LOUISVILLE, Ky. - This is what it is like to play for Larry Brown at SMU: Everywhere you go, someone important knows and loves your coach. Once, he brought his former 76ers superstar guard Allen Iverson to address the team at a practice. We're talking about practice.
Fact is, Brown brings a depth and range of experience to his job and, even at 74, he still brings enthusiasm. All of which has helped him bring SMU to the NCAA Tournament and a game this afternoon against UCLA, a team he coached to the national championship game at least one lifetime ago (in 1980).
"I've been through these things before. You have to focus on your own team and what you do best," he said on Wednesday. "That never changed. It never changed in the pros for me, when we played night in and night out against different teams."
Brown has been a head coach for 40 years, almost all of them successful. Despite rough times with the Knicks and Hornets, he just could not stay away. He would not let himself retire and work on the golf game that won him a couple senior championships at Atlantic Golf Club in Bridgehampton.
"I just want to let people hear the things that I was taught," he said. Brown still has much to share, judging from the fact his Mustangs (27-6) recovered from a painful NCAA snub last March and won the American Athletic Conference regular season and postseason titles.
For inspiration, he arranged a talk from Iverson, with whom he had a volatile relationship. When Brown once remarked about his star missing practices, Iverson replied with a classic rant: "We're talking about practice!"
Iverson sang a much different tune to the SMU players. "He just really taught us about how Coach Brown influenced his life and just how he pushes everybody each and every day to get the best out of them," said guard Ryan Manuel, who said Brown's arrival in 2012 convinced him not to transfer.
Brown said he tries to be like his late mentor Dean Smith in keeping in touch with his former players and assistants. Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg, a little used sub for Brown with the Pacers, said Brown still remembered Hoiberg's children's names. Brown has exchanged phone calls this week with his former Kansas and 76ers assistant, John Calipari, whose unbeaten Kentucky team plays here tonight.
But the old coach still wants to live in the moment. Of Thursday's game, Brown said: "I'll try to figure out something smart to tell them. I just want them to have fun and do what we do best."
Which is what he has been doing for 40 years.