Friday, April 12, 2019 | 1:03 p.m.
When T.J. Otzelberger was hired by UNLV at the end of March, he already had an idea of the kind of coaching staff he wanted to build. The 41-year-old said he wanted coaches who covered a diversity of backgrounds, coaches who could develop young players, coaches who could win on the recruiting trail and coaches with ties to the Las Vegas area.
On Friday, Otzelberger said he got exactly what he wanted as he officially announced the hiring of Tim Buckley, Kevin Kruger and DeMarlo Slocum.
Buckley was an assistant at Indiana for nine years under Tom Crean and was most recently working as a scout for the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves. Before his time at IU, Buckley was the head coach at Ball State from 2000 to 2006 and served as an assistant at Marquette in 1999-2000. He returned to Marquette for a second stint as an assistant in 2007-08.
Kruger was a star player at UNLV, leading the Rebels to the Sweet 16 in 2007. After a pro career, he made the transition to the sideline as an assistant coach at Northern Arizona from 2014 to 2016. He then moved on to an assistant position at Oklahoma, where he worked under his father, former UNLV head coach Lon Kruger.
Slocum is a Las Vegas native who has spent the last eight years as an assistant at Utah. He also served four years as an assistant at Colorado State from 2007 to 2011. Before that, he was the head coach of the Las Vegas Prospects AAU team.
A closer look at the staff and why Otzelberger likes his group:
Diversity of background
If Otzelberger wants to run UNLV like a big-time program, he hired staffers who know how that should look. Between the three assistants, UNLV will have coaches who can draw on their experience in the pros and three power conferences. They’ve seen high-level basketball and coached at the most competitive levels.
“I feel like we’ve got three different wings, because we’re bringing one from the NBA, one from the Pac-12 and one from the Big 12,” Otzelberger said. “I think it says a lot about the relationships we all have and the alignments we have and the direction of where we can go with this program.”
Las Vegas produces a ton of basketball talent on a yearly basis, so tapping into that pipeline has to be a top priority. Otzelberger thinks his staff can do that by relying on their institutional knowledge of the valley.
“Kevin has a tremendous passion for this university,” Otzelberger said. “And DeMarlo being born and raised here is an added bonus.”
Otzelberger said he had these assistants in mind early in the process due to his existing relationships with them.
Buckley was an assistant at Marquette in 1999-2000 when Otzelberger was playing at nearby Whitewater-Wisconsin, and Otzelberger got to know him better when Otzelbeger took the head coaching job at Burlington Catholic Central High School (Burlington, Wis.) and Buckley was the head coach at Ball State.
Otzelberger said he has known Slocum for almost two decades, going back to Slocum’s days as an AAU coach. And Otzleberger said he and Kruger got to know each other on the road scouting prospects, as they would often sit next to each other in high school bleachers while watching games.
Some head coaches prefer to define the roles of their assistants very precisely. Dave Rice, for example, made assistant Stacey Augmon the de facto defensive coordinator while Ryan Miller handled the offense. Marvin Menzies, on the other hand, eschewed that approach and had his assistants helping out in all aspects.
Otzelberger seems to be following the jack-of-all-trades approach. He said there won’t be a defensive or offensive coordinator and that there are no designated recruiters on the staff. Instead, he expects Buckley, Kruger and Slocum to handle the entire scope of the program.
“We wanted guys who are very well-rounded and have strengths in all areas,” Otzelberger said. “Certainly you can look at offense and defense and you can look at player development, and I think our guys are really complete in all those areas. I think it just comes down to having great people and maximizing the resources.”
Talent trumps all in college basketball, and that makes recruiting the lifeblood of any program. Otzelberger believes he has three assistants who can be assets on the recruiting trail.
Slocum is reputed to be a strong recruiter, and his background at the AAU level is an indicator that he knows how to relate to top prospects. Buckley helped bring a lot of good players to Indiana during his time there. Kruger is less proven in that area, but he is young (35 years old) and his name carries weight, especially in the Las Vegas area.