By ERIC LINDSEY, UK Athletics
LEXINGTON, Ky. – Kentucky men’s basketball assistant coach Joel Justus was ranked by ESPN as one of the top coaches in the country less than 40 years old.
The list is comprised of both head coaches and assistant coaches. Justus, 38 years old, checked in at No. 25 on the “40 Under 40” list released Wednesday.
ESPN college basketball writers Myron Medcalf, Jeff Borzello and John Gasaway ranked the coaches using a list of candidates from all 32 Division I conferences. Coaches had to be less than 40 years old as of April 30, 2020.
ESPN ranked the coaches using both achievements and potential.
Justus just completed his fourth season as an assistant coach in 2019-20 after serving two additional seasons on staff, first as the director of analytics and then as the special assistant to the head coach.
In helping Kentucky to another Southeastern Conference regular-season championship in 2020 and playing a key part in what many are calling the best recruiting class in the country in 2020, Justus has solidified himself as one of the top young assistants in the country.
In his first season as an assistant coach, Kentucky won both the SEC regular-season and tournament championships while advancing to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. He played a key part in securing what the Recruiting Services Consensus Index calculates as the best recruiting class ever in 2017.
In 2017-18, he was instrumental in the development of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who transformed from a rather overlooked piece of UK’s 2017 signing class into the SEC Tournament’s most valuable player as UK won its fourth straight conference tournament championship.
During the 2018-19 season, as Kentucky advanced to another Elite Eight, Justus played a key part in the development of SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year Ashton Hagans. He also worked closely with NBA first-round picks Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro. Justus played a similar role with 2020 SEC Player of this Year Immanuel Quickley and projected lottery pick Tyrese Maxey this past season.
Justus joined the staff for the historic 2014-15 season as the director of analytics. Using Justus’ analytics, Kentucky’s players bought into a two-platoon system that helped the Wildcats become one of the most efficient teams in the country, including the most dominant defensive team in recent history, as UK became the first team in college basketball history to start a season 38-0.
Justus analyzed player and team performance, utilizing various stats and data to help develop efficient strategies through video. He developed tools that streamlined the decision-making process of the coaching staff using advanced statistical modeling and analysis.
He also analyzed large data sets to aid the coaching staff’s scouting reports as well as postgame analysis. He assisted in day-to-day operations of the program, which included coordinating with NBA personnel while assisting in many areas of basketball operations.
After successfully integrating analytics into the daily culture of the program, he was elevated to special assistant to the head coach for the 2015-16 season. With his previous responsibilities remaining an active part of his duties, Justus’ role expanded to include scouting future opponents, providing strategies to help advance the program and assisting with special projects assigned by John Calipari.
Justus came to UK after serving as the head coach at Davidson Day High School in Davidson, North Carolina. In both years at the helm, he guided the Patriots to the Elite Eight in the state tournament.
Prior to his time at Davidson Day, Justus served as the head boys’ basketball coach at Woodberry Forest School in Woodberry, Virginia, from 2008-12. During his time at Woodberry Forest, he guided his team to the Virginia Prep League regular-season championship in 2010 while advancing to the Virginia Prep League championship game in consecutive years, a first in more than two decades.
Justus has spent time in college basketball as an assistant coach at Elon University from 2004-08, where he helped guide the Phoenix to a Northern Division title in 2006 and the Southern Conference championship game in 2008.
A 2004 graduate of UNC Wilmington, Justus helped the Seahawks as a student-athlete capture two Colonial Athletic Association titles, make three postseason appearances (NIT in 2001 and NCAA in 2002 and 2003) and was team captain his senior season.
Kentucky’s bench is a decorated one. Surrounding Calipari, a Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer, are associate head coach Kenny Payne, assistant coach Tony Barbee and Justus.
In March, Payne was named to the A STEP UP Assistant Coaches Hall of Fame Class of 2020. Barbee is considered one of the top defensive coaches in the country and has served head coaching stints at UTEP (2007-10) and Auburn (2011-14).