UCLA Basketball: Bruins hire club coach Korey McCray as assistant
Jordan Adams and William "Shaq" Goodwin are among the national-level recruits who once played for McCray with the Atlanta Celtics before he was hired Tuesday as an assistant on Bruins Coach Ben Howland's staff.
Could the high school juniors, both of whom have listed UCLA among the schools they are considering, follow McCray to Westwood?
"One thing you definitely know is that McCray certainly has a lot of influence with these young men and they're going to know him when they come in for their official visit," said Bob Gibbons, a North Carolina-based national recruiting expert.
"There's no guarantee he's going to be able to recruit the players. But he knows the family and will have, from a familiarity standpoint and a personal contact standpoint, [a relationship] that should be very advantageous for him and for UCLA."
McCray, 32, could give the Bruins a recruiting pipeline to a talent-rich region and a storied Celtics program whose rosters have featured NBA stalwarts Dwight Howard, Amare Stoudemire, Joe Johnson and Josh Smith. More recently, the Celtics have enjoyed stars such as Goodwin, a 6-foot-7 power forward rated as a five-star prospect by Scout.com, and Adams, a four-star 6-4 small forward. Goodwin has since moved on to play for the Youth of Memphis Competitors Association 17-under team.
"He will be a great asset in the development and mentoring of our players, in on-the-floor coaching and in recruiting," Howland said in a statement about McCray, who filled the vacancy that came open in April when Scott Duncan left for Wyoming.
Though skeptics might contend a club coach could accept a college job in exchange for access to his players, Howland said in a recent interview with The Times: "That's not the case. People can try to infer whatever they want to infer, I guess."
Hiring a club coach at a storied program such as UCLA would be an unusual but not unprecedented move. Arizona assistant Emmanuel "Book" Richardson once coached the New York Gauchos and helped the Wildcats land New York natives Lamont Jones and Kevin Parrom, both former Gauchos.
Sometimes players don't join their club coaches at the college level. Baylor hired Dwon Clifton, the club coach of top point guard prospect John Wall, three years ago at a time the Bears were recruiting Wall. But Wall attended Kentucky and Clifton left Baylor after two years.
Gibbons said he expected more major college programs to hire club coaches because of the way "they've sort of supplanted the high school coach as the primary center of influence with top prospects."
Howland noted that former Bruins assistant Ernie Zeigler, now the head coach at Central Michigan, was once an Amateur Athletic Union coach. Howland said he would not have reservations about hiring a club coach "if the person has a background in college basketball and is qualified."
McCray was a point guard at Mercer who became a graduate assistant at Florida State before returning to his alma mater to work as an assistant under Mark Slonaker. He also runs a basketball training camp called Fundamentals, whose clients have included Howard.
"I'm extremely excited to be at UCLA," McCray said in a statement. "It is an amazing university and has a great history in basketball, academics and throughout the entire athletic program. I couldn't be at a better place."
McCray did not return a call seeking further comment.
Howland wasn't the first major college coach to consider adding McCray to his staff. Paul Hewitt, who is entering his first season at George Mason after 11 years at Georgia Tech, said he would have hired McCray as an assistant with the Yellow Jackets if Darryl LaBarrie, who played for Hewitt, had not applied for the same vacancy.
"I think it's unfortunate that because of the connotations that AAU brings that people think there's something subversive about it," Hewitt said of hiring a club coach at the college level. "Korey's a good person, a thoroughly religious young man. If people want to wring their hands and invent things, I'm not going to get involved with that."
-- Ben Bolch
Photo: Korey McCray. Credit: UCLA Athletic Department