Exit: Billy Donlon
Courtside seating now available. [Marc-Gregor Campredon]
Northwestern made the hiring of Michigan assistant coach Billy Donlon official on Tuesday, pulling M's defensive guru away from the program after one season in which his impact became increasingly apparent. While the relatively late timing of Donlon's exit is unfortunate, a product of the domino effect caused by Thad Matta's firing at Ohio State, this all went down on the up-and-up.
MLive's Brendan Quinn reports Northwestern coach Chris Collins contacted John Beilein for permission to speak to Donlon and things progressed quickly from that point. There were simply too many connections for Donlon to turn down the gig. Collins and Donlon have been close since high school; their high school coach, who's now—you guessed it—an assistant at Northwestern, says they're like brothers. Then there's the family aspect:
As for Donlon, back home in Chicago, he plans to share a house with his father. The two lived together in Dayton when Donlon coached at Wright State and Billy Donlon Sr. served as his directory of basketball operations. The two leaned on each other. Billy Donlon's ex-wife and daughter live in North Carolina, while Maryann Donlon -- Billy Sr.'s wife and Billy Jr.'s mother -- died in September 2010 after a nine-year battle with cancer. A father-son relationship, along with basketball, has seen the two through some hard times.
Some things are bigger than basketball, or work, or both. Donlon told Quinn he wouldn't have left for any other program. Under these circumstances, it's easy to see why.
[Hit THE JUMP for replacement candidates and more.]
Two former Wolverines are among the replacement candidates.
Putting together a list of potential assistant coaches for John Beilein is a difficult endeavor. While there are no shortage of branches on his coaching tree, he hasn't had any issue picking a coach he hasn't worked with before—LaVall Jordan, Bacari Alexander, Saddi Washington, and Donlon all fall under that category, and none of those assistants had direct ties to the university, either.
With two spots open and little time to fill them before the July evaluation period, however, we may see at least one more obvious candidate come aboard. Quinn has an excellent, exhaustive list of both the potential top candidates and dark horses, and Dylan had a thread going on UMHoops if you're a subscriber. Here's a quick rundown of the candidates to make both lists:
Chris Hunter. This would be a smooth transition. Hunter briefly filled in on the recruiting trail last year when Jordan and Alexander departed. He's been the program's Director of Player Personnel since 2014. He played for Michigan and grew up in Indiana. From a program familiarity and recruiting perspective, he's a strong candidate.
CJ Lee. Lee, who played point guard for Beilein at Michigan, is in the same vein as Hunter, and is perhaps an even better fit because of his experience running the system (Hunter's playing days predated Beilein). Lee, who's been as assistant coach at Marist since 2014, was Hunter's predecessor as Director of Player Personnel, and he's been behind the bench in some capacity since 2010.
Darris Nichols. A more established coach, Nichols came up last year during the assistant coach search. A point guard for Beilein's last three West Virginia teams, Nichols has spent the last two seasons as an assistant at Florida. As Quinn points out, he has an enticing combination of youth and experience; despite being only 32—the same age as Hunter and a year older than Lee—he already has six seasons of D-I coaching experience, including two at a power program.
Patrick Beilein. The nepotism hire, but not really: John's son looks eminently qualified for the position. He spent two years as a grad assistant at Michigan under his father, then worked his way up the ladder to his current position as the head coach at D-II Le Moyne, where he inherited a 16-13 team that lost three starters (including their leading scorer), went 10-17 in his first year, then 22-7 last season to earn an NCAA Tournament bid and conference coach of the year honors. The leap to D-I should be enough to offset going from a head coach to assistant role, especially when Michigan fires the money cannon.
My preference from that group is probably Nichols, then perhaps bringing in a left-field candidate who's either a big man or defense guy (or both). Beilein has nailed his recent assistant hires—he has to keep replacing these guys for a reason—so I won't be too concerned about the impact of the recent departures until I see who's replacing them.
DJ Wilson, who will wear #5 for the Milwaukee Bucks, is both dapper and clairvoyant, if his introductory press conference is any indication:
D.J. Wilson dipped into Prince's closet for his intro press conference, apparently. He's always been his own dude. pic.twitter.com/UVkWZQiHk5
— Brendan F. Quinn (@BFQuinn) June 26, 2017
For those enraptured by D.J. Wilson's suit, he said he got it about 3 weeks before the draft. Had no idea it would work out so perfectly.
— Matt Velazquez (@Matt_Velazquez) June 26, 2017
While I was hoping to see Wilson debut a suit with short shorts in the green room, he passed up that opportunity to spend the draft in a quieter setting with his family. This is a great read from the Sacramento Bee:
Wilson was selected 17th overall in the NBA draft by the Milwaukee Bucks. He was invited to attend draft festivities at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, but elected to surround himself with family and friends – 17 total – at the Sheraton.
“D.J. definitely plays it cool, and he’s very humble,” Jones said. “ESPN wanted to be at the hotel, and we wanted The Bee there, but he wanted to just to be low key, and he wanted to be in a room by himself (with his mother, grandmother and godfather) when the selection happened, and we respected that.”
But as soon as Wilson emerged after fielding a call from Bucks coach Jason Kidd, he was engulfed.
“We went bonkers when his name was called, and then everyone was crying, and he was all smiles, ear-to-ear,” Jones said.
The Bucks posted all-access video of them making the selection if you'd like to experience it for yourself.
Quick Crootin' Notes
If you haven't poked around the message board, there are strong rumblings coming from the crew at The Michigan Insider that 2018 four-star East Lansing PF Brandon Johns will announce his decision at any moment, and it looks like it's going to be good news for the Wolverines. Johns would be a heck of a pickup both from a talent and head-to-head win perspective.
UPDATE: Johns will announce his decision tomorrow at 1 pm Eastern.
This could get some dominoes falling. A source close to four-star OH SF Pete Nance, who's down to Michigan and Northwestern with the Wolverines as the presumed favorite, told UMHoops's Andrew Kahn that a decision should come shortly after Nance's July 1st official to Ann Arbor. Nance officially visited Northwestern on Monday.