Glenn Guilbeau / Gannett Louisiana
BATON ROUGE – Do not be surprised if you see Southern Methodist University coach Larry Brown enjoy a hot dog just before Monday night’s game with LSU in the National Invitation Tournament at 7,000-seat Moody Coliseum in Dallas.
It has at times been a pregame meal of necessity in the 73-year-old Brown’s voluminous past on basketball courts from New York to Los Angeles and hordes of outposts in between. Tip-off between the No. 1 seeded Mustangs (24-9) and No. 5 seed LSU (20-13) is at 8 p.m. on ESPN. The winner advances to play the winner of No. 2 seed California and No. 3 seed Arkansas, which play at 10 p.m. Monday.
Brown, a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame since 2002 who is on his 15th coaching job and fifth this century, plans on sticking around until the end of the game at least.
When he walked into Moody for the first time as the Mustangs’ coach in 2012, it was not his first visit. He remembers a hot dog fast break in the 1967-68 season when he was the point guard for the New Orleans Buccaneers of the ABA (American Basketball Association). The Bucs were playing the Dallas Chaparrals. “We had played four games in four nights in four cities, which was typical in the ABA,” Brown said in a phone interview last week. “We had a late flight and got in town just in time for the game, and I hadn’t eaten. So I ran up to get a hot dog. We won that night, so I ate a hot dog before just about every game the rest of that season.”
The Buccaneers finished 48-30 in the inaugural ABA season, won the Western Division and two playoff series before losing the ABA title to the Pittsburgh Pipers in game seven, 122-113, in Pittsburgh, which won game six at the Loyola Fieldhouse in New Orleans. The Bucs were New Orleans’ only upper level professional franchise to win a playoff game until the NFL New Orleans Saints won their first in the 2000 season.
“It was a wonderful time in New Orleans,” said Brown, who found more than hot dogs at restaurants around the city with his lifelong buddy Doug Moe, a teammate with the Bucs and at North Carolina who later coached in the NBA, too.
“We tried them all. There were so many places to go,” Brown said. “I remember being at the Saints’ first game in the Sugar Bowl (also known as Tulane Stadium) when John Gilliam returned the opening kickoff (94 yards for a touchdown in a loss to Los Angeles on Sept. 13, 1967). We saw Pete Maravich play at LSU (as a sophomore in 1967-68.) At first, the only people at our games were friends and family, but we filled up the Fieldhouse for that sixth game of the championship series of the playoffs.”
And the 5-foot-9 Brown was the coach on the floor in his only season for the Bucs. Brown led the ABA that season in assists with 506, averaging 6.4 along with 13 points while hitting 81 percent from the line and was the MVP of the ABA All-Star game. When Brown’s playing career ended in 1972 after stops in four more ABA cities, he led the league (which folded in ’76) in career assists with 2,509 over 376 games for a career average of 6.6. He holds the ABA record for assists in a game with 23.
Brown has been looking for that type of point guard to coach ever since. SMU’s Nic Moore, a sophomore transfer from Illinois State, is a 5-9 point guard averaging 13.5 points and 4.0 assists.
“No, I don’t like how he’s playing,” Brown said. “He’s not playing like a point guard yet. But in the last game (a 68-54 win over California-Irvine in the NIT first round), he did take only five shots and had eight assists. So he’s starting to do all the things I’ve been saying he should do.”
Moore also does not talk back to Brown as much as Allen Iverson, his point guard with the Philadelphia 76ers from 1997-03 who mocked Brown’s love of practice in an infamous press conference in 2002.
“I still don’t like the games to be honest with you,” Brown said. “I’m always worried that we’re not prepared. I love practice. Brown has been focused on LSU 5-9 point guard Anthony Hickey, who is averaging 3.6 assists and 8.6 points a game, and forwards Johnny O’Bryant and Jordan Mickey, whom he recruited out of Prime Prep Academy in Dallas before LSU coach Johnny Jones got him.
“I love LSU’s little point guard,” Brown said. “Johnny O’Bryant is very good. I have a lot of respect for that program. I love Jordan Mickey. One of the biggest disappointments for me here at SMU was not getting him. We need to keep guys from Dallas like Jordan Mickey here and keep Johnny out of here. We were fighting an uphill battle.”
Brown inherited an SMU program after the 2011-12 season that had gone 13-19 overall and 4-12 in Conference USA under coach Matt Doherty. He went 15-17 and 5-11 in his first season a year ago.
“I have a great deal of respect for him,” Jones said of Brown, who coached Jones’ DeRidder High teammate Mike Sanders at UCLA from 1979-81. “I’ve known him for a long time. He’s done a tremendous job in college, in the pros and back at SMU. We have to certainly really prepare our team. I’ve got to get our guys really ready, knowing that their team will be well prepared.”
Brown’s team made a dramatic turnaround this season, finishing 23-9 overall and 12-6 for third in the American Athletic Conference with a narrow miss of SMU’s first NCAA Tournament bid since 1993.
“Last year if we didn’t have family and friends in the stands, there wasn’t anybody there,” Brown said.
Moody has been full most of this season, and it’s not just students. Former presidents George H.W. and George W. Bush have attended games as have Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo and Dallas coach Jason Garrett. Brown walked into much better situations at UCLA (1979-81) and at Kansas (1983-88), where he won the national championship in ’88.
“The difference in the NBA and college is this,” said Brown, who is the only coach to win an NCAA title and an NBA title (Detroit Pistons in 2004). “If you lose in the NBA, you’re in the lottery. In college, if you’re winning like they do at Kansas and North Carolina, you’re in the lottery every year because you can recruit anybody. But we’re getting there at SMU.”