DALLAS (AP) — Larry Brown discovered something about his new iPhone when SMU finally ended its two-decade NCAA Tournament drought.
“I didn’t realize how many text messages it would accept, so that kept me kind of busy,” the 74-year-old Hall of Fame coach said.
Maybe the texts will keep on coming.
While the Mustangs are back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1993, Brown returns to the Big Dance for the first time since leading Kansas to a national title 27 years ago.
“I hope it’s like it was in ’88,” Brown said, before quickly trying to divert the attention from him to the SMU players, who weren’t even born then.
“At my age, I enjoy every day. I don’t think about the NCAA personally,” he said. “I think about our seniors, and what they’ve been through and now they get this opportunity. I think about last year, that Sunday, just how disappointed we were.”
Ah, yes. Brown’s disappointment at the Mustangs being left out last season after a loss in the American Athletic Conference quarterfinals is well known.
After winning the conference regular-season and tournament championships to leave no doubt about an NCAA berth this season, the Mustangs (27-6) are the No. 6 seed in the South Region. They play Thursday in Louisville, Kentucky, against UCLA (20-13), a team Brown took to the national championship game in 1980.
Asked what his emotions were when he realized the opening opponent was UCLA, Brown quipped, “I thought I coached everybody.”
This is Brown’s 40th season as a head coach, a resume that includes a record nine NBA teams among his 14 coaching jobs. He is the only coach to win both an NCAA championship and NBA title (2004 Detroit Pistons).
Brown is in his third season at SMU, which last won an NCAA Tournament game in 1988, the year of the coach’s national title with the Jayhawks before returning to the NBA with the San Antonio Spurs.
“I think he’s just proud of us as a team, fighting through adversity,” senior guard Ryan Manuel said. “It’s just big for the school that we haven’t been here in a long time. I think it just puts SMU back on the map as far as basketball.”
The Mustangs made it to the NIT championship game last season, after the bitter disappointment of being left out of the 68-team NCAA field. They never heard their name called while watching the NCAA selection show last March with more than 1,000 of their fans.
“It means a lot. It’s the same group that was sitting at Moody last year,” senior center Yanick Moreira said. “We’ve been talking about this the whole year since we came back. We just used that as a motivation for us.”
Not that everything has gone smoothly since then.
Prized recruit Emmanuel Mudiay, a 6-foot-5 McDonald’s All-American point guard from the Dallas area, decided last summer to play professionally in China instead of at SMU.
Big man Markus Kennedy, named most outstanding player in the AAC tournament last week, missed the first 10 games of the season because of academic ineligibility. Xavier transfer Justin Martin left the team in January, not long before guard Keith Frazier was lost for the season because of academic issues.
“I don’t think any team’s been through as much adversity as this team,” Brown said. “We lose the No. 1 recruit, I thought, in the country just prior to the season. Marcus is ineligible, then all of a sudden we lose Keith and lose Justin. And we just keep moving on. I think we’re most proud of the fact that the kids have all responded to adversity.”
SMU has won 25 of its last 28 games. The Mustangs clinched the AAC tournament title Sunday by beating defending national champion UConn in Hartford, Connecticut.
“Nobody had to win a conference championship final on a visiting court, and when you consider the program we were competing against, and how well they play when the game really is meaningful, we’re hopeful that will help,” Brown said. “Our kids handled it great, and made me proud.”