Men’s Basketball: Meet Jon Borovich, the new assistant coach who ‘can build relationships with anybody’

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Men’s Basketball: Meet Jon Borovich, the new assistant coach who ‘can build relationships with anybody’

Jon Borovich on the sidelines during his time at Northern Illinois. The coach brings a proven recruiting ability and an offensive mindset to NU as Chris Collins’s newest assistant coach.

Jon Borovich on the sidelines during his time at Northern Illinois. The coach brings a proven recruiting ability and an offensive mindset to NU as Chris Collins’s newest assistant coach.

Courtesy: NIU Athletics

Jon Borovich on the sidelines during his time at Northern Illinois. The coach brings a proven recruiting ability and an offensive mindset to NU as Chris Collins’s newest assistant coach.

Courtesy: NIU Athletics

Courtesy: NIU Athletics

Jon Borovich on the sidelines during his time at Northern Illinois. The coach brings a proven recruiting ability and an offensive mindset to NU as Chris Collins’s newest assistant coach.

Charlie Goldsmith, Reporter

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Men’s Basketball


As a senior captain of the basketball team at Central Michigan in 2001, Jon Borovich had an arrangement with a free-spirited freshman named Chris Kaman. Before he became a top-6 NBA Draft pick and an All-Star center, Kaman needed reminders to get out of bed for class in the morning, and someone had to tell him he couldn’t wear Michigan State-branded basketball shorts at practice.

So the Chippewas’ head coach, Jay Smith, told Borovich he could punch Kaman in the arm whenever he did something he wasn’t supposed to. The caveat, though, was that Kaman could punch Borovich back whenever he was the one who made a mistake.

“It made for some interesting times,” said Borovich, Northwestern’s newest assistant coach.

Keeping Kaman in line was just one of the ways Borovich helped lead Central Michigan to a Mid-American Conference championship. That was a goal Borovich wanted to achieve so badly that he played his entire senior season on a torn ACL. Later that year, Borovich separated his shoulder but finished the season anyway.

Throughout that year, Smith said he would wonder how Borovich remained so team-driven despite the obstacles he faced.

“A lot of it is competitiveness,” Borovich said. “Sometimes you have to go through some of those hard times and challenges in order to get to maximizing your potential as an individual. And then, obviously, the greater potential of the team.”

That mentality is something Smith said he hasn’t seen in any other player in his long career in basketball. During his freshman season, Borovich told Smith he wanted to be a college coach, which Smith said “made perfect sense.” Since graduation, the 40-year-old has worked the coaching circuit, spending the last 20 years working his way up at Michigan State, Dayton, Oakland and Northern Illinois.

After spending eight years as an assistant coach with the Huskies, Borovich landed the best opportunity of his young career with the Wildcats. It’s a program that needs a punch in the arm, and the newest face in the building has already gotten to work.

***

Borovich has been interested in this job for a while. When he coached the Huskies, Borovich frequently attended Northwestern’s practices and over time, built a strong relationship with coach Chris Collins.

Collins spoke with Borovich about an open coaching position last season, a job that eventually went to current assistant Emanuel Dildy. But Borovich said the timing worked out this year for both sides, and he was hired to replace Billy Donlon, who left NU to become the head coach at UMKC.

The ties between Borovich and the Cats go further back than that, even though the links are mostly adversarial. Despite coaching at a mid-major school that played in the MAC, Borovich led Northern Illinois in recruiting battles for Vic Law, Scottie Lindsey and Jordan Ash. He eventually lost all three players to the Cats, but it took natural recruiting talent to get the Huskies in those conversations.

As an assistant at Northern Illinois, he developed a reputation for recruiting high-caliber players to play in small-town DeKalb. His efforts worked with forward Aaric Armstead, who picked the Huskies over New Mexico and Arkansas, as well guard Marshawn Wilson, who spurned Creighton and Dayton to play for Northern Illinois.

“He can build relationships with anybody,” said Smith, who is now the head coach at Kalamazoo College. “To me, that’s 80 percent of it.”

In his first weeks on the job in Evanston, Borovich provided a list of names to Collins that includes high school players and transfers whom he thought the Cats should strongly consider. So far, he’s taken the point on several of Donlon’s primary recruiting targets, while staying in touch with high-end players he was in contact with at his previous job.

“We’ve had a lot of dialogue as coaches about guys that I’m bringing to the table that maybe they didn’t know about,” Borovich said. “Guys maybe they knew about, but just weren’t recruiting.”

But recruiting wasn’t even Borovich’s biggest obligation over the last few years. He was Northern Illinois’ offensive coordinator, tasked by head coach Mark Montgomery to analyze a library of college and NBA film to pinpoint plays the team could use in its own games. For example, Borovich stole a horns set run by Shaka Smart at Texas and called it “Longhorn.” He took concepts from Virginia’s offense, naming it “Virginia motion.”

“Jon was at least nice enough to name the play after that coach or that school,” Montgomery said. “I could trust him with the offense because I knew he knew how I wanted to run it and where guys should be.”

The Huskies were the 86th-most efficient offense in the country last season, according to KenPom, and Borovich had the offense “blitzing” the defense by getting to the basket early in possessions. At NU, Borovich said he hopes to see more of uptempo play, and he said he’s currently working with rising sophomore guard Ryan Greer and rising senior forward A.J. Turner on becoming more aggressive playmakers.

“All the guys right now are working on their ball skills,” Borovich said. “The way that the game is evolving, being able to handle and pass and make decisions with the ball is important for all of our players.”

****

If Borovich had his way, he’d be spending even more time with the Cats’ roster on the court and in the team office scouting recruits with the other coaches. But since his wife, Kara, is a school teacher in DeKalb, Illinois, Borovich and his family won’t be making a permanent move until the summer. For now, he is making a 90-minute commute back and forth between his home and NU’s campus.

Some nights, Borovich stays in the office late and sleeps at an Evanston hotel because there’s too much work to be done. He spends multiple hours in the gym on days when he’s on campus, leading drills designed to improve the returning players’ ability on offense and make up for losing nearly 64 percent of the team’s scoring from the past season.

“We have a little bit of a smaller group right now because of the circumstances obviously, as far as numbers,” Borovich said. “But I like our guys because they are just hungry to get better. As a coach, that’s all you can ask for.”

When he’s not in the gym, Borovich is poring over tape. He watches film of three groups of players: the Cats’ three incoming freshmen, high school recruits and potential transfer additions. Bringing in a graduate transfer is something NU is considering, he said, but the biggest priority is developing the team’s young core.

Eventually, the goal is for those players to lead NU back to the NCAA Tournament, and Montgomery said he sees Borovich playing a crucial role in making that happen.

“The blueprint is there for Northwestern to be successful,” Montgomery said. “Jon is going to go in there and work his butt off to do what’s asked and more.”

Email: charliegoldsmith2021@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @2021_charlie

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