Larry Brown attempted retirement once; it was the two worst years of his life.
"After about a week, I was bored to death," he said.
Friends and colleagues threw out lifelines with offers to visit their programs or teams after Brown was sent to the sidelines by the Charlotte Bobcats in December 2010, the result of an 8-18 start to the NBA season. But a downtrodden SMU program would be the one to successfully rescue the Hall of Fame coach out of his golden years.
When Brown replaced another former North Carolina Tar Heel, Matt Doherty, at the Dallas-based university, he instantly became the face of the Mustangs.
In a city with teams playing in this country's four major professional sports, SMU basketball was an unpleasant memory after six losing records in Doherty's seven years and no trips to the NCAA Tournament since 1993.
Nic Moore, Markus Kennedy and Keith Frazier might not be household names like their head coach, but the Mustangs arrive today at Gampel Pavilion (2 p.m., CBSSN) in much better shape than when Brown first arrived, which has been a staple of his coaching career.
"We were 13-15 in Conference USA last year, and I knew we'd be better this year," Brown said in a conference call Friday. "But I didn't know if our record would reflect that because we were going into a much better conference."
SMU (21-6, 10-4 American Athletic Conference) has dabbled in the top 25 already this season, coming in on the fringe of the latest AP poll tied for 28th with 21 votes, and has beaten three ranked teams, including No. 21 UConn (21-5, 9-4).
"The attention we're getting, there's a lot of responsibility now because of that," Brown said. "I don't know if we understand that. All of this is a growing process."
The Huskies lost 74-65 on Jan. 4 in the grand reopening of SMU's $47 million Moody Coliseum, where the Mustangs have found their greatest success this season (8-0) with victories there over two other AAC top-25 teams: Memphis and Cincinnati.
The road has not been quite as kind, with SMU 5-5 away from Moody, including 3-4 in The American, but it has already clinched a first-round bye in next month's conference tournament with its overall AAC record.
"I think they are proud of themselves," Brown said. "But again, in order for us to really be good, we have to prove that on the road against a quality team. I think they know that every game they're playing now is like a tournament game for us, trying to have a resume where most people would appreciate our wins, and hopefully give us a chance to get in the tournament."
The resume of the 73-year-old head coach is a lengthy one, and includes NBA (Detroit in 2004) and NCAA championships (Kansas in 1988) along with more than 1,300 combined wins -- in the ABA, too -- on the way to enshrinement in the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002. Read Full Article
Since leaving the college game in 1988 with a national title, Brown tried to work his magic at seven NBA stops, including Philadelphia, where he worked with UConn head coach Kevin Ollie, who played point guard for Brown on the 76ers' 2001 NBA Finals team.
"He was tough on me, but it was some great love, though, and I respect him each and every day," said Ollie, who was prepared for tough love after four years playing for Jim Calhoun at UConn. "But (Brown) wanted you to be a perfectionist, and every little thing you did, do it the right way. Come in and play the right way every day in practice. He was meticulous in his teaching patterns.
"As a point guard, there were a lot of different things he got on you (about), but it allowed me to be the person that I am as a coach and also as a player. I appreciate him impacting my life that way."
The latest guard to fall under Brown's mentorship is Moore, a transfer from Illinois State who seems to show no rust after sitting out last season. Moore scored 20 points in the first meeting with UConn and leads the team with 14.1 points per game, hitting 48.2 percent of his shots.
"Moore is absolutely the catalyst of their team," Ollie said. "The aces of spades for us are him and Markus Kennedy. Whenever they need a basket, they are going to put the ball in Moore's hands and they are going to let him make a play."
Based on the 21 wins the Mustangs have already complied, tying them for sixth most in school history, Moore has excelled at being a playmaker in most peoples' eyes with 4.6 assists per game.
"He's helped us, but he hasn't figured out what I want yet," Brown said. "He's trying to make adjustments to what I think a point guard should be. He's competitive and can make shots, and he tries to get better every day, but again, Kevin can tell you I'm tough on point guards. ¦ I ask them to do a lot of things and it's not easy, but he's trying to do what I ask and I'm thrilled with the way he's responded."
Judging from the buzz the Mustangs have generated this season -- at home -- and in the national spotlight, the marriage with Brown has seemed to benefit everyone.
"I've been real lucky I have been able to coach as long as I have. ¦ To be doing this at my age after I got fired at Charlotte and have the opportunity to be allowed to coach a program like this, it's been really exciting," he said.
And it certainly has turned out to be much more rewarding than sitting home in retirement.