Larry Brown scurried to find a microphone after the players had jubilantly headed into the locker room and the elated fans were heading toward the exits. He wanted to make an announcement after leading SMU to its biggest win in a decade.
And, once the Hall of Fame coach began speaking, everyone stopped in place. He thanked the fans and donors for making the first game at the newly renovated Moody Coliseum special, and ended his brief speech by saying: “I’m going to celebrate with my family tonight.”
The crowd broke into more cheers. Brown could have said almost anything and it would have been applauded. Brown has put SMU back on the basketball map and nothing said it more than a 74-65 victory over No. 17 Connecticut on Saturday afternoon.
It marked the Mustangs’ first victory over a ranked opponent since they defeated 17th-ranked Purdue on Dec. 17, 2003, and their first home win over a ranked opponent since beating 25th-ranked Houston on Jan. 30, 1993.
It all came in front of an announced crowd of 7,166 in the 7,000-seat venue that underwent a $47 million renovation. The last time SMU hosted a capacity crowd was in November 2001 against Texas Tech.
Does SMU finally have a home-court advantage?
“Oh, it will be,” said senior guard Nick Russell, an Arlington Grace Prep product. “It’s all about winning games, and I feel like the fans appreciate it. I’m sure they’ll come back and see us. Every game will be a big game here, and every game will be a packed crowd.”
The renovation falls in line with other area schools putting money into their basketball venues. UT Arlington opened the $78 million College Park Center in February 2012, and TCU has plans for a $45 million renovation to Daniel-Meyer Coliseum.
For SMU, the renovated arena is another step in the right direction. The 73-year-old Brown has brought credibility to a program that hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1993.
Brown has assembled one of the top staffs in the country, and not many other coaches could have former NBA stars such as Dikembe Mutombo and Avery Johnson come to the game.
Brown hoped that another one of his former players, Allen Iverson, would make the trip but didn’t.
“I have an advantage in some ways because I was lucky enough to coach some of the best players who ever played,” said Brown, the only coach to win an NCAA championship and NBA championship.
“Those people have meant a lot to me in my life.”
The former NBA players were joined by potentially future NBA players. Brown has made SMU a possible destination for some of the top prospects in the country. Emmanuel Mudiay, a senior at Dallas Prime Prep who is regarded as a top-five recruit, has signed with SMU for next season. And a handful of highly touted players in the 2015 class were on hand, including Elijah Thomas (Lancaster), Tyler Davis (Plano West), King McClure (Dallas Triple A Academy) and D’jery Baptiste (Dallas Episcopal).
SMU wanted to take full advantage of unveiling its updated arena that opened in 1956, a year SMU made its lone Final Four run. The upgrades included a new main entry lobby, expanded concourses with raised ceilings, club seats and private suites and a 9-by-24-foot video board.
In doing the renovation, SMU officials visited several arenas throughout the country, notably Kansas’ Allen Fieldhouse, Duke’s Cameron Indoor and Oklahoma State’s Gallagher-Iba Arena.
“I had no idea the building would be as beautiful as it is,” Brown said. “I worried about losing some of the history, worried that it might not be as loud … but it’s just as loud as it’s always been.
“I don’t think any other program can think they have more than us. We’re in a great league, got a great school, a great city.”