SMU's Larry Brown brings his latest band of renown to TCU

Larry Brown returns to college after 25 years to put SMU back on the map

11/14/2012 11:39 PM

11/12/2014 2:40 PM

UNIVERSITY PARK -- Larry Brown has coached everywhere imaginable.

From the Carolina Cougars of the ABA to prestigious college programs Kansas and UCLA to the NBA, Brown is a true journeyman coach. He's been successful at every level, too, the only coach to win an NCAA championship (Kansas, 1988) and NBA championship (Detroit, 2004).

Brown's Hall of Fame career has come full circle at SMU with what seems to be his final stop. And given his lengthy track record at both levels, it's no surprise when Brown rattles off some sort of connection to just about every Conference USA coach.

He is close friends with Kentucky coach John Calipari, and knows his replacement at Memphis, Josh Pastner, well. The same goes for UAB, where former North Carolina assistant Jerod Haase is in his first year. He considers East Carolina coach Jeff Lebo "family," and his prized player of the '88 championship team at Kansas, Danny Manning, is coaching at Tulsa.

"There's a lot of people I admire and like in this conference," Brown said.

Brown, 72, then pauses and mentions a coach in another conference he admires, who will be on the opposite bench tonight.

"I'll tell you, TCU hit a home run with Trent Johnson," Brown said.

SMU hopes the same rings true with its hiring of Brown.

Brown believes that there's no reason NCAA Division I basketball programs such as SMU and TCU shouldn't be successful. After all, the schools are in competitive conferences, are well-regarded academically and are surrounded by talented high school players throughout the Metroplex.

But for whatever reason, neither has gotten over the hump. It's been more than a decade since SMU and TCU have sniffed the NCAA Tournament. The Frogs last danced in 1998, while the Mustangs haven't been part of the madness since 1993.

That trend could end soon under the new regimes.

For SMU, national headlines came its way with the hiring of Brown. Coupled with an upcoming move to the basketball-heavy Big East, the Mustangs are in prime position to excel on the court.

"Coming out of high school in DFW, SMU wasn't 'cool,'" said Mustangs junior guard Nick Russell, an Arlington Grace Prep product. "SMU wasn't the cool thing to do at the time. But I mean now, with coach Brown here, who wouldn't want to come here? Why wouldn't you? His arrival gave it that cool factor."

It's already being seen.

SMU has three transfers from D-1 programs sitting out this season in Crandall Head (Illinois), Nic Moore (Illinois State) and Markus Kennedy (Villanova).

Brown and his staff also landed an impressive recruiting class Wednesday, led by four-star forward Yanick Moreira from South Plains Junior College.

Brown raved about the three transfers and the recruiting class, but deflected any notion that his presence had something to do with it. Instead, Brown said, the credit should go to his staff, which includes former Illinois State coach Tim Jankovich, former Illinois assistant Jerrance Howard and former Houston assistant Ulric Maligi.

"I got the best staff in America, no doubt," Brown said. "If you add the kids that are here as transfers, the kids we are hopeful of getting and some of the young kids already here we can develop, we'll be relevant real quick.

"But that's not about me. I want to focus on the conference, the program and the school. They had tradition years and years ago and we're going to get that back."

And don't count the Mustangs out this season.

Former coach Matt Doherty didn't leave the cupboard bare. Russell transferred from Kansas State after playing a role on its 2010 Elite Eight team. Shawn Williams left Texas for SMU. Sophomores Jalen Jones and Cannen Cunningham are back after seeing valuable time as freshmen.

"It's only November and there's a lot of work ahead, but for sure I feel like we can be an NCAA Tournament team," Russell said. "That's what we want to achieve. There are a few of us on this team that made it to the tournament, so we'll try and use that to our advantage."

Brown, though, wasn't interested in talking about expectations, even though he picked up a 73-58 victory over Loyola Marymount on Sunday, his first time back on the college sidelines in 25 years.

"I don't want them to worry about results," Brown said. "I just want them to worry about getting better and enjoy playing. I think people know what we're up against, but we owe it to the people that watch us to know that we're going to try as hard as we can and play the right way."

Drew Davison, 817-390-7760

Twitter: @drewdavison

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