'It all depends on this group': How college basketball's rookie head coaches could change the game for assistants

North Carolina handed the reins of one of college basketball's top brands to assistant Hubert Davis. AP Photo/Gerry Broome

Late one night during the first few weeks of Micah Shrewsberry's tenure at Penn State, he was in his office, still trying to get a handle on all the tasks and responsibilities that came with being the new head coach of the Nittany Lions. Then his phone rang.

On the other line was Minnesota coach Ben Johnson, also in his office late at night, also trying to get a handle on everything that came with being a new head coach.

"He was doing the same thing as me," Shrewsberry said. "We're both in the office late, he's asking me questions. 'How are you doing this? Is this happening to you too?' Our answers were so similar."

Shrewsberry and Johnson are members of the small fraternity that is part of a new but growing trend in college basketball coaching, of former assistants getting their first head-coaching jobs at high-major programs. Before the spring of 2021, such a hire was considered rare in college basketball. High-major schools nearly always went with the hot mid-major name or a retread high-major coach.

"Sometimes as an assistant coach, you felt like you wouldn't even be considered for certain jobs because you didn't have head-coaching experience," said Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd, previously a 20-year assistant at Gonzaga. "Well, how are you going to get head-coaching experience?"