Earlier in the week, I put together an initial list of potential candidates to replace Cleveland State men’s basketball coach Gary Waters, who retired after 11 seasons with the Vikings. My list included Jerrod Calhoun, Billy Donlon, John Groce (not Jim; an error I caught too late) and Patrick Tatham.
Since that point in time, new names have emerged, many of which either have local ties or some connection to athletic director Mike Thomas.
Among the names that have been put forward have been Geno Ford, the former Kent State head coach and current Stony Brook assistant, and current Ohio State assistant coach and former Cavs assistant Chris Jent. The Plain Dealer’s Terry Pluto also included Ford’s current boss at Stony Brook, Jeff Boals, who is also a former OSU assistant.
While most of the names being tossed out are based on speculation at this point (with the exception of Jent, thanks to Sam Amico), one candidate has already made it known that he’s interested in the CSU job and that he’s got the credentials to turn things around.
And it’s a name that Pluto also mentioned and certainly one that Viking fans should be very familiar with: Jermaine Kimbrough.
Kimbrough, of course, was part of the core of Waters’ coaching staff, which also included Larry DeSimpelare and Jayson Gee (who left to take the head coaching job at Longwood in 2013). The trio of assistants stayed together during Waters’ first seven seasons, and that stability resulted in CSU’s resurrection from the depths of basketball obscurity.
In 2015, Kimbrough made the move away from Cleveland. He accepted the assistant coaching post at Nevada under Eric Musselman, and facilitated Musselman’s transition from the NBA, providing guidance to build a roster that has allowed the Wolf Pack to win 24 games en route to a CBI championship last season and return to prominence in the Mountain West Conference.
Currently, Kimbrough is an assistant coach at Wyoming, working with first-season head coach Allen Edwards, who came to the Cowboys after being part of two championship teams at Kentucky.
“I needed a different experience,” Kimbrough said of his recent jobs. “I wanted to have an NBA background attached to my recruitment. I learned that from Eric Musselman last year. I wanted to attach myself to Kentucky family.”
But it’s clear that after two seasons away CSU, Kimbrough is ready to make a return and, more to the point, excel at the top spot. And he is further emboldened by the success of Musselman and Edwards, who were also both first-year college coaches.
“I feel like the last two years have prepared me well for the opportunity to come back and be the head coach at Cleveland State,” Kimbrough said.
His previous standing with Cleveland State is what Kimbrough feels is one of his key selling points for the head coaching job. He spent 11 years at CSU, starting as a manager then director of basketball operations under Mike Garland and moving into an assistant role under Waters in 2006. Off the court, he worked at the university’s Office of Minority Affairs as well.
As for recruiting, Kimbrough is bullish on winning with local talent, while, at the same time, keeping an eye out nationally. He was a part of the recruitment of, among others, local products Anton Grady and Trey Lewis, as well as, prior to his departure, current players Rob Edwards and Jibri Blount.
In fact, one of the first orders of business, should he get the job, is to delve into recruiting, both in bolstering his relationship with local high schools and AAU teams, as well as looking at players like Lewis who are transferring from high major schools.
“This is my brand: This is the city’s team,” Kimbrough said. “I want people to take pride in Cleveland State’s program. We’re going to win with local kids. That is my vision.”
Kimbrough has also set a loftier goal for CSU: to get the program to where Butler was during its NCAA Tournament runs. And while some may consider that mission impossible, Kimbrough, who has CSU embedded in his DNA, thinks that as a diamond in the rough, the Vikings, through hard work, can make it to that pinnacle.
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Image courtesy of Jermaine Kimbrough