By: D. Scott Fritchen
“Why did I get into this profession? It wasn’t for personal recognition but to truly impact these young men,” begins Ulric Maligicwho has served as Kansas State associate head coach since April 1.
Maligi is sitting on a park bench, the toes of his black Nikes brushing up against a children’s sandpit at Oakdale Park in Salina, as he offers a glimpse into his beginnings along with the celebrated present that he’ll never forget. A smattering of K-State fans arrive early for the 2 pm pep rally at the Catbacker event. Maligi, donned in a purple polo, nods and greets each fan and thanks them for coming before regaining his thoughts and continuing his story.
“It’s definitely a tremendous honor, but I’m just humbled to be on that list,” Maligi says. “I’ve been fortunate to be able to work with so many great head coaches and great staffs that have allowed me to be myself and grow.”
the list? Two days after celebrating his 38th birthday on May 14, Maligi is honored as one of the nation’s top men’s basketball assistant coaches, as he is included on a list of the “Most Impactful High Major Assistant Coaches in Division I Basketball,” by Silver Waves Media. Humble as he is, Maligi is no stranger to recognition. Over the course of his 15 years of experience, he has already been lauded for his accomplishments on the court, as he was recognized by both ESPN and The Athletic on their “40 under 40” lists for the top individuals in college basketball.
The quest today is to discover the excitement Maligi feels about such accomplishments.
He’s excited about one thing.
“I’m excited to get into Bramlage Coliseum and compete,” he says.
Maligi, known for his abilities to recruit high-level players, has coached and or recruited 18 NBA players in his coaching career, and he has also helped sign 20 prospects ranked among the top 100 recruits in the country. He has helped land recruiting classes that ranked No. 7, no. 9, no. 14 and no. 20 in the country.
K-State currently has seven players on its roster for the 2022-23 season. Two players — senior point guard Markquis Nowell and junior forward Ishmael Massoud — remain from last year. It’s been two months since K-State has hired Jerome Tang as its 15th men’s basketball coach. Sleep isn’t particularly an option as the coaching staff tirelessly works to fill spots for the team bus. Yet Maligi feels it necessary to take the time to discuss his story and to discuss K-State basketball with fans in eight different cities — Salina, Great Bend, Hays, Colby, Scott City, Liberal, Dodge City and Garden City — over a span of three days in mid-May to shake hands, introduce himself, and deliver a message.
“We’re going to work hard,” he says, “to bring a national championship to K-State.”
Maligi’s career features recent stops at SMU (2012-15), Texas A&M (2016-19), Texas Tech (2019-21) and Texas (2021-22) while serving under Larry Brown, Billy Kennedy and most recently Chris Beard. He was a part of 58 wins and two NCAA Tournament appearances in three seasons as an assistant coach under Beard both at Texas Tech and Texas. He has helped recruit a top 10 signing class in two of the past three seasons.
Excitement builds as he talks about the potential in Manhattan.
“Just really excited about the guys we’ve been able to bring on board,” he says. “Still working really hard to get a few more guys that can be impactful to next season. We’re working the portal hard, and the transfer wire in terms of junior college, and working high schools. Obviously, right now is a time where Hopefully, we’re fortunate to get a couple more young men that we’ll be able to add to our roster by the end of the summer.”
Maligi’s path is littered with talent. Born two years after North Carolina freshman Michael Jordan sank the game-winning jumpshot in the 1982 National Championship Game, Maligi grew up in Carolina blue while living on West Boulevard in Charlotte, North Carolina. He began playing hoops at age 5. He played at the same West Charlotte Recreation Center on Kendall Drive that produced hometown heroes Jeff McInnis and Antwan Jamison, two UNC greats in the 1990s. McInnis went in the second round of the 1996 NBA Draft to the Denver Nuggets; Jamison to the Toronto Raptors as the fourth overall selection in the 1998 draft. Justin Gray, Maligi’s middle-school teammate, went on to star in the Wake Forest backcourt with Chris Paul. Gray was hired as head coach at Western Carolina University last April.
Meanwhile, Maligi’s passion for impacting others came from his home.
“My mom was a librarian in the inner city in Charlotte, and she was one of the cornerstones of the neighborhood,” he says. “She impacted so many young people’s lives and I had the chance to witness that. God has just allowed me to use coaching as my platform to be able to give back and to allow these young men to reach their potential.
“It’s so much bigger than just basketball.”
For all his efforts, Maligi decided that he wouldn’t be good enough to play in the NBA. He was 15. He assembled and coached his first AAU basketball team at age 17. As an 18-year-old, he began coaching AAU select basketball, and he also served as head manager while attending Howard University, as permitted by NCAA rules at that time. He served under head coach Frankie Allen, who was named to his position in May 2000.
“Coach Allen gave me a lot of freedom and that staff just allowed me to grow and held me accountable, and they knew exactly what I wanted to do with my position,” Maligi says. “Ultimately, that experience allowed me to serve on a Division I staff right out of college.”
Maligi graduated cum laude from Howard University with a bachelor’s degree in exercise physiology in 2006, became an assistant coach at UT-Arlington in 2006-07, and helped Stephen F. Austin to a pair of Southland Conference regular-season championships and the 2009 NCAA Tournament in his three years between 2007 and 2010. Then came two seasons at Houston, where he helped land a top-20 recruiting class.
His career took off: SMU to Texas A&M to Texas Tech to Texas.
He’s known Tang since he was 18.
“Coach Tang is one of my closest mentors,” Maligi says. “He’s had such a profound impact on me and my wife, Dr. Courtney Maligi. When he had the opportunity to be the head coach at Kansas State, it was an absolute no-brainer.
“I rented an apartment in Lubbock, and I rented a townhouse in Austin.”
“But,” he continues, “I bought a house in Manhattan, Kansas.”
At the moment, he is surrounded by K-State fans eager for a moment of his time. He rises from the park bench and begins introducing himself in his purple polo. He does much the same while speaking at gatherings across the western part of the state over three days.
He grabs a hotel room after the evening event in Garden City on Thursday.
He has a 4 am wake up to catch a flight.
“People here really bleed purple, and it makes you work that much harder to have a consistent winner,” he says, “and we will.”