Jim Molinari’s future seemed destined for either a basketball court or courtroom.
His career ultimately favored hardwood floors and crowded arenas, and this fall, he’ll make his debut as one of Oklahoma’s newest men’s basketball assistants.
He first had to juggle his two aspirations during the 1979-80 college basketball season.
DePaul hired Molinari as a full-time assistant coach after its 1979 Final Four run. But the former Kansas State and Illinois Wesleyan point guard still had a year left at DePaul University’s College of Law.
Despite landing his first college basketball coaching job, he wanted to finish law school, earn his juris doctor and pass the Bar exam.
“You can see what someone loves by how they invest their time,” Molinari said. “And I really liked law school and I loved basketball, so it wasn't very difficult to do both that way. It was a very exciting environment. It was really a fun time for me.”
Molinari parlayed his busy schedule and 10 seasons as a DePaul assistant into a head coaching position at Northern Illinois (1989-91) and Bradley (1991-2002).
He spent time as a Minnesota (2004-07) and Ball State (2007-08) assistant before earning his third head coaching opportunity at Western Illinois (2008-14).
Molinari then joined Nebraska’s staff in 2014 and is now in the midst of his first summer with the Sooners.
OU’s hiring of Molinari marks a reunion for the 54-year-old assistant and OU coach Lon Kruger, whose playing careers intersected at Kansas State.
Molinari was a freshman when Kruger was a senior. Molinari says his main responsibility in practice was to defend Kruger, who was coming off his first successful Big Eight Player of the Year campaign and working on his second.
“It was interesting to watch how we went about his business,” Molinari said. “He led that group and that's why it's not shocking to me he's had this coaching year. Even today, he leads the group. He keeps the group together. ... really my role there was just to guard him but he kind of took me under his wing.”
Molinari still considers Kruger a mentor, and the two have remained close through the years.
“We stayed very close throughout,” Kruger said. “... We’ve had a close relationship ever since. We’ve talked to each other frequently. I followed his progress and his career as well.”
The relationship between the two made it exciting for Molinari to rejoin the same team as Kruger.
OU’s exodus of assistant coaches this offseason helped free a spot for Molinari, who was a part of Tim Miles’ staff at Nebraska.
Miles was dismissed after the 2018-19 season, forcing Molinari to find a new home.
“The timing was perfect,” Molinari said. “... It just happened. It was a huge blessing to have this.”
The coaches are noticeably different in their approach in practices.
Molinari is much more energetic, while Kruger’s style is more lowkey. There’s no confusion as to who’s the leader, says Molinari. He simply views the intensity he supplies to the program as his primary contribution.
“You have to keep everybody in your whole program up every day,” Molinari said. “I think understanding that, I just view my role is to do whatever [Kruger] says but help with the energy. What I'm doing is, is just helping with the energy with everyone and accountability.”
Molinari seems happy with his latest landing spot.
He’s optimistic for the upcoming season, which includes a healthy mix of freshmen and veterans. Although, the coach is just happy living in the present as he embarks on a new chapter in his profession.
“I think what appeals to me is sophistication is simplicity,” Molinari said. “And what I tell our guys, we have a Hall of Fame coach. Make it simple, do what [Kruger] tells you to do.
“I stay in the moment. It's like the bible says, each day has enough trouble of its own, don't worry about tomorrow. You know, or don't take away the joy from today with the worries of tomorrow. I just tell our guys, and this is what I do, I have great confidence [Kruger] will get us exactly where we need to be.”