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An Early Look At Bucks Head Coaching Candidates, Part 3: Non-NBA Candidates

While it wouldn’t be completely without precedent, something this far out-of-the-box is a mighty risk.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at San Antonio Spurs Daniel Dunn-USA TODAY Sports

It’s that time again. After firing head coach Mike Budenholzer after five successful seasons, the Bucks are looking for the seventeenth coach in franchise history.

The only other openings are with the rebuilding Pistons and the middling Raptors, which means that just like it was in 2018, the Bucks’ vacancy is the most attractive open position. Since that team was an up-and-comer led by a young All-Star looking to make a run deeper than the first round for the first time since 2001, and this team is led by a two-time MVP regarded as the best player on earth, won a title two years ago, and is hungry for another, the gig is even more attractive than it was in 2018.

Unlike when Bud took over for Jason Kidd after years of shortcomings, the next Bucks head coach will have a tough act to follow. However, Bud’s successor will come into a situation with a strong organizational culture already in place, something that didn’t really exist in Milwaukee prior to Bud coming in and building one.

Two things are for sure, though: the pressure on whoever gets the job will be immense, and after GM Jon Horst got it right in 2018 by hiring Bud, it’s even more imperative he gets it right again.

On Monday, we looked at former NBA coaches who might be in the running, and we looked at assistant coaches who will be looking to land their first NBA head coaching position yesterday. Today, we’re going outside the league to the WNBA, college, and European ranks.

As of writing, we’ve yet to even hear who the Bucks are interviewing or even considering, these are the candidates garnering the most speculation and discussion among fans, oddsmakers, and analysts. We’ll be sure to update you if any of these or other candidates land interviews with the club in the coming weeks.

Becky Hammon (age 46), current Las Vegas Aces (WNBA) head coach (2022– )

The former WNBA star joined Gregg Popovich’s staff in 2014, just after completing her playing career with the Spurs’ sister franchise, the San Antonio Stars. She became the second female coach in NBA history and first woman to act as a head coach in NBA history when she took over after Pop was ejected from a game two Decembers ago. Hammon remained on Pop’s bench until last offseason when she took a job with the WNBA’s Las Vegas Aces, whom she led to the league’s best record and championship last September. Hammon interviewed for NBA head coaching vacancies over the years—including with the Bucks the last time they were hiring in 2018—and reportedly will interview for the Raptors’ if she hasn’t already.

Hammon would become not only the first woman to become head coach of an NBA team, she’d be the first woman to coach any team in North America’s five major sports leagues. Many players have gone on record to say how much they respect her coaching, with Pau Gasol stating “I’m not saying she can coach pretty well. I’m not saying she can coach enough to get by. I’m not saying she can coach almost at the level of the NBA’s male coaches. I’m saying: Becky Hammon can coach NBA basketball. Period.”

She has plenty of experience as an assistant, essentially as much as Charles Lee, in fact. Pop’s assistants are always hot commodities in head coaching searches, so her pedigree is just as strong as Quinn’s or Craig’s. Stylistically, could she be similar to Bud, given their legendary shared mentor? I kind of doubt it, because Bud skewed a lot more from Pop’s typical schemes when he went out on his own. I do think, though, that like Bud, she’ll have a strong sense of culture-building that she gleaned from Pop.

Sergio Scariolo (age 62), current Virtus Bologna head coach (2021– )

We have a lot of European commenters on Brew Hoop who undoubtedly know more about the EuroLeague than any of us writers do, so I’ll defer to them for opinions about Scariolo’s coaching abilities. The Italian coached for over a decade in Spain, winning two championships in La Liga, and also led their national team to a silver in the 2012 London Olympics and a bronze in Rio four years later. He’s still running the Spaniard side, which has won four EuroBasket titles, one as recently as 2022, as well as the 2019 FIBA World Cup.

That’s an impressive set of international credentials, so Nick Nurse brought him over to his Toronto bench in 2018, getting an NBA ring alongside Griffin. He left the Raptors in 2021 and returned to his homeland to take over Virtus Bologna, who employs former Buck Semi Ojeleye. He’s reached high heights in European hoops already, winning the 2022 EuroCup internationally as well as domestically winning an Italian Supercup. He could add another Supercup Italian Basketball Cup in the coming week or two, after being a semifinalist for it last year.

I find it unlikely he’d leave his home country to come back for an NBA coaching job given all this success and getting a title as an assistant on this side of the pond, but maybe he’d come back to his former employer if they offered him the top gig: it’s been rumored the Raptors will interview him.

A quick aside here before we check out some NCAA candidates: it’s worth mentioning that major college head coaches that moved up to the bigs in the past several years have had mixed success at best. The only real success in recent memory has been Brad Stevens, who is now Boston’s GM. You’d have to go back to Larry Brown in 2004 to find a former college coach who won a title, and the last ones prior to him were Chuck Daly and Bill Fitch in the 80s and 90s.

Billy Donovan (also a two-time NCAA champ at Florida) did well at first in Oklahoma City thanks to KD and Russell Westbrook, but his NBA career might be winding down after several disappointing years since, now with Chicago. Former Michigan coach John Beilein lasted barely half a season with the Cavs in 2020, just over a year removed from losing to DiVincenzo and Wright in the 2018 NCAA National Championship Game.

Other former college head coaches who went to the NBA in the last decade or two usually only lasted a few seasons tops with little to show for it and often went back to the NCAA (Fred Hoiberg and Mike Montgomery come to mind). So the precedent here isn’t great, to say the least.

Jerry Stackhouse (age 48), current Vanderbilt head coach (2019– )

One of my favorite players growing up, Stackhouse had an excellent 18-year NBA career, making two All-Star appearances as a Piston and nearly averaging 30 points per game in 2001. Bucks fans have fond memories of him as a reserve during the 2010 Fear The Deer run, serenading the Bradley Center crowd by singing the national anthem a few times along the way.

Beyond that likeability, Stack has put together a solid coaching resume since retiring in 2013. After a season on Casey’s bench in Toronto, he led the franchise’s Raptors 905 G League affiliate before a season on J.B. Bickerstaff’s staff in Memphis. He remained in Tennessee but moved to the college ranks, taking over Vanderbilt’s declining program four years ago. The Commodores have mostly improved year to year under the former North Carolina Tar Heel, peaking at 7 games over .500 this year, but have yet to make an NCAA tournament under Stackhouse, going deep in the NIT the past two seasons.

Might he fancy a return to the league? He was a hot name on the coaching market during his days with the Raptors franchise, but there hasn’t been as much buzz about him since. Perhaps he’s seen as a bit passé? Or GMs aren’t impressed with his college work? I won’t pretend to know anything about his coaching abilities, and needless to say, the NCAA game is vastly different from the NBA. He’s graduated three players into the league recently, two of whom—Darius Garland and Aaron Nesmith—are already fashioning great careers. Shams Charania reported the other week that Toronto could give him a look.

Eric Musselman (age 58), Arkansas head coach (2019– )

While I don’t recall seeing his name ever pop up in NBA searches, Musselman has by far the most NBA experience among these names. He moved up the assistant ranks in the 90s and early 2000s before landing his first head coaching role in 2002 with the Warriors. They were mediocre at best and he was fired after two years, and after two more years as an assistant, he ended up with the Kings in 2006, where he lasted just one season (aside: Musselman was first in a string of eleven coaches who failed to make the playoffs in Sacramento after succeeding Rick Adelman, who never missed the postseason there).

After a few years coaching teams in what was then known as the NBA D-League, he took some assistant gigs in the NCAA before landing the top role at the University of Nevada. His four seasons there were pretty great for a mid-major, even making a Sweet Sixteen, so Arkansas poached him away. He’s been excellent there, making back-to-back Elite Eights before another Sweet Sixteen a couple months ago. Current NBA players Jaylin Williams, Isaiah Joe and Moses Moody came from his Razorbacks system, all interesting young role players. He’ll send the NBA another lottery pick this year in Anthony Black. Among all these names above, he might have the right combo of pro coaching experience and player development.

Kevin Ollie (age 50), UConn head coach (2012–18)

Another former Buck (just for half a season before being sent out in the infamous Ray Allen-Gary Payton trade), Ollie spent thirteen years in the NBA with eleven teams as a backup point guard, the true definition of a journeyman. Immediately after his final season as a player in 2010, he joined the staff of legendary coach Jim Calhoun at his alma mater. When Calhoun retired two years later, Ollie got promoted and won the 2014 national title in just his second season pacing the sideline.

However, he only made the Big Dance one other time in 2016, picking up just one other NCAA Tournament victory during his Storrs tenure. He was fired in 2018, not for back-to-back losing seasons, but for a slew of NCAA violations that resulted in those seasons—but not the national title—being vacated. Since 2021, he’s been the head coach at Overtime Elite, a pro league for top prep players and postgrads from age 16 to 20. Only two of their alums have gone onto the NBA, both on two-way deals, but they’ll get at least two picked in the lottery next month in twins Amen and Ausar Thompson.

Ollie’s title came largely from Calhoun’s recruits, and that team’s star Shabazz Napier is the only former player of Ollie’s to really make it in the NBA. Given UConn’s big drop-off after winning it all and its recent return to prominence with another national championship last month, it’s fair to question Ollie’s reputation as a recruiter and talent developer. Obviously the former doesn’t apply to the pros, but for him to now be getting NBA consideration—Detroit gave him a second interview—must mean that young, building teams think highly of his developmental skills.

Jay Wright (age 61), former Villanova head coach (2001–22)

While I’m not even sure he’s ever even interviewed with an NBA franchise, legendary college coach Jay Wright pops up in many high-profile coaching searches in recent years. He’s a year removed from retiring after a stupendous career at Villanova, where he made three Final Fours and won the whole thing twice in 2016 and 2018. He’s done some TV work since and there’s never been any public indication that he’s looking to join the NBA coaching ranks, he’s nevertheless being mentioned again in connection with open positions.

Wright has coached a number of players who went on to great NBA careers such as Kyle Lowry, Mikal Bridges, Josh Hart, and Jalen Brunson. Former Buck Donte DiVincenzo was a key part of the 2018 title team too. While that speaks to his ability to develop players into great pros, who knows if his strategic skills would translate to the NBA.

Like I said yesterday with the list of assistants, it might be too risky to hire a name from this group when you have designs on winning a title. Recall longtime EuroLeague coach David Blatt’s hiring with Cleveland, a mere two weeks before LeBron decided to return, and changed the job description from a young and building team to an instant title contender. Obviously, whoever comes to Milwaukee will have a better idea of the team’s goals since they’re already a title contender and not looking to tear things down, but Blatt didn’t mesh well with NBA players. Someone who lacks sufficient experience coaching NBA talent, even as an assistant, would run that risk.

Anyone else you think should be considered? Let me know in the comments.