Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
NEW YORK — After spending three years as the associate head coach at Pittsburgh under Jamie Dixon, Tom Herrion is settling in to life as the head coach at Marshall University in Conference USA.
“I think it’s an exciting opportunity and a great challenge,” Herrion said Wednesday at the conference’s media day in Manhattan.
“There’s a lot of guys in this league that can coach and have won a lot of games,” he added. “So we all consider it a vastly underrated conference and I think we’ve added some terrific coaches. There’s momentum building for this conference and hopefully it’s the ability for all of us to take it to another level.”
Herrion is one of five new coaches in the league, along with Jeff Lebo (East Carolina), James Dickey (Houston), (Marshall), Ed Conroy (Tulane) and Tim Floyd (UTEP). Additionally, Donnie Jones takes over at UCF after three seasons at Marshall.
All 12 coaches enter the season with head coaching experience and more than 2,200 combined career wins. Rice’s Ben Braun leads the way with 570 career victories. The conference also features former AP Coach of the Year recipients in SMU’s Matt Doherty and Larry Eustachy at Southern Miss. UAB’s Mike Davis just reached the 200-win plateau and Tulsa’s Doug Wojcik compiled 104 in just five seasons with the Golden Hurricane. Memphis’ Josh Pastner led the Tigers to the postseason in his first year at the helm, and secured one of the top recruiting classes in the nation.
Though Conference USA is spread out geographically and crosses three time zones, it has also produced the last two NBA Rookies of the Year in Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans, both of whom played for John Calipari at Memphis.
“They still consider it not one of the BCS-level conferences, but we’ve had more draft picks in the last five or six years from this conference than some of the so-called higher profile conferences,” Herrion said. “I think people are finding out across the country that the talent and the coaching in this league can compete with any conference in America.”
The Thundering Herd lost two starters from last year’s team, including Hassan Whiteside, now with the Sacramento Kings.
They return three starters in Dago Pena, the reigning C-USA Sixth Man of the Year, Shaquille Johnson and Damier Pitts.
Marshall also adds four newcomers, including USF transfer Eladio Espinosa and onetime Seton Hall commit DeAndre Kane.
“Tirrell Baines is a senior that if we keep him healthy I think can have a terrific season for us,” Herrion said. “He’s a little undersized but he’s a warrior. Dago Pena is a very talented perimeter wing player. He’s got a chance to step his game up.
“My backcourt, Damier Pitts and Shaquille Johnson, have played a lot of minutes over two years and we’ll add some talented guys, especially in DeAndre Kane, a guy that sat out last year as a partial qualifier. We think he’s got a chance to make a big impact for us.”
Herrion always recruited the Northeast well at Pitt and continues to do so at Marshall.
Marshall has three commits for 2011, including 6-8 forward Jamir Hanner, a former Seton Hall commit who may soon enroll at Notre Dame Prep, and combo guard Devince Boykins (Forest City, N.C.).
The Thundering Herd on Monday also got a pledge from Dennis Tinnon, a 6-7, 215-pound forward for Kansas City (Kan.) Community College.
“That’s a very good get for Marshall,” Mike Mitchell of Midwest Scouting Service told the Charleston Daily Mail. “I saw him at the Tulsa Top 120 and he was for sure among the top 10 or 15 players in the event.”
Herrion said he plans to continue to recruit the Northeast “because that’s where a lot of my roots are.”
“I think it’s great for the conference to come to New York, to the metropolitan area,” he said. “We’ve got to continue to be creative in helping brand our conference and market our conference. For us at Marshall, we’re going to recruit this area and any opportunity we have to get here and get exposure, I think it’s invaluable.”
**Memphis ready to roll; C-USA All-Conference teams
**Memphis still looking to join BCS ConferenceFollow Adam Zagoria on Twitter
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.