Former Texas guard Jai Lucas building impressive resume as coach

Tori Garcia, Sports Reporter

Editor’s note: This article first appeared in the August 2, 2022 flipbook.

Jai Lucas, former Texas basketball guard, built success for himself playing on the court, but his subsequent coaching career has taken him even further.

In April, Lucas was hired by the Duke Blue Devils, one of the nation’s premier basketball programs with five national championships since 1991, as a new assistant coach.

“When you are speaking of higher education universities, it doesn’t get any better than Duke,” Lucas said. “Hopefully it rubs off on me and some of the things that are established here and have been established here. I hope it soaks in, but it was a big part (in taking the job).”

Born and raised in Houston, Lucas began his collegiate basketball career at Florida and was an SEC All-Freshman selection for the 2007-08 season, starting in all 36 games. But after only one year at Florida, Lucas transferred to Texas.

Although Texas had always been on the back of Lucas’s mind, former head coach Rick Barnes was one of the main determining factors in his decision because of his coaching style and the way he developed point guards like T.J. Ford, 2003 Naismith College Basketball Male Player of the Year.

Lucas officially played with the Longhorns for the first time as a junior in 2009-10 after sitting out his sophomore season due to NCAA rules. His senior season, Lucas appeared in 35 games and helped the Longhorns to an NCAA Tournament berth and a No. 8 ranking in the final AP Poll.   

Basketball runs in Lucas’ family, so sports always seemed like a career option for Jai, especially to follow in his father’s footsteps.

His father, John Lucas II, is an NBA veteran who played in the league for 14 years with six teams, including the Houston Rockets and Golden State Warriors. John later continued his basketball career as a head coach and is currently an assistant coach on the Rockets’ staff.

“He’s the biggest influence on my life,” Jai said. “There’s not enough I can say to express what he means to me. He’s someone I talk to every day.”

Having a highly experienced mentor and father set Jai up for success in the career field he wanted to pursue after college: coaching.

In 2013, the former Texas guard began his second act as a special assistant on Barnes’ staff. He continued in Austin as the director of basketball operations in 2015 when Shaka Smart was brought on as head coach. In 2016, Lucas was promoted to assistant coach where he began making a name for himself through his recruiting ability. Leaning on his respected father for advice, Lucas attracted highly sought out players such as forwards Greg Brown and Mohamed Bamba to Texas.

Lucas was Texas’ assistant coach until 2020 when Kentucky sought out his recruiting talent. While Lucas had a bittersweet goodbye to Texas, he saw a bright future on John Calipari’s staff and what it could do for his career.   

From 2020-22, Lucas was key in leading Kentucky’s recruiting efforts. He managed to attract five players who played in the McDonald’s All-American or Jordan Brand Classic games, including former No. 1 prospect Shaedon Sharpe. 

When Duke head coach Jon Scheyer presented Jai with an opportunity to move from Kentucky to Duke for the same role, family was ultimately at the heart of the decision. The switch from one blue blood to another allowed Jai to live closer to family in North Carolina.

“The opportunity to be at Duke and be with Coach Scheyer and the rest of the staff was really my main reason for doing it,” Lucas said on May 3. “But then throwing in the family part and being able to be around them, because I haven’t been with how hectic my schedule is. So it was something I really wanted to do.”

While Jai has steadily climbed the coaching ranks since his time with the Longhorns, the Texas product’s long-lasting impact on Texas basketball will always have a special place in his heart. When he announced his move from Austin to Kentucky, Jai shared a goodbye message on Twitter.

“Texas, you will always be home,” Lucas posted. “Thank you for always being good to me! I have spent (a third) of my life at UT and could never completely say goodbye to a place and people that I love. This is more of a see you later.”