About a year ago I began writing about a coach hardly anyone had heard of. I was trying to predict who would be the next unheard of coach to hit the big time. The candidate I identified was entering his 2nd year as a head coach, and his name was Andy Enfield. I wrote about him in May, and then again later in the summer in a piece that was picked up by the Naples Times. This gained me a few assistant coach followers on Twitter, but I don't exactly get the hits that Sports Illustrated gets, so the pieces were largely read and forgotten.
At least until March.
Now I'm back at it, combing the coaching ranks and trying to find the next unknown gem. That search is now complete, though I can guarantee you that I won't hit the lottery like I did with Enfield. A few less 3s fall against Georgetown and FGCU would have just been another 15-seed no one knew about. But that wouldn't have changed (too drastically) Enfield's career trajectory. If you can coach, people find you. And Enfield can coach.
Regardless, remember this name: Jay Spoonhour.
1. He's young (42, and a year and four months younger than Enfield) and seemingly has the chops. He just completed his first season at Eastern Illinois, in a season where his team was projected to finish 11th. And early on that projection seemed spot on. They went 3-10 in out of conference play, including a loss to Rochester College (who is actually quite good in NAIA) and then started conference play 0-6 in the Missouri Valley.
Then something happened. The players were gaining a better grasp on the new system, and Eastern Illinois completely turned their season around. They went 8-4 for the rest of the regular season and grabbed the last spot in the conference tourney (only 8 of 12 teams make it).
The turnabout was largely defensive. After allowing 1.15 points per possession in their first six conference games, they allowed just 1.05 against OVC teams the rest of the way.
They still have a long way to go, but Spoonhour certainly has something to build on.
2. He's been around the game all his life. His father, Charlie Spoonhour, was an assistant at Southwest Missouri State when Jay was born. By the time Jay was 12 his dad was the head coach at Missouri State, and he led the Bears to five of their six ever NCAA Tournament appearances.
Jay played his college hoops at Pittsburgh State, and then immediately entered coaching. He bounced around from Central Missouri State to Saint Louis to Valparaiso, before briefly running the show at Wabash Valley College, winning the JUCO National Title in his only season. He left that to become an assistant for his father at UNLV, and finished the 2004 season as the interim head coach after his father resigned. Most recently he was the head coach at Moberly Area CC before being hired at Eastern Illinois.
Growing up around the game he's not only developed an understanding of what his players need to do, both on and off the court, but he's also developed the contacts that are critical to any programs success.
3. He's got talent. It's not the X's and O's as the saying goes, it's the Jimmy's and the Joe's. Spoonhour returns four of six players who played at least half the team's minutes, including the top four scorers. The Panthers also had two very talented players sit the year out. Reggie Smith is a former consensus top 150 recruit who took the long path back home. He left Chicago to play at Marquette, before transferring to UNLV, before transferring to Eastern Illinois. Now he's had a year to get settled.
Dennis Green, a freshman from the Bronx, also sat out the year for academic reasons.
Now is this the type of talent to vault them into the same spotlight that FGCU found themselves in? Absolutely not, but that's not the point. The point is that this is a program worth watching, and don't be surprised if you hear Spoonhour's name cropping up in the next few seasons, especially in the annual April coaching merry-go-round.