So the news of the day is clear…..Kent St football game or not, the buzz is on the hiring of Illinois assistant Tracy Webster as the third assistant for UK basketball. The hiring was the talk of our radio show and in somewhat of a surprise to me, the comments are mixed. As an initial matter, I have always believed that debates over assistant coaches are good fodder for message boards and offseason chatter but are ultimately somewhat meaningless. The effect that an assistant has on the product on the court is rarely substantial. There are of course exceptions…..Larry Shyatt played a huge role in Florida’s domination of the last two years and Kentucky defense under Tubby Smith had a lot to do with Mike Sutton and David Hobbs. But in general, the head coach is the man who produces the on-court product.
However assistants are crucial when it comes to recruiting. Look at the guys out there who you cant believe recruit as well as they do, and chances are they have a stud recruiter on staff. Recruiters can be good at being organized and knowing the recruiting landscape (Wojo and Collins at Duke are masters of this) or they can be great at relating to kids and making them feel comfortable. The latter of these two traits is very important as it is often an assistant that does most of the contact with a player and establishes the personal bond that pulls a kid to a school. Enter Tracy Webster. From everyone that follows recruiting in the state of Illinois, one thing is clear…..Webster is great with kids and parents. He is a good role model who has the ability to relate but still be taken seriously…..a tough combination.
Over the last couple of years, Illinois has struggled a bit with recruiting and thus some have suggested that saying Webster is a good recruiter is a bit premature. However, many kids who have ended up at other schools (think Eric Gordon) have said that their favorite thing about Illinois was Webster. In fact most Illinois fans believe Webster has been hindered by the inability of the head coaches to close the deal, not the other way around. And Webster has shown a lot of ability to help with big recruiting gets, such as the early commitment of a 2010 Top 5 player from the state. Throw in the fact that Webster was the primary contact with Darius Miller, a kid who was rumored to be leaning Illinois with Kentucky right there with them…..and all of a sudden you have an intelligent and crafty hiring.
In the long run, will this hire matter a great deal? Probably not. The success of Billy Clyde at Kentucky will ultimately be about him as he handles more of the day to day work of a coaching staff than the vast majority of coaches in America. But Webster could ultimately be the final piece needed to close on Miller and give another solid stake in the fertile Chicago recruiting world. If that is the case, then this is a very positive hire. However even if Webster does nothing that we see, the hiring will be of little importance. This staff is already recruiting rich with Billy Clyde, Cox and Cyprien and Webster will be just icing on the cake. What really matters is what will happen on the court……Webster will help get players here, but Billy Clyde will decide if they are successful. All current indicators point positively on this point, so UK fans should sit back, smile and enjoy yet another Billy Clyde coup……steal the assistant who is the recruiting contact for your biggest rival for your #1 recruiting target…..very smooth indeed.