Basketball

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.