“It is truly a great day to be a Bronco, as we welcome, DJ, Sarah, Taylor, Skylar and Noah Stephens to the Bronco family,” Bartholomae said. “From our earliest conversations, DJ rose to the top of an incredibly competitive candidate pool as the right choice to lead our men’s basketball program to excellence. His reputation as one of the nation’s most elite recruiters and his experience in developing some of the world’s finest basketball athletes separated him as one of the country’s most outstanding basketball coaches. However, it was his sincere and authentic personality, coupled with his commitment to the holistic development of our student-athletes, that made him the best fit for our position. I want to thank Glenn Sugiyama and DHR Global for their professionalism in partnering with us on a first-class search process.
I am certain that our basketball program will inspire pride and excitement amongst the community and we are excited to introduce this new era of Bronco Men’s Basketball to the Southwest Michigan community, and to our WMU friends nationwide. We can’t wait for you all to join us in supporting Coach Stephens and this fantastic group of young men. Go Broncos!”
Stephens arrives in Kalamazoo after spending the last 19 seasons as an assistant at Michigan State under legendary head coach Tom Izzo, the last 10 of which were as Associate Head Coach. Overall, he has coached in 20 consecutive NCAA Tournaments and reached six Final Fours. At MSU, he helped guide the Spartans to six Big Ten Championships, as well as four Big Ten Tournament titles.
“I’m very excited for the opportunity to lead Western Michigan basketball,” Stephens said. “My family and I would like to thank President (Edward) Montgomery and Director of Athletics Dan Bartholomae for giving us this opportunity.
I’ve spent nearly 20 years at Michigan State, working under a Hall of Fame Coach in Tom Izzo. Saying thanks to him for what I’ve learned and for our friendship isn’t enough. I will carry all of those lessons with me to Western Michigan, which I think is a perfect place for me as a head coach.
I consider myself a blue-collar coach, who is a grinder and I will work tirelessly to make Western Michigan one of the best in the Mid-American Conference and take the program to new heights. I will expect my staff and our student-athletes to carry the same work ethic and dedication, both on and off the floor, into making our school and the Kalamazoo community proud of our program.
From the first time I met with Dan, I could feel the energy and excitement he has for Western Michigan and I love the vision he has, not only for our men’s basketball program, but for athletics at WMU. I’m so very happy for this opportunity and can’t wait to get started!”
Among his many responsibilities at Michigan State, Stephens was a large part of MSU’s player development, scouting and recruiting efforts. He has worked closely with 10 Spartans selected in the last 10 NBA drafts, including seven frontcourt players (Draymond Green, Adreian Payne, Branden Dawson, Deyonta Davis, Miles Bridges, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Xavier Tillman Sr.). After being named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2016-17, Bridges returned to school and was a consensus Second Team All-America selection. In 2017-18, Jackson was the first Big Ten player to earn the league’s Freshman of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year awards in the same season since 2007. Davis developed into an NBA draftee after just one season, while Dawson finished his career as MSU’s all-time leader in blocked shots. Payne was a two-time All-Big Ten performer and a first-round pick in the 2014 NBA Draft. Tillman was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, a Second Team All-Conference performer and chosen in the second round of the 2020 NBA Draft.
Under Stephens’ guidance, Green was the 2012 NABC Division I Player of the Year, a consensus First Team All-American and was the Big Ten Player of the Year. Green led the Big Ten in rebounding his senior year at 10.6 per game, and concluded his career as the Spartans’ all-time leading rebounder. Paul Davis was a three-time All-Big Ten honoree and was named an honorable mention All-American by the Associated Press in 2003-04. Davis and 2009 All-Big Ten performer Goran Suton also went on to become NBA draft picks.
In total, 30 different Spartans have earned some form of All-Big Ten recognition during his tenure, with Michigan State posting an overall mark of 477-189 (.716) with five Final Fours. MSU led the nation in rebounding in 2009, 2010, 2016 and 2019, and topped the Big Ten in 10 of his 19 seasons.
Recognized as one of the top recruiters in the nation, Stephens has played a major role in many highly-ranked recruiting classes. In 2020, The Stadium listed him as the top assistant coach in the Big Ten Conference. The 2016-17 Sporting News College Basketball Yearbook named him as the best recruiter in the Big Ten. A May 2014 article by Jeff Goodman and Jay Bilas at ESPN.com had Stephens as one of the Top-15 Recruiting Assistants according to a vote of his peers. In 2012, Bleacher Report listed him among the Top-10 Best Assistant Coaches and the Top-10 Recruiters. He was among the top five coaches on a list of the “Top-25 High-Major Assistants”, according to FoxSports.com in 2010. In 2008, he was listed among the top-20 High Major Assistants in the nation by Goodman at FoxSports.com. He was named a Rivals.com Class of 2006 Top-25 Recruiter.
Prior to his time in East Lansing, Stephens spent four seasons as an assistant coach on Tom Crean’s staff at Marquette. In 2001, Brian Wardle became the school’s first-ever First Team All-Conference USA honoree. The Golden Eagles made the NCAA Tournament in each of his last two seasons, advancing all the way to the Final Four in 2003. Dwyane Wade was a two-time All-Conference performer and was a 2003 Associated Press First Team All-American.
Before landing at Marquette, Stephens spent two seasons at Oakland University, aiding the Golden Grizzlies to 27 wins as the program transitioned to full Division I membership.
A Ferndale, Mich., native, Stephens was a four-year letterwinner at Michigan State from 1989-93. In his four seasons, the Spartans were 84-38 and made four postseason appearances. As a freshman, he was named to Basketball Weekly’s Freshman All-America Team, and scored the game-winning basketball in a victory over Purdue that clinched the Big Ten Championship.
As a junior, he was named honorable mention All-Big Ten, and averaged 16.0 points in a pair of NCAA Tournament games. As a senior co-captain in 1992-93, he averaged 9.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.5 assists to earn a spot on the Basketball Weekly Honorable Mention All-Midwest Team. Following his collegiate career, Stephens played three professional seasons in Europe.
Stephens earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from MSU in 1993. He and his wife, Sarah, have three children, Taylor, Skylar and Noah.