coach in Johnson that can collectively develop Furman’s big men it returned, and in the long run, that element makes the Paladins a threat to win the Southern Conference this season.
We couldn’t wrap up this Johnson segment of the article without showing you this from Johnson during his days as a player at Wofford.
Mark Prosser’s second season in Cullowhee is off to a fast start
Another Southern Conference school which sees an indirect influence from Young is Western Carolina, which has proven to be one of the most improved teams in all of mid-major hoops.
After winning just seven games a year ago, Prosser has the Catamounts completely going in a different direction in his second year as a head coach. In fact, the Catamounts have already matched those seven wins this season.
Prosser is also a disciple of Young’s, coaching on the Wofford staff from 2008-11, which was the same teams that Johnson played on in 2010 and ‘11.
Like Kerns and McAuley, Prosser also served different stints on Young’s staff, first serving as an assistant on the Wofford staff during the 2002-03 season before moving on to Pat Flannery’s Bucknell squad the very next season. During his second stint at Wofford from 2008-11, Prosser was largely responsible for helping develop one of the top big men of the modern era in the SoCon: Noah Dahlman.
One area in which Prosser seems to be most like Young is his that he has a tremendous eye for coaching talent, assembling one of the best young staffs in the league and throughout mid-major basketball.
Associate head coach Monty Sanders, former Catamount guard Brigham Waginer, and assistant Tony Rack are a trio of assistant coaches that could all one day head up programs of their own.
With these coaches and others, Wofford’s way can be traceable throughout the landscape of mid-major basketball. It was Young who mentored these young coaches to go out and get their own start to their respective coaching careers, all of which have seen similar success so far.
As Young watches from Blacksburg, you can only imagine he smiles when his former pupils do good things, especially like knock off ACC powers.