AAC coach of the year Tim Jankovich getting it done at SMU


SMU head basketball coach Tim Jankovich laughs as he talks with journalists during the Mustangs' practice on Thursday, March 16, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

SMU head basketball coach Tim Jankovich laughs as he talks with journalists during the Mustangs' practice on Thursday, March 16, 2017 at BOK Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. by Nick Krug

So far, Kansas basketball coach Bill Self’s tree is 0-2 in the NCAA Tournament.

Kansas State bounced Danny Manning’s Wake Forest squad in Dayton and Joe Dooley’s Florida Gulf Coast University team fell short in its upset bid against Florida State.

SMU head coach Tim Jankovich can keep the tree from getting skunked. His Mustangs take on USC in a tipoff scheduled for 2:10 p.m. in the BOK Center, a rematch of a Nov. 25 game USC won, 78-73.

Junior forward Semi Ojeleye, an Ottawa High graduate and Duke transfer, was named American Athletic Conference player of the year and a second-team Academic All-American. Jankovich has multiple ties to Kansas. He was an assistant to Bill Self in his first four seasons at Kansas and left to become head coach at Illinois State, hired by current KU athletic director Sheahon Zenger.

“He’s great,” Ojeleye said of Jankovich, named AAC coach of the year. “He’s a players' coach. He’s just so relaxed. If you didn’t know he was a head coach you wouldn’t be able to tell by the way he walks around.”

Ojeleye compared and contrasted Jankovich’s style to that of Larry Brown, under whom Jankovich coached at SMU before taking over for him.

“I think it’s a little more up-tempo,” Ojeleye said. “Coach Brown kind of winced every time someone shot a 3. Coach (Jankovich) wants us to have the offensive freedom. But I think on the defensive end they are pretty much exactly the same. They want us to guard, play together. I think they really hang their hat on the defensive end. They’re similar and different, but they’re both great coaches.”

Jankovich has a brain built for X’s and O’s. A few years before college football teams began running it, Jankovich wondered why they didn’t use what became known as the Wildcat formation. He likes to tinker with offensive basketball X’s and O’s as well.

“I don’t know how many different, not just sets, but base offenses we’ve put in this year,” Ojeleye said. “We’ve tried three out, two in, we’ve tried a high-low offense, four out, one in, ball-screen, I mean we just continue to adapt based on what types of teams we’re about to play in trying to attack matchups. Even during games, if he sees something he’ll put something in real quick to try to go at that matchup, so he definitely adapts to what’s coming at him.”

Ojeleye said Jankovich has the gift of communicating complex things in “the simplest terms, and I think we have a high-IQ team, as he calls it, that can really understand it and implement things on the fly.”

SMU (30-4) is riding a 16-game winning streak and Jankovich throws some of the credit for that the way of Ojeleye for the hard work he put in during his one-and-a-half year layoff after transferring from Duke and then watching the school receive sanctions that included a ban from participating in the 2016 NCAA tournament.

“If you want to be a player what else is there to do?” said Jankovich, who played at Kansas State. “But you know what, there a lot of guys around the country, they have a lot of time, too, and they’re not in there (the gym working on their games).

“Sitting out, after your school work’s done, what else do you have to do? Don’t give me the video games thing. Don’t be good at that. That’s not doing you any good. I don’t care how many you scored in the video game. Get over here and work on your real game, and he definitely does that.”

A conscience pang made Jankovich confess that he too once played video games: Space Invaders (released in 1978) and Pac-Man (1980), which at the time were considered unbelievable advances from Pong (1972).


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