College basketball coaches who never played in the NBA


The best coach doesn’t always come from being the best player. 

That’s the case with Mike Krzyzewski, the legendary head coach of Duke University who is set to retire at the end of this season. During his playing days, he never reached the professional level, however, he has coached players that went on to the NBA. Krzyzewski topped out as a captain on Army’s basketball team.

He’s not alone. In fact, a majority of the coaches who are considered to be the best in college basketball never made it to the NBA as players.

Here is a look at some of those coaches that join Krzyzewski in that category:

Jim Boeheim

Boeheim, the head coach at Syracuse since 1976, played for the Orange in the 1960s. He began as a walk-on for the varsity team before working his way up to becoming a captain his senior year. 

After graduating from Syracuse, Boeheim joined the Scranton Miners of the Eastern Professional Basketball League, winning two championships with the team. He then changed his focus to coaching, getting his first job as a graduate assistant at his alma mater under Ron Danforth, before being promoted to full-time assistant. Boeheim became head coach when Danforth left in 1976. 

John Calipari

While Calipari made it to the NBA as he coached, he never suited up as a player. The head coach of Kentucky played at the collegiate level for UNC Wilmington and Clarion, but that’s as far as his playing career took him. 

Calipari began his coaching career at Kansas as a volunteer assistant in 1982 under Larry Brown. He has since been the head coach at UMass, Memphis and now Kentucky, while also having a cup of tea in the NBA. He coached the then-New Jersey Nets for three seasons in between his stints at UMass and Memphis. 

Bill Self

Self had a similar start to his coaching career as Calipari. After playing four years on scholarship at Oklahoma State, he joined Kansas’ staff as an assistant under Brown for two seasons before heading back to his alma mater to coach as an assistant under Leonard Hamilton. 

In 1993, Self earned his first head coaching job, tabbing with the role at Oral Roberts. He then coached Tulsa and Illinois for three seasons each before going back to Kansas in 2003, this time as the head coach, a role he still holds today. 

Tom Izzo 

The majority of Izzo’s coaching career has come in his home state of Michigan. The current head coach at Michigan State played at Northern Michigan for four seasons in the 1970s. After graduating, he coached high school basketball for a season before returning to his alma mater for four seasons. 

Izzo was first hired at Michigan State in 1983 as a part-time assistant before leaving after three seasons. Following a very brief one-month stint at Tulsa, Izzo returned to Michigan State in June of 1986 when assistant Mike Deane left. Izzo was named the head coach of the Spartans in 1995 and has been there ever since. He’s the longest-tenured coach in the Big 10. 

Rick Barnes

After a successful playing career at Lenoir-Rhyne, Barnes had a number of different coaching spots before landing at Texas, where he rose to fame by bringing the Longhorns to the forefront of college basketball. 

Barnes held assistant coaching positions at Davidson, George Mason, Alabama and Ohio State. He went back to George Mason for a season as their head coach before Providence hired him. He was the head coach for the Friars for six seasons and Clemson’s for three before taking the job in Texas. Barnes was the head man in Austin from 1998 to 2015, when he was fired. He is now the head coach at Tennessee. 

Jay Wright

A four-year player at Bucknell, Wright’s coaching career started right after college, taking an assistant position with Rochester in 1984. For the next eight years, he bounced from Drexel to Villanova to UNLV, holding the role of an assistant coach during his time at all of those universities. 

He got his first head coaching gig in 1994 with Hofstra, helping the program establish itself in the America East conference. After seven seasons, Wright left for the job at Villanova in 2001, where he has been the head coach for over two decades now, leading the team to two National Championship wins.

Contact Us