Basketbullets: Assistant Coach Search, DJ and the Revolution, Commit Watch

Submitted by Ace on June 28th, 2017 at 1:04 PM

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.]

Who's Next?

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: 

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.



June 28th, 2017 at 2:56 PM ^

RCMB already has "Izzo cooled on Johns (after a 5 year courtship)" posts up, "not very athletic", "won't rebound like he needs to at MSU so Izzo doesn't want him", and noted UM soothsayer Johnny2x2x has Johns suddenly as not even in Michigan's top 5 players while MSU recruit from 2018 is "clearly #1" (despite his 5th rank in the state composite).  Great to see even in a sport they are good at, we are always in their heads.

Trader Jack

June 28th, 2017 at 3:06 PM ^

To be fair, many mgousers did the thing when Antjuan Simmons committed to MSU. I don't think the circumstances were the same for both cases and landing Johns seems like quite a coup for Beilein, but still. It's natural for opposing fans to say stuff like that when a recruit goes elsewhere (and many here are often guilty of the same thing).

Pepto Bismol

June 28th, 2017 at 4:27 PM ^

Michigan never gave 2 shits about Antjuan Simmons. 

Simmons left Michigan off his original top-10 list (or whatever) saying that UM made little effort to recruit him.  He committed to OSU.  Then he decommitted from Ohio State and still Michigan made no effort to get involved.  And then he wound up at MSU.

Saying Michigan wasn't interested in Simmons is as close to fact as it gets in recruiting.

Saying MSU wasn't interested in Johns is as close to a straight lie as it gets in recruiting.


**I agree with your overall point.  Every fan base does it as a defense mechanism.  I just think Simmons was the worst possible example.

Trader Jack

June 28th, 2017 at 4:31 PM ^

My fault, I should've used a better example than Simmons. Just the first guy who went to school around here but picked MSU that I thought of. You're right about that being a bad example. My overall point is the one you agree with, though.

Trader Jack

June 28th, 2017 at 3:09 PM ^

This class has the potential to be really good. Adding a SG (hopefully Locke) and one of Iggy/Hunter to DD, Johns, and (probably) Nance would make it, what, the second best class Beilein has ever signed?

the blue planet

June 28th, 2017 at 11:46 PM ^

While I get the cozy connections with Donlon being tempted to join his childhood friend, and also his former high school coach, and then having his Dad move in with him in his old hometown of Chicago, I sense there is something sour beyond this serving of sweet lemonade.  Donlon has been a professional in this business long enough to understand and expect all relationships and friendships are transient.  He is many years removed from his childhood playing days with Chris Collins and his former high school coach.   If he were content here at UM, he surely could have multiple reasons to stay, AND even arrange to possibly have his dad live with him in Ann Arbor.  If I understand correctly, this is a lateral move in his career.  Friendships survive and thrive in this business of college basketball without the requirement to be on the same staff.  It is especially convenient to associate and interact in this case, where Ann Arbor is a mere 3 hours from Chicago.  There is plenty of opportunity for year-round interaction with his buddies at Northwestern, and not just because of proximity, but especially because the programs are in the same conference. There are numerous opportunities for path-crossing during any typical year simply due to multiple games vs. each other, B1G Conference meetings, award ceremonies, tournaments, recruiting trails, etc.  Then there's always the off season.  Sorry but I'm just not convinced that the lipstick on this pig is merely home-sickness or a fondness of friends.  Pick any number of reasons:  contract $$$ and/or insecurity, Beilien micro-managment, the opportunity [or lack of]  to become next head coach at UM or Northwestern, returning roster... or whatever, but I suspect somebody just wasn't happy in the relationship.  And here's the stab in the gut that could give us indigestion immediately as well as for some time to come:  Donlon not only transfers to a conference foe, but he is a DEFENSIVE coach who takes Belein's OFFENSIVE PLAYBOOK with him, where he will have quite the (immediate) advantage when facing UM.  He knows our playbook, our kids, our system, our recruits and our coaching tendencies.  And to add salt to the wound, he does this so late in the off-season that we are instantly handicapped while Northwestern will have a head start in preparation for the season.  Northwestern is already off to the races while we're stuck in the starting blocks, tying the laces of our "coaching search" shoes.  No.... I suspect this was way more strategic (maybe even vindictive) than the article makes it out to be. Sorry, but in this report, you may be serving up the rationale of sweet lemonade, but I'm smelling sour grapesjuice.  I could be wrong, but I have my "we can't haz nice things" suspicions.  So I will just say:  Good riddance, Coach Donlon.  Thanks for your one year of service.  I hope we kick your ass EVERY time we meet.  And GO BLUE!




June 29th, 2017 at 8:50 AM ^

I strongly agree with your suspicions that there is much more to this story. And an FYI-I will stick my neck out here: I know the game of basketball very the game...could teach it very well...simply believe being a pediatric oncology nurse is/was more important. And, I am no fan of Beilein.

Donlon has shown me nothing defensively to consider him to be a loss to this or any program. The defenses at this level should be much more complicated than I am seeing. Enough...move on...easily replaced. Leaving with the Michigan offensive playbook is no loss. This game is more about execution than anything else.

Beilein: His "success" here is because it's the friggin University of Michigan and it will naturally attract better than mediocre talent. Six 1st round picks is great but very misleading-to real NBA successes here...mediocre overall record. Contrary to popular opinion, I think Beilein sucks as an offensive coach.  If he has a genious here it is that he finds players that can play better than he can coach. He seems to understand the value of a great point guard but has no idea how to utilize one. As far as I could tell, Walton turned into "Walton" because of Walton. I think he decided "To hell with it. I am going to take over and do what I think needs to be done to win". And he did one helluva job of it.

There. I said it. Wow! I'm going to hit send anyway...have at's a forum...


June 29th, 2017 at 11:11 AM ^

You need to listen to Sam's interview of Billy on WTKA this morning. There is nothing insidious or sour regarding Billy, UM and Beilein. You can read it in his words and hear it in his tone. He's full of love for JB, UM and the players and "men & women in the office." He's just full of way more love for his family/friends -- and rightly so.