From Walk-On to NCAA Tournament Assistant: How Hard Work, Preparation Made it Happen

Eric Youncofski was a lit­tle-recruit­ed guard five years ago. Now he’s a grad­u­ate assis­tant for an NCAA Tournament team. Here’s how he made it happen.

From Walk-On to NCAA Tournament Assistant: How Hard Work, Preparation Made it Happen

Eric Youncofski was a lit­tle-recruit­ed guard five years ago. Now he’s a grad­u­ate assis­tant for an NCAA Tournament team. Here’s how he made it happen.

If you had told Eric Youncofski in 2012 that he would claim a con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship and win a game in the NCAA Tournament in the next five years, he wouldn’t have believed you. A high school senior in the midst of a sol­id career, Youncofski was noticed by then-Wagner and soon-to-be Rhode Island coach Danny Hurley, who was scout­ing one of Youncofski’s team­mates at an AAU Tournament.

Youncofski caught Hurley’s eye and earned him a role as a walk-on. Though he rarely played dur­ing his three sea­sons, he proved his worth and, when the team’s video coor­di­na­tor moved on two years ago, he apt­ly stepped into a grad­u­ate assis­tant role.

I got lucky,” Youncofski said. The oth­er guy left and I was just kind of forced to learn (Sportscode). That just got me close to the coaches.”

Youncofski may see his rise as a result of good for­tune, but as the say­ing goes, you make your own luck. And while he may have got­ten a few breaks along the way, it was Youncofski’s tire­less ambi­tion that paved the way for his success.

He watch­es hun­dreds of NBA sets, min­ing the video for plays that could be use­ful to Rhode Island. Youncofski also pores over hours of inter­na­tion­al video before offer­ing sug­ges­tions that the coach­es can implement.

Just always be around,” he said. Try to be the first one in and the last one to leave. I’m always just try­ing to do projects. I’m just always try­ing to get ahead and show some­thing to the assis­tants and the head coach, just so they know how hun­gry you are and how you can make things eas­i­er for them.”

Youncofski’s work helped Rhode Island fin­ish 25 – 10, win the Atlantic 10 con­fer­ence tour­na­ment and knock off Creighton in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Rams were elim­i­nat­ed in a 75 – 72 nail-biter by even­tu­al Final Four par­tic­i­pant Oregon in the round of 32, but that didn’t dull the sweet­ness of the season.

Much of Youncofski’s work was direct­ly involved with the coach­es — for exam­ple, he had full scout­ing reports on Creighton, Oregon and Iona (the Ducks’ first-round oppo­nent) before Rhode Island even left for Sacramento.

But he also tries to add val­ue for the play­ers as well, and some­times a sim­ple ges­ture goes a long way.

I’ll give each play­er, who­ev­er they’re guard­ing, I’ll give them that person’s last 100 pos­ses­sions,” Youncofski said. I’ll put that on their lap­top or their iPad. They’ll have a great game and they’ll say some­thing. The rea­son wasn’t because I gave them clips, but they’ll say some­thing like, I knew all of his moves, man!’

When the guys are down, I’ll throw togeth­er a quick two-minute high­light and send it to their phone two hours before the game. You see the smile on their face and the con­fi­dence when they see the ball going in.”

Whatever is next for Youncofski, luck won’t play near­ly as large a role. He’s estab­lished both a strong work eth­ic and desire to improve Rhode Island, traits his fel­low coach­es won’t forget.

My boss always tells me, do a great job in your role and your next job will find you,” Youncofski said. Just con­tin­ue to net­work, but as long as you are doing a great job in your role, your assis­tant coach­es know so many dif­fer­ent assis­tant coach­es across the coun­try. The head coach knows so many peo­ple. My next role is hope­ful­ly either a video coor­di­na­tor spot or becom­ing the direc­tor of bas­ket­ball operations.”

We’d love to hear the suc­cess sto­ries of oth­er video coor­di­na­tors like Youncofski. If you have a sto­ry to share, feel free to do so here.