Is Larry Brown building SMU a program, or a team to send him into retirement?
Much has been made of Emmanuel Mudiay’s commitment to SMU from over the weekend.
When a basketball program that has gone two full decades without reaching the NCAA tournament beats out Kentucky and John Calipari for a top five recruit, a lot of people take notice.
One of the most consistent reactions to Mudiay’s commitment, however, has been that this will make SMU a force to be reckoned with in the AAC. And in the short term, that may be true. Mudiay will join a team in 2014-2015 that will already include 2013 McDonald’s All-American Keith Frazier, one of the nation’s top Class of 2013 JuCo’s in Yannick Moreira, former Villanova Wildcat Markus Kennedy and Illinois State transfer Nic Moore.
That’s a solid core to work with in 2014-2015. Just for fun, pretend that SMU somehow manages to land another top five player in the Class of 2014 in Myles Turner, who said that Mudiay’s commitment brought SMU back into the picture for him.
That would be enough for the Mustangs to contend with UConn and Memphis for the AAC title, which would be an incredible accomplishment.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean that SMU suddenly has a strong basketball program.
The bottom-line is this: when powerhouse basketball programs sprout from a barren hoops landscape, more often than not it’s the result of one head coach consistently building the profile of the school. Think Lute Olson at Arizona or Jim Calhoun at UConn or Scott Drew at Baylor. I’d even argue that Rick Barnes and Billy Donovan can be thrust into that conversation.
Longevity and consistency has been the key to each of those programs.
Larry Brown is not going to be at SMU for long. He turns 73 next month. He’s not in it for the long haul; he’s looking for one last hurrah. Assuming that Turner does end up going to SMU, let’s say that Brown leads the Mustangs to a top three finish in the regular season, a spot in the top 15 nationally, an AAC tournament title and a run to the Elite 8 of the NCAA tournament.
Then Moreira graduates, Mudiay and Turner go on to be the one and done lottery picks everyone thinks they will be, and Frazier decides to leave school as well to avoid being the only holdover on a team that’s bound to take a hit the following season.
Does Brown hang around for another year? Does he still want to coach when he turns 75 during the 2015-2016 season? Does he want to put in the effort to rebuild SMU again? Who knows, but that’s assuming a lot for a coach known as a basketball nomad that would have already put in three years at one school. If he leaves along with all of the talent in the program, will one Elite 8 appearance give SMU any name cache? Or will that simply be the outlier, the trivia question that us hoop junkies will be able to answer at our neighborhood pub quiz in March of 2025?
Here’s another bit of trivia for you: the last time that Larry Brown coach in college, he led Kansas to the 1988 NCAA title and then jumped to the NBA, avoiding recruiting violations that left the program banned from the 1989 NCAA tournament -- the first time that a reigning champion couldn’t defend their title -- and on probation for three years. Before that, Brown coached at UCLA from 1979-1981, where an appearance in the 1980 title game was vacated and the school was put on probation for two years when Brown left. To be fair, Brown arrived at UCLA at the end of the Dan Gilbert era, and the violations that were investigated had less to do with Brown than it did with the previous 15-20 years of Bruin basketball.
That’s not exactly a promising trend.
The door is open for SMU -- and a school like Houston -- to become a nationally relevant program the same way that Baylor has over the last five or six years. There’s plenty of talent in Texas, and the likes of Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech certainly aren’t landing those players. Mudiay, following in Frazier’s footsteps, could be the guy that opens those floodgates.
SMU could be the next Baylor.
But the program could also be Larry Brown’s final coaching challenge.
I certainly wouldn’t be surprised to see him retire in April, 2015, and see the Mustangs spend another 20 years waiting to get back to the NCAA tournament.