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How Jeff Van Gundy Helped Ross McMains Wind Up at Louisville

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(Photo of Jeff Van Gundy: Troy Taormina - USA TODAY Sports, Ross McMains via Melbourne United)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - As the Louisville men's basketball program progressed into the offseason, head coach Chris Mack made some tough decisions to make. The Cardinals had just come off a 13-7 campaign in the 2020-21 season, missing the NCAA Tournament by a razor thin margin.

In order to bring the program back to where it can remain competitive, Mack decided a coaching staff shakeup was in order. Just three days after Selection Sunday, Mack informed assistant coaches Dino Gaudio and Luke Murray would not have their contracts renewed for next season.

While director of basketball operations Kahil Fennell was not formally promoted into one of the two vacant assistant roles until late April, he had long been rumored to receive said promotion. In essence, Mack was only really looking one replacement assistant.

Mack took his time looking for a replacement, in part because he could not actually bring one on until Gaudio & Murray's contracts expired on Apr. 30. About two and a half weeks later, the program formally announced that they had hired Ross McMains as their final assistant.

It's not hard to understand why Mack wanted to bring on the 32-year-old McMains when you look at his resume. He has a plethora of experience, having worked in the NBA, G League, and overseas. He has developed a reputation as an offensive tactician, as well as a master in player development.

But it's not like he is a hot name throughout the college basketball ranks, so just how did McMains get on Mack's radar? Well, as it turns out, the story of how McMains landed in the Derby City is just as intriguing as his background.

As the offseason began, Mack began to participate in zoom calls with coaches almost every Saturday to just talk X's and O's. Guys like Sean and Archie Miller, Brad Brownell, as well as other coaches in the ACC were mainstays in these zoom meetings.

Another coach who would also join in was former New York Knicks & Houston Rockets, and current ESPN analyst, head coach Jeff Van Gundy. During one call, Van Gundy got to talking his experience coaching the U.S. Men's National Team during the 2019 FIBA World Cup qualifiers.

"He started talking offense, and he could not rave any more about New Zealand, and said that if you had the opportunity to watch New Zealand, you should do it," Mack said. "Get on your synergy account, watch as much offensive tape as you can of New Zealand, because he was convinced that was as good as offense as he's seen, internationally, during his time."

So of course, Mack obliged, and was intrigued by the concepts. The ball always moved around, and players almost always never stopped moving. One of the assistants for the New Zealand national team was none other than Ross McMains.

Mack started doing a bit more research into McMains, and discovered that he was largely responsible for everything that Jeff Van Gundy had seen just a few years prior. Mack reached out, McMains would eventually come visit campus, and the rest is history.

As much as Jeff Van Gundy, oddly enough, played a role in getting McMains to Louisville, COVID-19, as with many other staples of life, did as well. Prior to the pandemic, on top of his duties as an assistant with the NZNT, McMains was also an assistant with the Australian NBL's Melbourne United.

McMains wrapped up the 2019-20 season with Melbourne, then came back to his home in Santa Barbara in March of 2020. He was preparing for his usual summer pre-draft routine such as offseason workouts, and an eventual return to Melbourne for the 2020-21 season. Then COVID hit.

"With how stuff played out with COVID, I ended up deciding not to go back to Melbourne, and pre draft got pushed back, and I ended up being back here in Santa Barbara for a period of time, and not being with the team this season," McMains said. "The basketball world is a small world, and you build different connections, you get to meet different people and stuff."

It's unclear if McMains would have accepted Louisville's offer had he still been an assistant at Melbourne, but at the least, the program can certainly thank Jeff Van Gundy leading him to the Derby City.

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