In: D. Scott Fritchen
“Why did I enter this profession? It was not for personal recognition, but to truly impact these young people”, begins Ulric Maligiwho has served as Kansas State’s associate coach since April 1.
Maligi is sitting on a park bench, the toes of his black Nikes brushing a children’s sandbox at Oakdale Park in Salina, as he offers a glimpse of his beginnings along with the celebrated gift he’ll never forget. A handful of K-State fans arrive early for the 2pm rally at the Catbacker event. Maligi, dressed 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 honored to be on this list,” says Maligi. “I was lucky to be able to work with so many great coaches and great teams that allowed me to be myself and grow.”
The list? Two days after celebrating his 38thº birthday on May 14, Maligi is honored as one of the best assistant coaches in men’s basketball in the country as he is included in a list of “Most Impactful High-Level Assistant Coaches in Division I Basketball” by Silver Waves Media. Humble as he is, Maligi is no stranger to recognition. Throughout his 15 years of experience, he has been praised for his achievements on the court, being recognized by ESPN and Atletico on their “40 Under 40” lists for college basketball’s best individuals.
Today’s mission is to discover the emotion Maligi feels for such accomplishments.
He’s excited about one thing.
“I’m excited to get into the Bramlage Coliseum and compete,” he says.
Maligi, known for his ability to recruit top-notch players, has coached and recruited 18 NBA players in his coaching career and has also helped hire 20 prospects ranked among the top 100 recruits in the country. He helped land recruiting classes that ranked 7th, 9th, 14th, and 20th 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 striker Ishmael Massoud – remain since last year. It’s been two months since K-State signed Jerome Tang like your 15º male basketball coach. Sleep is not particularly an option, as the technical staff work tirelessly to fill vacancies for the team bus. However, Maligi feels it is necessary to take the time to discuss his history and discuss K-State basketball with fans in eight different cities – Salina, Great Bend, Hays, Colby, Scott City, Liberal, Dodge City and Garden City – during a period. three days in mid-May to shake hands, introduce yourself 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 part of 58 wins and two NCAA Tournament appearances in three seasons as Beard’s assistant coach at both Texas Tech and Texas. He helped recruit a top 10 signing class in two of the last three seasons.
Excitement builds as he talks about the potential in Manhattan.
“Just really excited about the guys we managed to bring on board,” he says. “Still working really hard to get a few more guys who can be impactful for next season. are still going through the NBA Draft process. We’re just seeing how that plays out. I hope we’re lucky enough to get a few more youngsters that we can add to our roster by the end of the summer.”
Maligi’s path is full of talent. Born two years after North Carolina rookie Michael Jordan hit the winning pitch in the 1982 National Championship game, Maligi grew up in the Carolina Blues while living on West Boulevard in Charlotte, North Carolina. He started playing basketball 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 was in the second round of the 1996 NBA Draft for the Denver Nuggets; Jamison to the Toronto Raptors as the fourth overall pick in the 1998 draft. Maligi’s schoolmate Justin Gray 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 her home.
“My mom was a librarian in downtown Charlotte, and she was one of the cornerstones of the neighborhood,” he says. “She has impacted the lives of so many young people and I have had the chance to witness that. God has just allowed me to use coaching as my platform to be able to give back and allow these young people to reach their potential.
“It’s much bigger than just basketball.”
Despite all his efforts, Maligi decided he wouldn’t be good enough to play in the NBA. He was 15 years old. He built and coached his first AAU basketball team at age 17. At age 18, he began coaching AAU basketball, and 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 appointed to the post in May 2000.
“Coach Allen gave me a lot of freedom and this team just allowed me to grow and held me accountable, and they knew exactly what I wanted to do with my position,” says Maligi. “Ultimately, that experience allowed me to serve on a Division I team right out of college.”
Maligi graduated cum laude from Howard University with a BA in Exercise Physiology in 2006, became an assistant coach at UT-Arlington in 2006-07, and helped Stephen F. Austin to two Southland Conference regular season championships and the 2009 NCAA Tournament in his three years between 2007 and 2010. Then came two seasons in 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 has known Tang since he was 18 years old.
“Coach Tang is one of my closest mentors,” says Maligi. “He had such a profound impact on me and my wife, Dr. Courtney Maligi. When he got the opportunity to head coach Kansas State, it was an absolute no-brainer.
“I rented an apartment in Lubbock and I rented a house in Austin.”
“But,” he continues, “I bought a house in Manhattan, Kansas.”
Right now, he’s surrounded by K-State fans eager for a moment of his time. He gets up from the park bench and starts performing in his purple polo shirt. He does the same when speaking at meetings in the western part of the state for three days.
He takes a hotel room after the nightly event in Garden City on Thursday.
He wakes up at 4 am to catch a flight.
“People here really bleed purple, and that makes you work that much harder to have a consistent winner,” he says, “and we will.”