Jerrance Howard to work with Larry Brown

John Supinie

CHAMPAIGN -- Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown doesn't just have a coaching tree, he's got a forest.

Those kind of connections may someday help Jerrance Howard, the Peoria native and former Illinois basketball recruiting wiz, reach his ultimate prize. Howard was officially named one of Brown's assistants at SMU late last week, then spoke about the job publically for the first time Monday, saying it was the right thing to make a change for himself and the Illini.

"I've always had dreams and goals,'' said Howard. "One is to be a head coach. The other is to coach in the NBA. He can help me with that.''

While Howard provided Brown with a head start on recruiting, Brown's vast network with NBA personnel past and present -- some of those phone calls in the last couple days came from Allen Iverson to Knicks coach Mike Woodson and Nets GM Billy King -- spreads Howard's name elsewhere.

Former Illinois State coach Tim Jankovich, the head coach in waiting, and Ulric Maligi were also named assistants at SMU.

The school located in Dallas has some deep pockets -- a source said Howard nearly doubled the $180,000 per season he was getting from Illinois -- but Howard likely would have opted for another opportunity had this one not been associated with Brown.

"I've always been a fan,'' Howard said. "He's 71, but he moves like he's 30. This is the first time he's been on the road recruiting in nearly 30 years.''

Over the weekend, Brown and Howard evaluated players in Dallas, Little Rock and Hampton, Va., before returning to Dallas for one last meeting late Sunday night.

"Being around young people keeps you young,'' said Brown, who is the only coach in history to win NCAA and NBA titles.

And Howard loves the basketball talk, "hearing the stories from the ABA to coaching at UCLA and Kansas and the NBA. He's making the kids learn the fight song. He's an old-school basketball guy.''

The final conversation with Illinois coach John Groce was "difficult,'' Howard said.

"It was the right thing for coach Groce to go in another direction,'' he said. "I didn't want the players to use me as a crutch when (Groce) makes his changes and puts in his culture. It worked itself out.''

Howard first stepped into coaching as an administrative assistant at Texas A&M under former Illini assistant Billy Gillispie, a stint that allowed him to build connections in Texas. Howard will work his recruiting contacts in Illinois, particularly Chicago. SMU spends one more season in Conference USA before moving to the Big East.

"We've got everything you want in a university as far as academics, facilities, the campus and the city life. We're 10 minutes from downtown,'' Howard said. "Everything is in place to be successful. It's going to be sooner rather than later.''

Howard was the first assistant on the job at SMU under Brown.

"He's been manning the fort,'' Brown said. "I can't tell you how many head coaches came up to me and said what a gem we have. I bumped into coach (Bruce) Weber twice. He raved about him. I want somebody sitting next to me that wants to be a head coach. He's a great judge of talent.''

Howard's wife, Jessica, will graduate with a master's degree in education in May, he said, and the family will likely move to a downtown Dallas residence. He's farm from home, but direct airline flights to Peoria make the world smaller.

Like the hire of Jankovich, Brown relied on a reference from Kansas coach Bill Self. Former NBA players Eric Snow (player personnel) and George Lynch (assistant strength coach) have also joined the staff, according to a source.

"I want people around me that want to give me knowledge and make me better, love the kids and love to teach,'' Brown said.

John Supinie can be reached at Follow him on Twitter at @JohnSupinie.