St. John's Steve Lavin announced today that Saint Louis Billikens assistant coach Jim Whitesell has been hired at St. John's for a spot on the bench next to Steve Lavin - bumping Darrick Martin to the Director of Basketball Operations, the spot vacated by Moe Hicks last week.
“SJU has such a fantastic basketball tradition," Whitesell said. "The opportunity to work with Steve Lavin and his staff is incredible as Steve is building a very special program at SJU. I am looking forward to being part of it and helping in any way possible.”
Whitesell, a veteran who has worked his way up the ranks, has coached for 31 years - 24 years as a head coach. He was most recently Associate Head Coach at Saint Louis, and was the head coach at Loyola-Chicago, where he had a 109-106 record before being fired.
Whitesell adds veteran head coaching experience to the recruiting and training talents of Tony Chiles and Rico Hines.
So let's get to know the veteran Jim Whitesell, he of the distinctive spiky white hair on the sidelines.
He's worked his way up.
Jim Whitesell has been around much of the upper midwest in his coaching career, starting at the then-Division II University of North Dakota, then to Wabash Valley College in Southern Illinois and Minnestoa State-Mankato, before landing a Division III head coaching job at Elmhurst College. Whitesell landed at Lewis in 1992 and stayed until 2004, helping the Flyers build a nation Division II reputation.
Whitesell took a job at Loyola, earning a reputation as a good guy in coaching. he recruited academic players who could handle Loyola's athletics (that's not boilerplate. That school has strong academic standards), but couldn't get a level of athlete to vault the Ramblers to the top of the Horizon League. Loyola did play a number of very competitive contests against Brad Stevens' Butler Bulldogs - even during the Gordon Heyward/ Matt Howard years.
Coaching under Rick Majerus in his last years meant that Jim Whitesell had an early opportunity to run practices with Majerus' players. It also meant he had a lot of room to work on all aspects of the program.
"He's the top assistant coach, that's definitive," Majerus said after appointing him to the second seat in the Billikens' program. "He's the offensive coordinator, the defensive coordinator, the special team guy, the sideline outs. Not to detract from (Jim) Crews or Tanner (Bronson), Jim has got total responsibility for every aspect of the program. Others have aspects for specific parts."
After Majerus' passing, the head coaching position went to veteran coach Jim Crews; but Whitesell settled into his role.
He's a specialist with big men.
Whitesell specifically worked with the big men of Saint Louis - who were very good. His last years at Loyola saw him field a team with solid big men who got many shot opportunities in Ben Averkamp and Walt Gibler. Those players saw their fair share of entry passes, and created their opportunities solely in the post.
Whitesell's teams were also solid offensive rebounding squads and tended not to foul.
He received advice from Steve Lavin about recovering from being fired.
Jim Whitesell looked to Lavin for advice, while mentioning that many fellow coaches wouldn't "give him the time of day":
A trip to the Final Four was therapeutic, he said.
"I had a great conversation with Steve Lavin, who got fired at U.C.L.A," Whitesell said. "He kind of walked me through what I was feeling. That was really helpful. Guys with better records than I had have been fired, and they told me it’s not the end of the world."
Steve Lavin 's advice is the one mentioned in the article - in part, we assume, because Lavin knows the feeling of being fired despite having a winning record and solid, if unspectacular season - given the program's expectations.
Lavin - both a players' coach and a coaches' coach.
Family trivia! He's got semi-famous brothers...
Whitesell also has a brothers in the entertainment industry:
John Whitesell has directed two entries in the Big Momma's House Trilogy with Martin Lawrence and Malibu's Most Wanted.
Chris Whitesell holds down the head writer position at the daytime soap Days of Our Lives.
Sean Whitesell played Donald Groves on Oz (the cannibal) and had a regular role on Homicide: Life on the Street, along with writing and producing credits.
Patrick Whitesell is the co-CEO of the agency WME (William Morris Endeavor), with a fellow named Ari Emmanuel, the brother of Chicago's Mayor Rahm Emmanuel; Ari Emmanuel has been dubbed as the inspiration for the character Ari Gold on Entourage.
...And a wife who is involved in her own coaching.
Jim Whitesell's wife Connie Whitesell is the founder of human resources/ business coaching firm PWA Associates; she also spoke at the 2012 Final Four/ National Association of Basketball Coaches Spouse's lunch.
More from Rumble In The Garden:
- What's the connection behind St. John's & Wisconsin playing in South Dakota?
- NCAA relaxes rules on rematches in March Madness
- NCAA announces enforcement rules changes
- Moe Hicks leaves DOBO position at St. John's
- Big East Summer Q&A: Marquette Golden Eagles
- A short history of new assistant coach Jim Whitesell - and his Steve Lavin connection