Serena Winters

Brett Brown interview: Sixers head coach discusses his routine during NBA hiatus

Brett Brown interview: Sixers head coach discusses his routine during NBA hiatus

A clean-shaven, perfectly trimmed Brett Brown picked up our video call on Friday afternoon, quite a difference from the bearded Sixers head coach we’ve become accustomed to.

“My son, truly,” Brown told NBC Sports Philadelphia with a laugh when explaining his new look. “He takes great pride in it. He’s my barber.”

Along with hair cuts and long walks with his dog, whom he proclaimed is the "fittest dog in Philadelphia," Brown has become the "cook of the house."

Even if there is an ulterior motive for his new expertise.

“I do it mostly because then I feel like you don't have to clean, so I get out of that a little bit,” he said. “And I just love the time with my family.”

But don’t hold your breath for an intricate recipe ...

“The experimentation I've had with a crock pot,” he said of his latest quarantine diversion. “Good beef stew. You cannot screw it up. It's impossible. It's all sequestered in a pot, you slow cook it for 10 hours ... and it'll last you a few days.”

Amid the dog walks along the Schuylkill and Wissahickon trails, and gathering around the table for some of Brown’s beef stew, there is plenty of time for basketball.

“I’m shocked how quickly the days go by,” he said.

Brown said he’s communicating daily with general manager Elton Brand, usually by FaceTime, and talking weekly with players.

On Wednesdays, Brown speaks with all of the bench coaches and peripheral staff (sports science, analytics, strength and conditioning), which he estimates to be about 18 people.

They discuss offensive, defensive and special teams topics, such as out of bounds plays.

"What did we do well and what did we do poorly," Brown said, "and the why to both questions, so that we've got answers of what do we have to keep going, and what do we have to fix."

And of course, gearing up for a potential playoff race …

“If we play Boston in the playoffs," Brown said, "what does that look like? Or Toronto, or Miami? It has been very well mapped out.”

On Thursdays, Brown meets with his player development coaches.

“We have eight young coaches that are responsible for stables of players, and I lead the charge with a specific theme," he said. "It could be pick-and-roll offense or pin down offense." 

On top of that, the coaches walk Brown through what they’ve been doing with each player.

“[Director of player development Chris] Babcock might walk me through what we've been doing with Joel [Embiid] and [player development coach] Tyler [Lashbrook] might walk me through what we've been doing with Zhaire [Smith],” Brown said. “Everyone has their own stage. From the coaching side of it, we are good to go. If someone says it’s go time and we're going to play again, I think we can jump into this in a smarter, better way.”

And Brown sure hopes his team gets the opportunity to do that.

“The reality that we had our starters 19 times out of 65 games is real,” Brown said. “I do believe this team is built for the playoffs. [We’ve] taken deep dives into why we’re poor on the road, why we’re we good at home, the delineation between our starting center position … studying pairings, studying how this team is uniquely built for the playoffs and studying what that means defensively, just as much as offensively.

“All those deep dive studies have been unfolding over the past seven weeks, and I feel that, without getting into too much coachspeak, we have uncovered some things and confirmed some things that give me tremendous confidence that if the season can continue and the launching pad is realistic enough to have a level of preparation ... you really feel confident and comfortable that the team can do some special things, if we can first just get healthy.”

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The Philly basketball coach that impacted Meek Mill, Marc Jackson

The Philly basketball coach that impacted Meek Mill, Marc Jackson

We all have those individuals who inspired us as kids. Maybe it was a teacher who took the extra time to make sure you knew that they cared. Maybe it was the grandmother who never said “no,” or the neighbor who always made sure you had enough to eat. Maybe it was a coach who always made you believe in yourself.

In the Philadelphia basketball community, Ed Hurtt, known mostly as “Coach Ed,” “Productions,” and “EDP,” has been that figure. For over 30 years, Hurtt has poured his heart and soul into youth basketball throughout the Tri-State area, coaching kids, hosting camps and inspiring kids to graduate high school and pursue a college education. And now, although his efforts are far from over, the Sixers have named him 76ers Jr. NBA Coach of the Year, after an overwhelming amount of public nominations.

And while it’s certainly appreciated, recognition has never been something Hurtt has needed.

“When you've been doing stuff this long and you've been doing it from the heart, you don't look for rewards,” Hurtt told NBC Sports Philadelphia. “I just try to remind my participants to always be humble in life, no matter how successful you get, always be humble and don't forget where you come from.”

For Hurtt, it all started when he was about 12 years old and volunteering for the Sonny Hill Basketball League, an amateur summer basketball organization founded in 1968.

“That's all we would do in the summer,” Hurtt remembered of looking forward to The Sonny Hill League as a kid. “It was really fun because you could be around all the basketball players … and as you get older, you challenge yourself and learn from the older guys.”

But there was another reason, too.

“We had gang warfare back in those days, street territory,” Sonny Hill told NBC Sports Philadelphia. “And Eddie felt like it was a safe haven for him. … In other words, North Philadelphia, South Philadelphia, West Philadelphia, Germantown and other sections. … If you were in those neighborhoods, and you were involved in the Sonny Hill League, then the gangs would give you a safe pass because they had such great respect for what it is that we were doing, which was using basketball as a vehicle to interact with young people to help them become better human beings. And Eddie was a part of that.”

Eventually Hurtt would take the concepts he learned in that league, as well as his experiences as an assistant under Coach Kenny Hamilton at Benjamin Franklin High School, and start his own program.

“Our model was, ‘We're more than just basketball,’ and that’s our slogan,” Hurtt said of his Youth Working Together (YWT) program, where he currently coaches.

Thinking back to the early days, Hurtt remembers participants bringing their book bags in every Friday while he checked school work and receiving confirmation that the kids fulfilled duties at home. He even required them to have a library card.

Now, he’s on his participants as early as 10th grade to take the SAT.

“I tell them my goal is to get you into college, and it's up to you to move forward,” Hurtt said. “I'm really up front with them. Everyone is not going to play professional basketball. There's just not enough jobs for it, but they can't take knowledge from you, so I worked my tail off to make sure that we can get them into college.”

“He knew playing ball was a good thing, but it’s an avenue you can use,” former Sixer Marc Jackson, who first met Hurtt around 30 years ago through youth programs, said. “Without the mixture of academics, you would never get the opportunity you seek … and the way he related to you would make you pay close attention to him.”

“He was always making sure I was on top of school, making sure GPA and SAT scores matched,” Mark Tyndale, a Philly native and player development coach for the Toronto Raptors, told NBC Sports Philadelphia. “He was always at all my high school and college games. … He was just like a proud father to see my success and see me do well. He was the first one to congratulate me when I got the job with the Raptors.”

Tyndale came up through Hurtt’s program at the same time as Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry and rapper Meek Mill.

“I will never forget when Meek Mill’s first mixtape came out,” Tyndale remembers. “Me, Ed and Meek Mill’s mom were walking in the record store (Phenomenal Records) at the same time to support his upcoming music. … Even though he’s a basketball guy, he is very supportive of any kind of craft, always about education and just seeing guys make it out the neighborhood and do well for themselves.”

“We come from a rough neighborhood, so just to see a guy like Coach Ed in the community, it really keeps the balance in the neighborhood and I think we need more people like him in the world.”

One of Jackson’s greatest memories of Hurtt goes back to his days in the Sonny Hill College League. He was hyped after one of his big games, which he said usually coincided after watching NBA draft picks.

“I had a really good game, after watching the NBA draft," Jackson said, "and I remember Ed being like, ‘Yeah that’s good, Marc, but that needs to be every day and every game. You can’t come in here and do that sometimes. … When he said that it kind of woke me up. It made me realize the importance of consistency. That one statement, at that time, when I think I’m dominating, that for me, helped remind me how consistency is the key. … He’s always been that guy to count on, to be honest, no matter what.”

And that goes to show one of Hurtt’s greatest strengths and gifts to the Philadelphia community.

“Taking kids that are kind of rough around the edges, like me, and mentoring them to understand that there is a bigger goal,” Jackson said.

“He has seen a lot of people come up,” Tyndale said. “There are people that came way before us and people that are going to come way after us that he is going to help get to where they are trying to go, and the future is really bright with Ed.”

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Elton Brand interview: Sixers GM discusses Ben Simmons' progress, NBA draft preparation

Elton Brand interview: Sixers GM discusses Ben Simmons' progress, NBA draft preparation

Sixers general manager Elton Brand joined NBC Sports Philadelphia for a video interview Tuesday morning to discuss preparing for the NBA draft, free agency, Ben Simmons’ recovery, a vacant spot in the team's front office, and the possibility of resuming play amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Elton, human interaction is such a big part of what you do. What are some of the creative ways you’ve kept in touch with your players and coaching staff, and what’s been the biggest challenge to keeping everyone engaged?

"It’s been a challenge. We’ve been leveraging technology, a lot of phone calls. I’m old school, I like to call or text the players before you do a FaceTime or video conference. We are meeting every day, the scouting department is live. We are preparing as if the draft is going to happen in June, even though we don't know. We are scenario planning for free agency. It hasn't stopped. I actually had to set some boundaries, because when you are working from home, you can say, hey, let's have an 8:30 p.m. meeting."

Under normal circumstances, the NBA draft combine would be gearing up at the end of the month. How has your draft preparation and process changed, given the situation?

"[Vice president of scouting] Vince Rozman led our draft prep last year, and he's doing a great job again this year, giving me all the deep dives and all the video that we need to watch. We were actually one of the first teams to pull our scouts out of the field, off the road, to get them on to video conferencing, video scouting, so we have a leg up in that department. Tons of film work, and I'm able to talk to agents, able to talk to families, able to talk to prospects. I actually have a few calls and videos today, just to be able to get to know them a little bit better. It's not an in-person, but we're prepared."

Because it is really important to be able to look a prospect in the eye, right?

"Absolutely. It's very important just to be able to get to know that type of person. We want to build a certain character here with the Philadelphia 76ers, so we want to make sure that they are in line with that."

Do you have a sense yet for what kind of players you’ll target at this point?

"We can have up to five draft picks, as you know, so we always want versatile players, defensive-minded players — there could be some shooting in this draft — so we are just trying to add a lot of talent, and we think this is a deep draft, so I'm looking forward to it and I'm excited about it."

Marc Eversley, former 76ers VP of Player Personnel, has taken the job as the new Bulls' general manager. Obviously, that leaves an important spot open in your front office. How do you plan to go about filling that role? 

"First of all, I would like to congratulate Marc Eversley. It's a dream come true for him to be a GM. Great relationships, great mind in basketball, very proud of him. I think him and [Bulls executive VP of basketball operations] Arturas Karnisovas will be a great combination there in Chicago. We are ready to step up. Vince Rozman, as I said, led the draft and pre-draft events last year. He is ready and doing it again this year. My group, [executive VP of basketball operations] Alex Rucker has been an executive for over a decade in the league, [assistant GM] Ned Cohen, 12 years with the league office and four years with the Sixers, [VP of strategy] Sergi Oliva, he's been with the Sixers four, five years, and 10 years in Spain. So I really like our group. We all have to step it up in Marc's absence."

The last time we talked to Ben Simmons was the night the league suspended the season. What can you tell us about Ben’s progress from the nerve impingement in his lower back?

"Ben is doing great, doing much better. I give him and our medical staff and our performance staff a lot of credit. I give Ben a lot of credit. Fortunately, we have been able to get him the treatment he needs, get him into facilities that he can rehab and get back. So every player is going to need a certain set of ramp-up. I don't know how long that is going to be, whether it's going to be 25 days, five weeks, but I am very encouraged that Ben will be along that timeline. His ramp-up may look a little different, but he will be fine and he will be right along with that, with him and his teammates."

The league announced last week that it plans to modify its guidance regarding the use of team practice facilities and player training, which could start as early as Friday. How do you expect this to look at your practice facility in New Jersey?

"Monitoring it all, some of the states have loosened their stay-at-home mandates, and we have not in New Jersey. We are just monitoring what the other states are doing, and it's going to be based on data, not a date. We want the community to be healthy, we want the players to be healthy, so if we do open the gym, we want to make sure that everyone is safe and they are keeping their families safe, but I'm definitely monitoring it, so that could be an option in the future."

There is still very little clarity about when or if the season will resume. How have you kept in contact with Adam Silver and the league office and are you open to finishing the season in arenas without fans?

"I'm on a weekly GM call, and commissioner Adam Silver leads it. I'm on a committee for return to play, so we are trying to figure all of that out. The league is going to lead us on that ... they are talking to all the experts around the world, and they are trying to figure out when it's deemed safe to play, listening to all options. Without fans is of course not the best way for us —  we love our fans, but we want to keep everyone safe and healthy during this pandemic, so if that's what it is, then that's what it is."

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