After a 23-9 regular season, Southern Methodist University looked ready to make its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1993. The selection committee felt differently, though, and the Mustangs did not receive a bid to the Big Dance. Instead, the team is competing in the NIT and will play Clemson in the semifinal on Tuesday. SMU is coached by a man with a little bit of postseason experience: 73-year-old Larry Brown.
The Basketball Hall of Famer joined Bill Littlefield on Only A Game.
BL: After the NCAA tournament bracket was revealed you said, “I don’t want us complaining because it would take away from the teams that made it.” Was that easier said than done for your players?LB: Oh yeah, it was disappointing, especially for our seniors. It was a difficult thing. But, you know, maybe it’s turned out to be a blessing because after Sunday there’s only going to be eight teams left playing. You know, four in the Final Four of the NCAA and four in the NIT, so you gotta be pretty thankful about that.
BL: You won an NCAA championship in 1988 with Kansas and an NBA title in 2004 with the Detroit Pistons, but you’ve never won the NIT title — sort of the third jewel in your crown, perhaps. What’s the atmosphere like this postseason compared to other runs that your teams have had?
LB: Well, I’ve never been in the NIT to be honest. Growing up in New York like I did, the NIT was huge when I was young boy. I want my kids to enjoy this and feel, you know, that we’ve gotten a second chance, and this is an opportunity to help build our program.
BL: I know you’ve been busy preparing for SMU’s games in the NIT, but have you had a chance to follow the NCAA tournament at all? And if so I’m curious about whether you have a favorite moment from it?
I don’t enjoy the recruiting one bit. But I love that I get to work with young players and young coaches on a daily basis.
BL: You coached at Kansas until 1988. You then spent more than two decades in the NBA before rejoining the college ranks with Southern Methodist University in 2012. Besides the shorter three-point line, what kinds of readjustments did you have to make?
LB: Oh my God, it’s like a different sport. In the NBA it’s all basketball. You know, you don’t have to worry about recruiting or speaking engagements or kids going to class or summer jobs, so it’s a whole different dynamic. But I love being in a college environment. I don’t enjoy the recruiting one bit. But I love that I get to work with young players and young coaches on a daily basis.
BL: Analytics have become bigger and bigger in basketball in recent years. Has that trend changed your coaching?LB: Hell no. I’m the worst. I think that’s a crock of bologna, in my mind. Any coach that cares about the game and wants to be great realizes whether a guy can make a three-point shot or whether he’s a bad free throw shooter or goes left or goes right. But analytics aren’t helping the game one bit, in my mind. You either can play or you can’t play.
BL: As someone who’s spent time coaching in both the college and pro ranks, how do you feel about the push to pay college athletes?
LB: My biggest concern is I think all these kids that go to college and are on scholarship that maybe come from families that are a little disadvantaged, they ought to be able to live like a normal student. If we have to give them a stipend where they can live — like my son is a freshman at SMU. If they could all live like my son and, you know, not worry about where he’s going to get a meal or if he wants to go to a movie or buy a shirt or something like that, that I can provide that for him. I think that’s the way it should be.