Nationals

SMU good fit for Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown

SMU good fit for Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown

DALLAS (AP) Larry Brown was a young assistant on coach Dean Smith's staff at North Carolina in the mid-1960s when he turned down his first head coaching offer.

At the time, Brown didn't think he was ready. But Smith asked him where he'd like to coach one day.

``I said, of course North Carolina, but I didn't ever want to see him step down,'' Brown recalled. ``So I said Stanford, Northwestern, Princeton and Vanderbilt. ... Great academically and great conferences and great areas to live.''

A record nine NBA jobs later, and a quarter century after leading Kansas to an NCAA title, the 72-year-old Brown found that kind of fit in his return to coaching this season at SMU.

``We don't have the tradition of Carolina, Duke, Kentucky, UCLA,'' said Brown, whose Mustangs are off to a 9-4 start. ``But I don't think we'll shortchange a kid in terms of getting an education and coaching them up and giving them a chance to be successful.''

For anyone who thought the Hall of Fame coach went to SMU as a figurehead for a struggling program with a pending move to the ever-changing Big East Conference, it quickly becomes clear why he's back in the game.

``The only reason I took a job is because I love to coach and teach, and this school afforded me this opportunity,'' he said.

Brown had to be told during early games to stay in the coaching box. He holds out his hands questioning a non-call by a referee, tries to prompt his team to run its play at the right pace and chides a player for hanging on the rim after a dunk.

During practice, Brown gets right in the middle of his post players to demonstrate what he wants them to do. He swishes a shot to start a drill, then moves up and down the court, waving his hands to direct the action.

``We all thought that he may come in, be like the GM figure. ... That's so wrong,'' SMU junior guard Nick Russell said. ``He's in practice, and he's screaming, and he's running and he's dribbling and shooting hook shots. He's doing it all. He's involved and his presence is felt day in and day out.''

Brown was hired in April to replace the fired Matt Doherty, who went 80-109 in six seasons. Brown left the NBA's Charlotte Bobcats in December 2010.

While home in the Philadelphia area with his wife and two high school-age kids, Brown spent many days at Villanova games and practices with coach Jay Wright. Brown also visited friends like Kansas coach Bill Self, Kentucky's John Calipari and Maryland's Mark Turgeon, but stayed away from NBA arenas.

``He's a piece of work,'' Wright said. ``I do miss him, but I know how happy he is down there.''

Tim Jankovich was Illinois State's head coach the past five seasons after working on Self's staff. He had one of his best Redbirds teams coming back this season, but couldn't pass up the opportunity to work with Brown, a coach he has always followed and studied.

``What's struck me is the amount of energy that he has,'' said Jankovich, SMU's associate head coach and Brown's expected successor. ``His energy is that of someone 20 years younger. ... He's still passionate about the game.''

The Mustangs' last NCAA tournament was in 1993. Their last NCAA victory was 1988, the same season Brown won the title at Kansas.

In a tight concourse at Moody Coliseum, which is undergoing a massive $47 million renovation, there is a case with some of the Mustangs' old trophies. The 1993 Southwest Conference championship trophy is near one recognizing a 1957 league title and another from 1935. There is a folded-up jersey once worn by 7-foot center Jon Koncak.

After his first SMU practice, Brown told players he was going to ``pray that we win a game.'' He seriously asked them to do the same.

``He was like, `Ah, this is terrible.' ... It was our first time playing against one another,'' said junior forward Shawn Williams, chuckling at the memory. ``I expected a little rust, but I think with him being around NBA guys, it was a little different.''

Self, who attended Brown's SMU introduction along with Doherty, stays in touch with Brown and remembers a call he got last month after a difficult Jayhawks victory.

``He told me how good we're doing, and I said, `Are you watching the same stuff I watched?' Which goes totally against how he used to be,'' Self said. ``Because if he's talking about his own team, they're always awful.''

Brown seems to like his team now - and the players waiting for next season.

Three transfers get to practice while having to sit out this year, including players from Villanova and Illinois State. A top-notch junior college player and two Chicago-area high school standouts have signed letters of intent for next season.

Brown admittedly isn't crazy about recruiting, and there have also been a lot of changes in the college game since he was at UCLA (1979-81) and Kansas (1983-88).

``It's become four different professions in the time I've been in it, it changes so much,'' said Jankovich, in his 30th season coaching. ``I sometimes try to see it through his eyes, and I'm like, `You must think you're on Mars sometimes.' ... But he's very bright, and he's a fast learner, and he's very observant.''

Many young players know little about Brown, the only coach to win NBA and NCAA titles. Some do connect him when reminded of Allen Iverson's famous rant about practice while playing for Brown and the Philadelphia 76ers.

When Brown was recently watching some high school games in Beaumont, Texas, some seventh- and eighth-graders sitting nearby were trying to figure out what SMU was.

``There's a big hill to climb,'' Brown said. ``It's a little different when you're at North Carolina and UCLA and Kansas. You walk into a home where you see a kid, maybe they recognize your program based on the tradition and the excellence and stuff like that. ... That being said, I know in my heart we're going to be like those other programs. I really believe that.''

Brown, in his 14th job and with a reputation for impressive turnarounds and often messy or quick departures, also knows the inevitable question: How long will he be at SMU?

Jankovich gets asked that and doesn't know the answer - and figures Brown probably doesn't, either.

``Other people bring it up about how long I'm going to stay, and it's based on my age and based on my track record,'' Brown said. ``It's a question I should have to answer because I have moved, and I don't know if any Division I head coach is older than me.''

There is. Jackson State's Tevester Anderson is 75.

As for how long he will keep coaching this time, Brown said he always wants to be doing something in basketball.

``Nobody has had a background like me. Not only the people I played for or worked for, it's the people who worked with or the people I coached,'' Brown said. ``Why not share what they taught me?

``I don't look at mirrors or celebrate birthdays,'' he said. ``Otherwise, I feel exactly like I did when I was coach's assistant at North Carolina.''

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Adam Eaton calls Todd Frazier ‘childish’ after the ex-teammates get into it again

Adam Eaton calls Todd Frazier ‘childish’ after the ex-teammates get into it again

NEW YORK -- Normal is not something the Nationals do this season.

Monday’s pivot from the mundane -- an otherwise run-of-the-mill 5-3 baseball game -- came when Adam Eaton was jogging toward the visitors dugout in the bottom of the third inning when he stopped to respond to New York third baseman Todd Frazier, whom Eaton said was chirping at him all night.

This is not new. The two were teammates on the Chicago White Sox in 2016 and did not get along. Last year, Frazier and Eaton also had an exchange. The one Monday night at Citi Field prompted several members of the Nationals to hop over the dugout railing while Frazier and Eaton were being restrained near the first base bag. First base umpire Mike Estabrook cutoff Eaton who was walking toward Frazier after initially heading to the dugout following a 4-6-3 double play which ended the inning for the Nationals. When Frazier came toward the Mets dugout from his position at third base, the two began their spat.

Afterward, Frazier declined to comment in the Mets’ clubhouse, saying only, “It was nothing.” Eaton took the opportunity to expound on his displeasure with the incident, its continuation and Frazier himself.

“Yeah, I don’t know,” Eaton said. “Gosh, who knows what goes through that guy’s mind? He’s chirping all the way across the infield. He must really like me, [because] he wants to get my attention it seems like every time we come into town, he really cares what I think about him. I don’t know what his deal is, if he wants to talk to me in person or have a visit or what it is. But he’s always yelling across the infield at me, making a habit of it.

“He’s one of those guys who always says it loud enough that you hear it but can’t understand it. So, he’s making a habit of it. I ignored him a couple times chirping coming across, but I had it to the point where I’m not going to say the saying I want to say but you got to be a man at some point. So, I turned around, had a few choice words with him. It’s funny, I was walking towards him, he didn’t really want to walk towards me but as soon as someone held him back then he was all of a sudden he was really impatient, like trying to get towards me. Just being Todd Frazier. What’s new?”

Asked if he is surprised such exchanges are still happening three years after they played together, Eaton said he was.

“Yes, absolutely,” Eaton said. “He’s very childish. I’m walking with my head down, play’s over, I’m walking away. I can still hear him. I’m a 30-year-old man with two kids, got a mortgage and everything. He wants to loud talk as he’s running off the field. At the end of the day, I got to be a man about it. I tried to stay patient with the childishness, but it is what it is. I got to stand up eventually.”

He did, and what could have been merely Game 47 for a struggling team turned out to be something else.

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Patrick Corbin’s rough beginning a hole Nationals can’t emerge from

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Patrick Corbin’s rough beginning a hole Nationals can’t emerge from

NEW YORK -- The Washington Nationals lost to the New York Mets, 5-3, Monday to drop their record to 19-28. Here are five observations from the game…

1. A wondrous, very Mets day preceded the game.

Their general manager, Brodie Van Wagenen, held a press conference to announce...Yoenis Cespedes -- already out because of dual heel surgeries -- suffered multiple ankle fractures during a ranch accident over the weekend. Van Wagenen then went on to profess his support for maligned New York manager Mickey Callaway -- for the most part. Last, and most important to writers, three boxes of donuts were in the press box with a note: “Have a great series! -- BVW”.

Things are always a little different in Flushing. That was a problem for the Nationals.

In what could be labeled a “reverse-lock” situation, Washington’s $140 million starter, Patrick Corbin, was outpitched by unknown and often ineffective Wilmer Font, whom the Nationals smacked around just five days ago. The Nationals, as they often do, dragged themselves back into the game after trailing 4-0. A Juan Soto single drove in Anthony Rendon in the eighth to cut the lead to 4-3. Rendon was on base four times.

And, again, it was just enough to produce a close loss. Washington put two runners on with none out against dynamic New York closer Edwin Diaz before Kurt Suzuki flew out, Trea Turner grounded into a fielder's choice and Adam Eaton flew out.

The Nationals drop to nine games under .500 following one-run and two-run defeats. They also fell to 2-14 in series openers.

2. A rough, short evening for Corbin.

He trudged through the night on 98 pitches. Corbin lasted just five innings. He walked three, gave up four earned runs, struck out seven.

His night was a mess early. Amed Rosario and Pete Alonso homered in the first inning. Two walks in the third -- one with two outs -- led to two more runs scoring. He zipped through the fourth and fifth before being removed.

Corbin has endured two blowups this season in an otherwise quality first two months: Monday and April 29 against St. Louis. The latter outing featured four walks and a homer allowed against one of the league’s better offenses. Monday’s bad outing came against a Mets lineup which did not feature Robinson Cano to start and entered the evening 21st in wOBA.

Bad timing. Bad night.

3. Tanner Rainey made his Nationals debut Monday. He was interesting.

Rainey gave up a hustle double to pinch-hitter Cano -- yes, hustle and Cano -- but otherwise showed a sharp fastball-slider combination.

Rainey was the return for Tanner Roark in the offseason trade that sent Roark to Cincinnati during the Winter Meetings.

He has command trouble. He also throws 98-100 mph with ease. Asked in spring training where that velocity comes from, Rainey said his legs and weight lifting. No secret sauce. He lifted more, he threw harder. And he subsequently repeated the process.

Rainey’s velocity will always intrigue. The question is if he can command his two-pitch arsenal enough to become an actual bullpen weapon. The baseline tools are there.

4. A shuffle in the relief corps is coming.

Tony Sipp (oblique) was activated from the 10-day injured list Monday. Dan Jennings was designated for assignment. That experiment is over. Jennings signed a minor-league contract April 15. He was in the majors April 30. He’s gone less than a month later. He did not pitch well.

The Nationals claimed right-handed Javy Guerra off waivers Monday. Guerra was designated for assignment by Toronto. Guerra pitched 14 innings for the Blue Jays this season, with a 3.86 ERA and 3.17 FIP. In other words, distinctly better than most in the Nationals bullpen.

Washington expects Guerra to arrive in New York on Tuesday. Kyle McGowin is likely to be sent back to Triple-A Fresno to make room. So, two fresh pitchers in the bullpen early in the week.

Trevor Rosenthal should also be back shortly. He is expected to throw an inning for Double-A Harrisburg on Tuesday. Rainey will likely be sent back to the minor leagues to make room there.

And, a situation in West Palm Beach, Fla., to keep an eye on: reliever Austen Williams had to be shut down to allow his shoulder to rest. Williams threw 40 pitches at the spring training facility the first week of May, when he appeared on his way back from the 10-day injured list. However, he has stopped throwing after experiencing further shoulder soreness. He was placed on the injured list April 19 because of a sprained right AC joint.

5. Matt Adams worked with the team on the field Monday, which he expects to do the next two days.

He’s on the verge of being activated before the week is out.

“I watched him [Monday] and he took some really good swings,” Martinez said. “We’ll see how he feels [Tuesday]. I’m assuming that he might be a little sore, because he did take some swings and he’s going to continue to do baseball activities [Monday]. But we’ll see how he feels.”

Adams’ 15-day absence has handcuffed Martinez in multiple ways. Take Sunday. Right-handed slider-thrower Steve Cishek on the mound. Left-handed hitters’ OPS against Cishek is 143 points higher than right-handers. But, no Adams meant no left-handed pinch-hitter.

Those issues should be over soon.

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