Once again, coaches with Inland Northwest connections are strewn throughout the NCAA Tournament field.
Former Washington State coach Tony Bennett has Virginia rolling into the NCAA Tournament as a No. 1 seed for the second straight year. The third-seeded Houston Cougars are peaking under another ex-WSU boss, Kelvin Sampson. And couple of familiar Gonzaga faces are now on the staff of ninth-seeded Baylor. They could be on a crash course with the Bulldogs in Salt Lake City.
Here’s a breakdown of eight head coaches, assistants and grad assistants with local ties who’ll be appearing in this year’s Big Dance.
Tony Bennett, Virginia coach – As Washington State’s NCAA Tournament drought reaches year No. 11, the last man to take the Cougars dancing heads to the postseason for the sixth time in Charlottesville. Bennett, whose Cavaliers are a No. 1 seed for the second straight year, won 69 games in Pullman over three seasons and took WSU to the tournament in 2007 and ’08. The Cougars reached the Sweet Sixteen before bowing out after a loss to North Carolina.
Kelvin Sampson, Houston coach – At 63 years old, Sampson has revived his career at the University of Houston and will be leading the Cougars into the tournament for the second straight season after a banner season that saw them win 31 games and a regular season Conference USA championship. Sampson, of course, went to his first tournament with the Cougars in Pullman, earning a berth in 1994 – his seventh and final season at WSU.
Randy Bennett, Saint Mary’s coach – The longtime Gaels coach won his third WCC Tournament, earning Bennett his seventh NCAA ticket in 18 years at the helm in Moraga. Early on in his career, between his first and second stops at San Diego, Bennett spent three years at Idaho (1986-88) as an assistant coach under Tim Floyd.
Kermit Davis, Ole Miss coach – A 16-year stay at Middle Tennessee ended for Davis last season when he accepted the same position in Oxford. Then the former Idaho coach guided the Rebels through a thorny SEC schedule and earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament despite a sixth-place conference finish. Davis’ first tourney appearances came in the late 1980’s when he led consecutive 25-win seasons in Moscow. The Vandals haven’t been back since.
Chris Jans, New Mexico State coach – It’s two years and two NCAA Tournaments for the New Mexico State coach, who led the Aggies to another WAC championship and has now won 27 of 30 conference games in two seasons at Las Cruces. Twenty years ago, former Idaho coach David Farrar gave Jans his first Division I job as an assistant in Moscow.
Rachi Wortham, Montana assistant – Wortham joined Travis DeCuire’s staff at Montana three years ago, after helping out Oregon State coach and Spokane native Wayne Tinkle in Corvallis. Before that, Wortham, an ex-Eastern Washington guard who played four games for the Eagles on the 2004 NCAA Tournament team, was an assistant at his alma mater under Kirk Earlywine, from 2007-11.
Rem Bakamus, Baylor grad assistant – The celebrated Gonzaga walk-on got his coaching start in Waco, Texas, thanks to another name on this list, Baylor assistant John Jakus. Bakamus, two years removed from his senior season in Spokane, could reunite with some of his former teammates if both the Zags and Bears win first-round games in Salt Lake City.
John Jakus, Baylor assistant – The Baylor alum returned to his alma mater in 2017-18 after serving as Mark Few’s director of operations for three seasons, working primarily in scouting and advanced analytics. The Bears, who employed Jakus as a grad assistant prior to his GU stint, brought him on as a full-time assistant coach in May of 2017 and he’ll be going to the NCAA Tournament for the fifth time.
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