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Examining potential replacements for Jai Lucas

Who will be Kentucky’s next assistant coach? Let’s look at some options.

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SPORTS-BKC-DUKE-LUCAS-LX Ryan C. Hermens/Lexington Herald-Leader/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

It was reported last week by The Athletic’s Brendan Marks, that in an effort to fill a hole left by the loss of Nolan Smith to Louisville, John Scheyer and the Duke Blue Devils reached out and offered Kentucky assistant Jai Lucas a position on the staff.

However, in the same report Marks said that Lucas had turned down the offer and would stay on staff at Kentucky.

Well, it looks like Scheyer was able to keep Lucas on the hook and ultimately pull the “rising star” from the Kentucky Wildcats.

In a surprising turn of events, it was reported and confirmed on Friday afternoon that Lucas would in fact join the Duke staff as an assistant coach. While the details are unknown, John Calipari called it a “promotion” in his response statement.

This is a bad loss for Kentucky, as they lose not just one of the best recruiters on the staff, but one of the best young recruiters in the country. In two seasons at Kentucky as an assistant and the recruiting coordinator led the charge for many top recruits and signed four five-star recruits: Damion Collins (2021), TyTy Washington (2021), Shaedon Sharpe (reclassified 2021), and Cason Wallace (2022).

This move also adds to the narrative that Duke continues to beat Kentucky, and given this news and the fact that Duke has won 17 of the last 20 head-to-head recruiting battles with Kentucky, there is not a lot to argue against.

With that being said, Kentucky has to make a statement hire to reverse the momentum, so let's take a look at some potential candidates.

Rod Clark

One of the top young assistants in the SEC is Tennessee Volunteers coach Rod Clark, who joined Rick Barnes’ staff in 2021 after previous stops with Sunrise Christian Academy, the University of Illinois-Chicago, and Austin Peay. He also spent time as a coach with one of the top AAU programs in MoKan Elite on the Nike EYBL circuit, which has helped him build up plenty of recruiting ties.

Clark has spent time in the Bluegrass, as he finished his college playing career at NAIA Lindsey Wilson College in Kentucky. He received his degree in communications from the school in 2015.

You do have to wonder if John Calipari is willing to poach an assistant from his good buddy Rick Barnes, but Clark is absolutely someone Kentucky should consider.

Jalen Rose

There has not been a cooler team in college basketball than Michigan’s “Fab Five” in the early 1990s, so bringing in Jalen Rose, one of the key players of that team would definitely bring the cool factor back to the program.

Not to mention, back in 2014, John Calipari reportedly reached out to Rose when Orlando Antigua originally left for a head coaching position at South Florida. While Rose ultimately declined the offer at the time, he did on go to say, “there are a few college coaches that I would consider working for. John Calipari is one of them.”

While it’s nice to think Rose is an option, he’s making millions of dollars at ESPN, so it’s unlikely he’d leave that to coach for around $1 million per season.

Derek Anderson

Derek Anderson is one of the most beloved players in Kentucky basketball history. The Louisville native helped Kentucky to a national title in 1996, but in a bid to repeat in 1997 Anderson tore his ACL mid-season, which ended his Wildcat career.

With that said, Anderson holds a passion for the University of Kentucky and even Tweeted to express that he wanted to join the staff back in 2021. Anderson would definitely reunite the fanbase and repair that Kentucky connection.

Rajon Rondo

Probably the most intelligent basketball mind on this list is former Wildcat and NBA All-Star Rajon Rondo. While he just completed his 16th season in the NBA, Rondo is at the end of his career and there are rumors that he would like to enter coaching following his retirement. What better place to start than at your alma mater, which just happens to be one of the biggest stages in basketball?

Rondo would bring fieriness, intelligence, and a connection to the NBA.

Jerrance Howard

Jerrance Howard has been long considered to be one of the best recruiters in the country. Currently at Texas with Chris Beard, Howard has spent time at Illinois and Kansas previously also as an assistant coach.

Yet, Howard also previously worked for UK in an administrative capacity under Billy Gillespie

If Calipari were to reach out to Howard, it would not be the first time. Howard has been approached twice about joining the UK staff, most recently back in 2010, following the promotion of Rod Strickland.

If Kentucky wants to make a hire strictly based on recruiting, Howard should definitely be a target.

Mike Mennenga

Maybe the least known on this list, but Mennenga could very well be one of the hottest recruiters in the country. In his time at Oregon, Mennenga has helped the Ducks secure commitments from multiple five-star recruits, and sign two top-five recruiting classes.

Looking just at the class of 2023, Mennenga has already received a commitment from one top-five recruit with Mookie Cook, and could make it two soon with Kwame Evans Jr., going against Kentucky for both of them.

Mennenga’s name was thrown around as a possibility at Louisville before they finalized their staff. As an alum of Morehead State University and from Illinois, would Oregon’s top recruiter consider making a move to Lexington?

Tracy McGrady

Most people have all heard the story that Tracy McGrady would have played for Kentucky had it not been for a $12 million dollar endorsement deal from Adidas right out of high school. However, McGrady could still have the chance to represent the Wildcats on the sideline as a coach.

Similar to Jalen Rose, McGrady has no prior coaching experience, but was an NBA star and would make for one of the “coolest” hires in college athletics, giving a new outlook on the program and recruiting.

But also similar to Rose, it’s hard to see McGrady leaving a lucrative role at ESPN.

Richard Jefferson

This is one completely off the wall, but hear me out. While an above-average player during his career, Richard Jefferson is one of the best personalities in basketball. He is funny, charismatic, and is intelligent about the sport.

Just from his personality, Jefferson would be well-liked by players and with close connections to NBA superstars from his playing days, such as LeBron James, Jason Kidd, and Vince Carter, he has connections to the NBA that would most certainly benefit in recruiting.

Whoever John Calipari hires, he has got to make a statement that Kentucky basketball is not going anywhere as the college basketball landscape continues to change.