NORMAL — The opportunity to coach at a prestigious Big Ten Conference school was something Luke Yaklich knew he could not pass up.

Rest assured, though, part of his heart will always be at Illinois State.  

Yaklich, an ISU graduate who served as the Redbirds' associate basketball coach last season and was on Dan Muller's staff for four years, officially began his duties as an assistant coach at Michigan on Friday.

As Yaklich and his wife, Amy, looked for somewhere to live in Ann Arbor on Friday, he reflected on a whirlwind last month before being hired by Michigan coach John Beilein.

"It was a very emotional decision, and that emotion is based on the relationships that we've developed with all of the people at Illinois State and most importantly the players and Coach Muller," said Yaklich, 41. "Dan and I have been friends for 20 years, and to say that he has influenced my life would be an understatement."

Muller hired Yaklich, who was coaching at Joliet West High School, four years ago. Yaklich had 14 years of high school coaching experience, but none in college.

But Muller, who knew Yaklich while starring for ISU in the late 1990s while Yaklich was a manager/student assistant, went with Yaklich. Muller elevated Yaklich to associate head coach last summer.

The Redbirds posted a school-record 28 victories last season while going 17-1 and sharing their first Missouri Valley Conference title since 1998.

"I am indebted to Coach Muller for the opportunity that he gave me, not only the opportunity but the opportunity to grow by challenging me each and every year to take on something else and grow in new ways in recruiting, on the court, in my teaching and the overall college basketball profession," said Yaklich, a LaSalle-Peru graduate.

Yaklich also said the Redbird players "taught me more than I was ever able to teach them." He said it was emotional saying goodbye to them as they were given their MVC championship rings.

He also thanked ISU president Larry Dietz, athletic director Larry Lyons and the administrative staff for their support. Yaklich also remembered those he worked closely with on a day-to-day basis, especially the guy he called "T-Ward."

Torrey Ward was killed in an plane crash along with deputy athletic director Aaron Leetch and five other ISU supporters in April 2015.

"Torrey taught me so much in the time I had with him about recruiting and building relationships," said Yaklich. "He was amazing as well as my first year with Dana (Ford) and every other assistant coach I had the opportunity to work with has been great."

Yaklich said he is "excited" with his new role under Beilein, who has won 766 games in 39 years as a college coach and guided Michigan to a national runner-up finish in 2013.

Beilein said he liked Yaklich's defensive background as ISU finished among the top 10 teams in the nation last season in points allowed and defensive field goal percentage.

"Our backgrounds are very similar and we have some common ground," said Yaklich. "He's a person I have an opportunity to learn from and share ideas and stuff we've done at Illinois State that could be beneficial here at Michigan.

"That's something that's really cool with Coach Beilein. He's constantly seeking out new things even though he has a hundred ways to do everything right that has been proven over his career."

Follow Jim Benson on Twitter: @Pg_Benson

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Sports Writer

Sports Writer for The Pantagraph.

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