Up and down the steps to the platform coaches go at NCAA Tournaments. They reach the top step, emerge from behind a curtain, take a seat and answer questions for about 10 minutes, and depart the same way.
Routine stuff, until you consider the most recent comings and goings of Larry Brown on this stage.
On Wednesday, Brown addressed many topics, including the prospects of his Southern Methodist Mustangs as they prepare to meet UCLA in a second-round game Thursday.
That marked the first time he’d been on the platform of an NCAA Tournament since he walked down the steps at Kemper Arena in 1988, the improbable winning coach of the Kansas Jayhawks.
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In between appearances — and before the Danny Manning and the Miracles moment — Brown has lived the most eventful of basketball lives.
Take a deep breath…
Spurs, Clippers, Pacers, 76ers, Pistons, Knicks, Bobcats. NBA finalist in Philly, NBA champion in Detroit, Olympic bronze medalist in 2004, fired by Michael Jordan in Charlotte, N.C., elected to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
The only coach to win an NCAA and NBA championship, and he nearly won one in the ABA as well.
After all of that, Brown was out of coaching by 2010 and the book appeared closed on one of the game’s greatest careers.
But Brown couldn’t stay away. He started visiting practices of some of his former assistants and players like Kentucky’s John Calipari and Maryland’s Mark Turgeon. He shadowed Bill Self and Kansas every step of the Jayhawks’ run to the 2012 national title game.
A few weeks later, Brown checked back into the game, at SMU.
“I didn’t handle retirement very well, but a lot of people threw me a lifeline,” Brown said. “I got to see practices all over the country. I wanted to be able to teach the things that I was taught.”
From a who’s who in the profession. Brown started his North Carolina career under Frank McGuire and finished it under Dean Smith. He won a gold medal in the 1964 Olympics playing for Henry Iba and John McLendon.
At 74, Brown is coaching about 10 years beyond the retirement age of John Wooden and Smith, and Mustangs associate head coach Tim Jankovich can’t and won’t project Brown’s departure.
“I have no idea, and it’s bad karma to even ask,” Jankovich said. “I’ve never asked him the question, and honestly, I don’t think he knows.”
Jankovich, the former Kansas State guard and a member of Self’s Kansas staff from 2004-2007, left his job as Illinois State’s head coach to join the staff with the idea he’d eventually succeed Brown.
For now, Jankovich is absorbing in person what he used to study on film. Smith’s teams at North Carolina and Brown’s at Kansas were constant subjects of Jankovich’s preparation.
SMU practices and games have brought those lessons to life, and Jankoich has seen what makes Brown perhaps the game’s greatest turnaround artist. SMU had eight losing seasons in the nine years before Brown arrived and went 15-17 in his first season.
Last year, SMU won 27 games and reached the NIT finals, and this year marks the program’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1993.
Jankovich wasn’t sure what to expect when he gave up his job at Illinois State to join Brown. Would his heart be in it? Would he have the energy to recruit?
“I’ve been shocked and thankful that he’s worked as hard as he has, especially in recruiting,” Jankovich said. “He knew he had to get talent here, and he’s worked hard to do that.”
The highest profile recruit, Dallas guard Emmanuel Mudiay, never arrived, opting to play professionally this season in China. He’s projected as a lottery pick in this year’s NBA draft.
Even without Mudiay, SMU won the three-bid American Conference and captured the league tournament by beating defending national champion Connecticut at Hartford in the championship game.
After the game, which ended just a few moments before the selection show, the team hustled to a suite to watch the bracket unfold, sharing some gallows humor about the NCAA finding a way to keep them from the field, even as an automatic qualifier, after being the first team out last year.
Instead, the Mustangs got a kick out of their opponent. UCLA was Brown’s first college coaching stop and took the Bruins to the 1980 championship game.
Brown was there for two seasons before picking up and moving again, then to the New Jersey Nets, before arriving in Kansas in 1984. The Jayhawks had losing records in the two previous seasons before Brown. They’ve only missed the NCAA Tournament once since then, because of probation in 1989.
SMU has to be Brown’s final stop, doesn’t it?
With Brown, never say never.
“It works because he’s a basketball junkie,” Jankovich said. “He loves to watch the game, whether it’s an NBA game or an AAU game. He can sit and watch basketball all day.
“For him, it’s never felt like work.”