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Justus Tabbed ‘Rising Star’ in Athletic’s ‘40 Under 40’ List

UK Athletics

UK coach considered one of the top people in the college basketball less than 40 years old

LEXINGTON – October 20, 2020

Kentucky men’s basketball assistant coach Joel Justus was ranked by the Athletic as one of the most influential people in college basketball younger than 40 years old.

The “40 Under 40” list is comprised of figures of all ranks, head coaches and assistants included, that features “people in all corners of the sport who are planting in the grass roots, toiling behind the scenes, speaking in front of a camera or efforting at a desk.”

Justus, 38 years old, was also on ESPN’s “40 Under 40” list released over the summer that featured coaches only.

Seth Davis, managing editor of the Athletic, headed up the list and had this to say about Justus:

“In 2014, John Calipari hired Justus to be Kentucky’s director of analytics. That was a big leap from Justus’ previous job as the coach at Davidson Day High School in North Carolina, but he has continued to elevate. The following year Justus became special assistant to the head coach, and over the past two seasons he has worked as a fulltime assistant. With the summertime departure of Kentucky’s top assistant, Kenny Payne, for the New York Knicks, Justus will have an expanded role for the Wildcats this season. The increased responsibilities and exposure should put him in line to become a college head coach in the near future.”

Justus is entering his fifth season as an assistant coach after serving two additional seasons on staff, first as the director of analytics and then as the special assistant to the head coach.

In helping Kentucky to another Southeastern Conference regular-season championship in 2020 and playing a key part in what many are calling the best recruiting class in the country in 2020, Justus has solidified himself as one of the top young assistants in the country.

In his first season as an assistant coach, Kentucky won both the SEC regular-season and tournament championships while advancing to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament. He played a key part in securing what the Recruiting Services Consensus Index calculates as the best recruiting class ever in 2017.

In 2017-18, he was instrumental in the development of Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, who transformed from a rather overlooked piece of UK’s 2017 signing class into the SEC Tournament’s most valuable player as UK won its fourth straight conference tournament championship.

During the 2018-19 season, as Kentucky advanced to another Elite Eight, Justus played a key part in the development of SEC Co-Defensive Player of the Year Ashton Hagans. He also worked closely with NBA first-round picks Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro. Justus played a similar role with 2020 SEC Player of this Year Immanuel Quickley and projected lottery pick Tyrese Maxey last season.

Justus joined the staff for the historic 2014-15 season as the director of analytics. Using Justus’ analytics, Kentucky’s players bought into a two-platoon system that helped the Wildcats become one of the most efficient teams in the country, including the most dominant defensive team in recent memory, as UK became the first team in college basketball history to start a season 38-0.

Justus analyzed player and team performance, utilizing various stats and data to help develop efficient strategies through video. He developed tools that streamlined the decision-making process of the coaching staff using advanced statistical modeling and analysis.

He also analyzed large data sets to aid the coaching staff’s scouting reports as well as postgame analysis. He assisted in day-to-day operations of the program, which included coordinating with NBA personnel while assisting in many areas of basketball operations.

After successfully integrating analytics into the daily culture of the program, he was elevated to special assistant to the head coach for the 2015-16 season. With his previous responsibilities remaining an active part of his duties, Justus’ role expanded to include scouting future opponents, providing strategies to help advance the program and assisting with special projects assigned by John Calipari. 

Justus came to UK after serving as the head coach at Davidson Day High School in Davidson, North Carolina. In both years at the helm, he guided the Patriots to the Elite Eight in the state tournament.

Prior to his time at Davidson Day, Justus served as the head boys’ basketball coach at Woodberry Forest School in Woodberry, Virginia, from 2008-12. During his time at Woodberry Forest, he guided his team to the Virginia Prep League regular-season championship in 2010 while advancing to the Virginia Prep League championship game in consecutive years, a first in more than two decades.

Justus has spent time in college basketball as an assistant coach at Elon University from 2004-08, where he helped guide the Phoenix to a Northern Division title in 2006 and the Southern Conference championship game in 2008.

A 2004 graduate of UNC Wilmington, Justus helped the Seahawks as a student-athlete capture two Colonial Athletic Association titles, make three postseason appearances (NIT in 2001 and NCAA in 2002 and 2003) and was team captain his senior season.

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