DES MOINES, Iowa — Last Sunday, as CBS unveiled the NCAA Tournament’s West Region, DeAndre Haynes sat in an auxiliary locker room underneath the United Center, waiting for Michigan’s name to be called. Across the country, Florida assistant coach Jordan Mincy and the Gators watched on from Gainesville, Fla.
Haynes knew the Wolverines were likely looking at a 2-seed while the Gators were just hoping for their inclusion in the field. But as the bracket was revealed, their worlds began to collide. Pod after pod was filled and neither name had come off the board. Finally, the West Region’s Des Moines pod flickered across TV sets across the country. Michigan, by then, knew it was the region’s 2-seed, but Florida still awaited its fate as Greg Gumbel announced the tournament’s last four teams.
“The number seven seed, the Wolf Pack of Nevada,” Gumbel broadcast to the nation. “They won the Mountain West regular season title, they’re the second team out of the Mountain West and they will take on —”
Tension in Gainesville reached a fever pitch. The Gators wouldn’t be a 2 or a 15-seed. It was this or nothing.
“The Florida Gators, the 10-seed in the West.”
Just as soon as Gumbel’s message reached Mincy’s ears, his phone began to blow up. Some were congratulatory, but far more came from his group chat from Kent State, where he played from 2005-09 and coached from 2010-12. Haynes — a player with the Golden Flashes from 2002-06 and coach from 2012-16 — was one of those on the other end.
The first message came through from Rob Senderoff, the current Kent State head coach who was an assistant when Haynes and Mincy played there.
“Uh oh, second round matchup, that’s gonna be a strong one,” Senderoff sent.
Eventually, the two got on the phone with each other.
“We gonna kick y’all you-know-what,” Mincy, the self-described more playful one, told Haynes.
“I said, ‘OK, Jordan, you can have that,’ ” Haynes said Friday. “We just show it on the floor.”
Haynes is used to providing an example for Mincy. 14 years ago, when Mincy took his recruiting visit to Kent State, Haynes was his host. Despite playing the same position, Haynes took an active role in Mincy’s recruitment. The two were three years apart, but Haynes knew they could push each other and get better together.
And for more than a decade since, that’s exactly what they’ve done.
“We stick together,” Haynes said. “It’s a brotherhood that can’t be broken. We talk about basketball all the time, our wives talk all the time. We’re really close. Like, really close.”
After Haynes’ graduation, the two temporarily went their separate ways. Haynes was off to Belgium, Hungary, Germany and Finland in search of a professional career. Mincy finished his career in Kent, spent a year in South Carolina as the Gamecocks’ graduate assistant coach, and returned to be an assistant at his alma mater.
But all the while, they stayed in constant communication, texting nearly every day. And when Mincy took an assistant job at College of Charleston, their paths headed back onto a collision course. The Golden Flashes needed to replace Mincy, and he knew just the man for the job.
In just one year together at Kent State, Mincy could tell Haynes was destined for coaching, regardless of his professional aspirations.
“Just from his leadership standpoint, you definitely could see some of the things as far as controlling plays,” Mincy said. “Definitely being fearless.”
Since then, the two have only grown closer. Their roles temporarily flipped. Mincy became the leader, showing Haynes the coaching ropes — teaching him how to improve his scouting reports and giving him the necessary contacts to rise through the ranks.
As Haynes gained comfort as a coach, their relationship once again became reciprocal. A defensive-minded point guard in his playing days, Mincy provided the prototype through which Haynes molded Zavier Simpson, Michigan’s junior point guard and defensive linchpin. Haynes, renowned for his player relationships, helped show Mincy how to connect with his players and accelerate their development.
“DeAndre’s unbelievable when it comes to player development,” Mincy said. “He’s very hands on. And some of the things that we’ve learned as far as tempo … I’ve had the opportunity to learn from him.”
Throughout it all, they’ve remained in daily communication. Occasionally, they manage to return to Kent State together and get in a one-on-one game — even Mincy admits Haynes always wins.
But while the coaches might be able to squeeze in the occasional game, their teams never have. So in the days since Selection Sunday, with the potential of a first showdown at their current schools looming, their texts have grown more sparse.
Friday afternoon in Des Moines, the two were split by just the thin hallway that connects Michigan’s locker room to the Gators’, but they haven’t spent much time talking in the lead-up to the game. Haynes doesn’t like talking to opposing coaches before a game, no matter how close they may be.
But try as hard as Haynes might, he hasn’t been able to steer entirely clear of Mincy. Friday morning, just hours after Michigan and Florida’s second-round matchup was set, Senderoff again brought the pair together through their group chat.
“Jordan, go take the Sweet 16 from him like you took his spot,” Senderoff texted, referencing the two games back in 2006 when Haynes was temporarily benched for his freshman teammate.
But Haynes, no matter his proclaimed avoidance of trash talk, still has a few parting words.
“He’s still little brother. Don’t get it twisted.”