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Shaka Smart excited for Luke Yaklich to take UIC job

Yaklich was officially named the next head coach of the Flames on Thursday.

NCAA Basketball: Texas Christian at Texas Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

For the third time in three years, a Texas Longhorns assistant has moved on to a head coaching job, as Luke Yaklich was officially named the next head coach of the UIC Flames on Thursday.

“I’m extremely excited for Luke and his family about this terrific opportunity at UIC,” Texas head coach Shaka Smart said. “We’re grateful for his strong contributions to our program this past year and look forward to watching his success this next season and beyond.”

Yaklich is an Illinois native who grew up in La Salle, graduated from Illinois State, and served as a high school basketball coach in the state, including at Chicago suburb Joliet West. Those ties to Illinois high school basketball and Yaklich’s proven prowess as a defensive coach make him an appealing hire for the Flames.

In Yaklich’s one season with Texas, he helmed a defense that focused on limiting assists, taking away the three-point line, and avoiding fouls. The Longhorns finished the shortened season ranking No. 28 nationally in assists per made field goal, No. 343 three-point distribution, and No. 246 in free-throw attempts per field-goal attempts.

By late in the season, Texas was playing at a high level defensively, at one point ranking No. 3 nationally in defensive efficiency over the last 10 games and finishing No. 24 nationally in that category.

The Longhorns only improved marginally in defensive efficiency from 2018-19, when the team ranked No. 26 in that category, but Yaklich’s group reduced the percentage of points scored by opponents from the three-point line by nearly 10 percent as Texas improved its three-point defense from No. 234 nationally to No. 118.

The area where Yaklich struggled to get Texas to perform to his expectations was on the defensive glass — the Horns ranked No. 330 nationally by allowing opponents to 32.2 percent of their missed shots.

Before joining the Texas staff, Yaklich served as an assistant under former Michigan head coach John Beilein and interviewed for the head coaching position after Beilein left to coach the Cleveland Cavaliers last year.

During Yaklich’s two years at Michigan, the Wolverines advanced to back-to-back Sweet 16s. Under Beilein, Michigan was known for efficient offenses, but Yaklich’s arrival in Ann Arbor marked a shift in identity — the Wolverines went from No. 69 nationally in defensive efficiency to No. 3 nationally in Yaklich’s first season and No. 2 nationally in his second season.

Yaklich’s departure interrupted the deep dive film study he was conducting on the Longhorns defense last season.

So if Smart wants to replicate those efforts another assistant or member of the support staff will have to undertake those duties as Smart, assuming that he’s retained by athletics director Chris Del Conte, decides how to replace Yaklich on the staff.

Will Smart hire another defensive-minded assistant to continue Yaklich’s system or implement a new one? Go back in the direction of Darrin Horn, the assistant Yaklich replaced, by finding someone to work with the big men?

The direction Smart goes in could have a significant impact on the 2020-21 season.