WICHITA, Kan. – Wichita State head men’s basketball coach Paul Mills announced the addition of TJ Cleveland to his staff as an assistant coach Thursday afternoon.
Cleveland brings nearly two decades worth of coaching experience at UAB (2002-06), Missouri (2006-11), Arkansas (2011-19) and most recently St. John’s (2019-23). Widely regarded as one of the top young coaches in the game, Cleveland has established a reputation as an avid and adept recruiter.
“I’ve seen TJ’s work up close for some time and have great admiration for his passion and dedication to assist college players,” Mills said. “He is a tremendous coach, has a phenomenal eye for talent and his genuine approach towards people is inspiring and refreshing. The Shocker players, current and future, will benefit significantly because of his commitment to ensuring their growth as players and people. Please join me in welcoming TJ, Ami and their twin sons, Caynen and Cayden, to Wichita.”
In four seasons as the associate head coach at St. John’s, Cleveland was instrumental in setting the foundation for a team on the rise, notably in recruiting, skill development and scouting.
In 2020-21, Cleveland helped guide the Red Storm to its first winning record in BIG EAST play since 2014-15, as the Johnnies finished 16-11 overall with a 10-9 mark against conference foes. Under the tutelage of BIG EAST Coach of the Year Mike Anderson, Cleveland saw two of his players garner end-of-season recognition from the conference. After leading the league in scoring at 19.8 points per game, Julian Champagnie was named to the All-BIG EAST First Team and shared BIG EAST Most Improved Player honors. Posh Alexander brought home both BIG EAST Freshman of the Year and BIG EAST Defensive Player of the Year honors, becoming just the third player in conference history alongside Patrick Ewing and Allen Iverson to win both awards at the same time. Thanks in large part to the up-tempo style preached by Cleveland and Anderson, Alexander led the BIG EAST and finished sixth in the nation with 2.6 steals per game.
St. John’s continued much of that forward momentum in 2021-22, finishing with a winning record (17-15) for the third time in as many seasons. The Red Storm ranked second nationally in assists per game (18.8), trailing only Arizona in that category. The Red Storm also finished sixth in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.57), 10th in blocks per game (5.5), 12th in scoring offense (79.6) and 15th in steals per game (8.9). Champagnie and Alexander once again earned recognition from the league, as Champagnie was named to the All-BIG EAST First Team for the second straight year while Alexander garnered a spot on the honorable mention all-conference list. Champagnie finished second in the league in scoring (19.2 ppg) while Alexander again led the conference in steals per game (2.3) while placing second in assists per contest (5.5).
In 2019-20, Cleveland played a key role in guiding the Red Storm to a winning season with a young roster that featured eight newcomers. In his first year with the program, Cleveland helped the Johnnies rank among the national leaders in steals per game (2nd), turnover margin (3rd) and assist-to-turnover ratio (23rd) during his first season.
Cleveland was on staff with Mike Anderson for the entirety of the latter’s head coaching career. Prior to his arrival in Queens, Cleveland helped guide Arkansas to the postseason five times in his final six seasons as an assistant coach with the Razorbacks, making three trips to the NCAA Tournament and a pair of NIT appearances. Arkansas posted a 169-102 overall record during his tenure in Fayetteville with four years of 22-wins or more, including 27 victories in 2014-15 to mark the program’s highest single season win total in two decades.
In 2017 and 2018, Cleveland helped the Razorbacks land a pair of top 25 recruiting classes that featured seven of the top eight players in the state of Arkansas during that span. ESPN ranked Arkansas’ 2018 class as the 25th best in the nation, as the Razorbacks pulled in a quartet of four-star and a pair of three-star recruits. In 2017, Arkansas’ recruiting class checked in at no. 20 nationally according to ESPN with a pair of top 100 recruits highlighting the four-man class.
During his career, Cleveland has been invited to participate in Nike’s Villa 7 Consortium five times and was one of only 30 assistant coaches in the nation selected for the College Coaching Consortium at the 2019 NABC Convention in Minneapolis.
A four-year letterwinner for the Razorbacks from 1998-2002, Cleveland began working on Anderson’s staff immediately following his graduation with a degree in communications, signing on as the video coordinator at UAB for the 2002-03 season. After serving three years in that role, Cleveland rose to the position of assistant coach for the 2005-06 campaign, a season that saw the Blazers earn an NCAA Tournament bid and rank third nationally in steals per game.
Following their time at UAB, Anderson and Cleveland embarked together for Missouri, where they spent five years resurrecting the Tigers’ basketball program. Working primarily with the team’s guards, Cleveland helped Missouri register three NCAA Tournament appearances in his half a decade with the program, including a run to the Elite Eight in 2009. That year, Missouri won 31 games and claimed the Big 12 Tournament title. Missouri was led by DeMarre Carroll, a first round selection in the 2009 NBA Draft, who Cleveland mentored during his time with the Tigers.
During Cleveland’s tenure at Missouri, the Tigers ranked second in the NCAA in turnover margin for three straight seasons while leading the nation in steals during the 2009-2010 campaign. The previous year, the Tigers topped the nation in assists.
A teammate of 18-year NBA veteran Joe Johnson during his playing days at Arkansas, Cleveland has mentored nine future NBA players, including 2015 first round draft pick Bobby Portis during his most recent stint at Arkansas. In 2014-15, Cleveland helped guide Portis to SEC Player of the Year and Associated Press Second Team All-America honors.
With Cleveland on staff, Anderson-led teams topped the nation in steals four times and ranked among the top-30 17 times in 20 seasons. His teams also led the country in assists once and have ranked among the top 30 on 10 occasions. Nine times, Anderson and Cleveland have seen their squads rank in the top 30 in scoring offense.
As a player, Cleveland helped guide Arkansas to the 2000 SEC title, the lone conference championship in Razorbacks history. A two-year team captain, Cleveland made three NCAA Tournament appearances as a player in Fayetteville and currently ranks fifth on the program’s all-time steals list.
Cleveland and his wife, Ami (Watson), are the proud parents of twins Caynen Thomas and Cayden James.