Jeff Goodman, a college basketball analyst for Stadium, polled at least 20 coaches, primarily assistants, and asked them to name the top assistant coaches in their respective league.
When Goodman polled SEC coaches, two of Rick Barnes’ assistants were frequently mentioned. Per their peers, Desmond Oliver is the third-best assistant in the SEC, while Michael Schwartz is the fourth-best, respectively.
“Dez (Oliver) is a guy who has been at a bunch of different stops and has managed to find under-the-radar guys wherever he has been,” an anonymous SEC assistant coach told Goodman. “I think he’s someone who should be a head coach soon.”
This season will be Oliver’s sixth year as an assistant coach at Tennessee. The Buffalo, New York native has spent 25 years in the Division I coaching ranks and has experience in the Atlantic 10 (St. Bonaventure, 2000-01; Rhode Island, 2001-04; Charlotte assistant, 2010-15), Big 12 (Texas A&M, 1997-98), Ivy League (Cornell, 1998-00), Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (Canisius, 2009-10) and SEC (Georgia, 2004-09).
Oliver played a key role in assembling Tennessee’s 2020 recruiting class, which was ranked in the top five by multiple recruiting services. He has coached three Vols who developed from three-star prospects to NBA Draft picks in Grant Williams, Admiral Schofield and Jordan Bone.
“Dez may be one of the hardest-working recruiters I’ve ever been around,” Barnes told Goodman. “He builds relationships, establishes trust and is relentlessly thorough in everything he does.”
A former staff member under Barnes at Texas, Schwartz rejoined Barnes at Tennessee in April 2016. This season will be his fifth season on Rocky Top and his second as associate head coach. Schwartz has 21 years of coast-to-coast coaching experience in the Division I ranks.
“Mike has been a professional in every stop along the way,” an anonymous SEC assistant told Goodman. “He is a colleague that I respect for his on-the-court coaching and off-the-court recruiting.”
Schwartz has served as Barnes’ defensive coordinator for each of the last three seasons. The Vols led the SEC in 2017-18 and ranked sixth nationally in Ken Pomeroy’s defensive efficiency ratings (92.5 points allowed per 100 possessions). Tennessee also led the SEC in scoring defense (65.7 ppg) while ranking second in the league in 3-point field-goal defense (.318).
“Mike is one of the sharpest defensive minds in the game,” Barnes told Goodman. “He’s truly elite in that respect, head and shoulders above most of his peers.”
Kentucky, Florida, LSU and Arkansas also had assistant coaches appear on the list. Kentucky’s Kenny Payne was considered the best SEC assistant coach by his peers, while Florida’s Darris Echols was voted the second-best. LSU’s Bill Armstrong and Arkansas’ David Patrick tied for fifth.