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Thursday, December 4, 2003
Updated: January 14, 8:30 AM ET
I've got a crush on you

By Alysse Minkoff
Special to Page 2

Contrary to popular myth, winning isn't everything. Sex is everything. It isn't whether you win or lose; what really counts is how good you look while you're winning or losing. So ... Move over, Associated Press. You, too, USA Today. The poll and ranking that matters the most in college basketball is right here, right now: The "Coach Crush List" for 2003-2004.

Yes, these are my personal musings about the real Talent out there on the floor. And believe me, I muse more about my guys' Zegna suits than their recruiting classes.

Anna Kournikova
Because by the time you finish reading the rest, you might need this photo.
Why? Because it's high time for NCAA hoops coaches to be subject to the same sort of scrutiny that Britney, Anna and J-Lo are forced to deal with every waking moment of their professional lives. Turnabout, indeed, is fair play. And ... hark! I hear the thunder of college coaches seeking out Botox and a makeover. Queer Eye for the Straight Coach, perhaps? This, finally, is an aspect of College Hoops that even our beloved Dickie V must stay silent on.

This early in the season, I am incredibly and unabashedly superficial. In the early days of December, grooming products are much more important than a solid perimeter game. And while defense wins championships -- defense and two stars, as Toronto Raptors (and handsome-for-an-old-guy) head scout Bob Zuffelato is quick to remind me every year -- we have some seriously great-looking men prowling those sidelines.

Trust me: Watching a coach work is half the fun of a basketball game.

Before we start, a Guilty Admission: Because my brackets are going to be a mess in March, anyway, I always go with the cuter coach. Works like a charm, especially in those confusing first two rounds.

And one more aside to my gentle readers before the list begins: It might be a good idea to print Minkoff's "Coach Crush" list and share it with the lady in your life. By the time March Madness rolls around, she'll be snuggled next to you on the couch, swooning over Roy Williams and happily flipping back and forth between games, looking for Mike Davis. (And I won't tell you whether to be afraid or grateful when your Gal Pal starts to mention Oklahoma women's head coach Sherri Coale as she's reading ESPN The Magazine in the bathtub.)

Forthwith, then, I'm gonna grab a well-chilled martini (or two) and address my Top Ten. Directly.

Ben Braun
The heart shape on his forehead is adorable, too.
10. Ben Braun, California Golden Bears
You're an old-school, Xs-and-Os teacher and coach with five postseason berths in the last six years, and there is no coach I'd rather see working in San Antonio next April. You're a Nice Jewish Boy who is one of the most dangerous men I have ever met with whom to share a lunch. I thought only Rick Majerus would have the nerve to eat all of his entrée, most of my entrée and any other entrées in the middle of the table "for good measure." Silly me. Nothing within an arm's reach is safe when you're around a table. Ditto, your point guards in February.

9. Rick Majerus, Utah Utes
Call me crazy, but I've always admired your spiffy sweaters from afar. Your work ethic and your kindness also make you compelling -- not to mention the fact that you adore ordering Room Service almost as much as I do. If you ever want company to break down game films: Order up a cheese that isn't blue and a lovely bottle of Oregon Pinot Noir (on your expense account, natch), and let's get to work.

8. Tubby Smith, Kentucky Wildcats
I would knock Ashley Judd over in a heartbeat to get close to you. Though it feels like you've been a 'Cat forever, it was only five seasons ago, your first year in the Commonwealth, that you won the NCAA Championship. Who doesn't love 'Tubby Ball'? It's great fun to watch you transform the hardwood into your own personal chess board. Solid Defense, rebounding and awesome fundamentals, alchemized into always-thrilling games. I can only hope that Ashley is away on location so I can have you all to myself.

Lute Olsen
A 'Coach Crush List' regular.
7. Lute Olson, Arizona Wildcats
You are, without a doubt, the dreamiest man in the coaching ranks. For the sake of decency, I will ignore your recent I-can-say-more-with-my-look-than-most-people-can-with-their-tongue remark. It just makes me want to prove you wrong in a way that would definitely make your new wife (not to mention my editor) seriously cranky. A dazzling 19 consecutive NCAA appearances, four Final Fours and the 1997 National Championship ... to say nothing of the fact that you are the only coach to Three-Peat with Top Honors on the Minkoff Coach Crush list. You sport elegant suits, you have the most gorgeous silver shock of hair and your wife is the luckiest woman in the world. (However, you dropped from No. 1 to No. 7 in this year's poll when you married her.)

6. Quin Snyder, Missouri Tigers
OK, so you're returning four starters in your fifth season at Mizzou. And though you are a disciple of Coach K, you obviously take your hair-grooming advice from those other floppy-haired boys. I mean, of course, the Lukes (Walton, Ridenour and Jackson) and Dan Dickau. A prickly question: How on earth did you manage to work for Donald Sterling and keep your sense of humor intact? Quin, darling ... it isn't just that tousled hair making me want to hold this particular Tiger.

5. Gene Keady, Purdue Boilermakers
How can I not adore a college basketball coach who played football for the Pittsburgh Steelers? Part of it is the Donald-Rumsfeld-chic Thing you've got going on. But my crush crystallized at the Wooden Tradition last year when you said you wanted the Final Four for John Wooden as much as you wanted it for yourself. The way you pace the sidelines with that inimitable scowl, it looks like your passion for coaching has not diminished over the last 24 years. A grooming question, though: What do you and your protégé Steve Lavin use in your hair to get that shiny, yet immovable, look?

Rick Pitino
On the contrary, his looks aren't as devastating as the damage he did in Boston.
4. Rick Pitino, Louisville Cardinals
Every Girl (Reporter) needs at least one passionate Italian man in her life, and you're mine ... especially because you have a wine named after you. Pitino Grigio: Best sipped while enjoying Louisville's swarming, relentless, in-your-face defense, which always takes my breath away. Pitino Grigio helps me to forget the emotional Ping-Pong game you put all of us through while you tried to figure out where you wanted to be when you grew up.

3. Billy Donovan, Florida Gators
Sigh. There is so much to adore about you. Where to start? It's been incredible to watch you transform Florida from a 'Football School' to a 'Basketball Powerhouse,' when no one really believed it possible. And in an adorable way, you've always reminded me of Eddie Munster ... Eddie Munster with a contract reported to be worth $1.7 million a year, natch.

2. Gary Williams, Maryland Terrapins
I'm a pushover for intense, grey-haired men (sorry, Lute), especially when they've coached their teams to seven Sweet Sixteens and two Final Fours. When you turned Hotlanta into Garyland in 2002, I fell hard. Truly, it was the beginning of the "Lute Who?" years. Your intensity in practice is legendary. There is no coach I'd rather watch on the sidelines than you. And I look great in Terrapin-red cashmere. Wanna make out?

1. Ben Howland, UCLA Bruins
Ben Howland, Alysse Minkoff
Ben Howland's got Alysse Minkoff all smiles.
Of course. The brand-spanking new head coach in Westwood. Ben, you are absolutely delicious, despite the fact that you've closed your practices to the media and you've closed the locker room, postgame. I am, first and foremost, a Home Girl, so I've always got your 'Back' ... Sigh. We grew up watching the same Wooden-Era games. We share the same memories, Bruin Ben. And who can resist you when your face lights up like a little boy as you talk about The Wooden Years? I certainly can't.

You offer something that has been conspicuously absent at Pauley for the longest time. You have a system, and you're not afraid to be a hard-ass. Just remember to let us see your softer, cuddlier side every now and again, because it's your heart and your winning smile that has you at No. 1 on my List. If you weren't happily married, you'd have a permanent spot on my ... er, couch. Consider the remote yours.

Coach Crush Hall Of Fame Award Winner: John Wooden
"They Call Me Coach" reads like the I-Ching: No matter the muddle, open your book and a lesson appears to help navigate through it. Mostly, you're being inducted here because you have the softest hands. And the mischievous twinkle in your baby blues has dimmed little over your 93 years of Wizardry. When the fans line up, as they do at every home game, you patiently sign every book and basketball - with staggeringly-beautiful penmanship. You patiently pose for every photograph, and you share every story and enjoy every memory. Oh, and you occasionally sneak a kiss to a wayward Girl Reporter.

When not singing 'I've Got A Crush On You' and sitting by her phone waiting for Gary Williams to call...Alysse Minkoff has written for Ladies Home Journal, Cigar Aficionado Magazine, and MSNBC. She can be reached at AGirlReporter@aol.com.