Let The Larry Brown Era Begin at SMU
SMU’s men’s basketball team opens their season this Sunday evening when they host Loyola Marymount at Moody Coliseum. The game will begin the Larry Brown era at SMU. Brown was enshrined as a member of the basketball Hall of Fame in 2002 and is the only coach to have won both an NCAA Championship (Kansas 1988) and an NBA Championship (Detroit 2004). This Sunday, he will open his 38th season as a head basketball coach; his eighth in college.
Brown brings back a roster from last year’s team that includes London Giles as the only senior, junior Shawn Williams, and sophomores Cannen Cunningham, Kevin Dunleavy, Jalen Jones, and Ryan Manual. Junior Nick Russell is also eligible to play after sitting out last season as a transfer from Kansas State. Brown adds five freshmen to that group – Brian Bernhardt, Jordan Dickerson, Blaise Mbagorba, Uche Ofoegbu, and Garrett Wilson.
Giles (31 games/27 starts), Williams (24 games/17 starts), and Jones (32 games/18 starts) are the returning players that played the most last year. The athletic Manual played fewer minutes but participated in 32 games is also expected to be a major contributor this year. Cunningham also participated in 31 games, and should be an even bigger contributor this season.
Last year’s Mustangs suffered from the lack of a big man under the basket after Papa Dia’s graduation. Post play around the basket will be one of the keys for an improved season. Two freshmen will get the chance to contribute – Dickerson (7′-0”) from New York and Mbargorba (6′-11”) from New Jersey. Both were ranked among the top 100 recruits in the nation. Also among the newcomers, Ofoegbu is a name familiar to Mustang fans as he is the younger brother of Ike Ofoegbu, who was a third team All-Conference performer on the Hilltop in the 2006-2007 season.
There is no question though that the star of this year’s team is Brown. He played at North Carolina for two legendary coaches – Frank McGuire and Dean Smith, finishing in 1963 as an All-ACC first team performer. He played for four ABA teams in the late sixties and early seventies before the merger with the NBA. He began his head coaching career with the Carolina Cougars in 1972. He has coached nine NBA teams and is the sixth winningest coach in NBA history with 1,098 wins. His collegiate stops prior to SMU include Davidson, UCLA and Kansas.
The knock against Brown has been his roaming from job to job. He is 71, so there is fear that he will not be staying long in Dallas. Time will tell, but the future of Mustang looks to be in good hands as Brown hired Tim Jankovich as “Associate Head Coach”, which translates into head coach in waiting. Jankovich arrives at SMU from Illinois State, where he was the Head Coach the past five seasons, amassing a 105-64 record. He led Illinois State to post-season play in the National Invitational Tournament in four of those seasons. Prior to Illinois State, he was an assistant at Kansas and came to SMU highly recommended by Kansas Head Coach Bill Self. Jankovich has a reputation as an outstanding recruiter.
Noteworthy among the rest of Brown’s staff is George Lynch, a retired NBA player that already lived in the area. Lynch played at North Carolina and was a member of the 1993 team that won the NCAA championship. He played for 12 years in the NBA including a stint with the Philadelphia 76ers when Brown was the head coach. He is the assistant strength and conditioning coach. Jerrance Howard, who has a reputation as a top recruiter, joined Brown from Illinois, his alma mater.
Facilities-wise, SMU completed the state of the art Crum Center practice facilities this century. The Dallas Mavericks have utilized it for pre-season training camp three times, and a number of NBA teams have also utilized it when in town to face the Mavericks. Moody Coliseum is now undergoing a major renovation estimated to cost $47 million. It is financed by two lead gifts – $20 million from the Moody Foundation and $10 million from former Mustang player David B. Miller and his wife Carolyn. The construction began in August and is scheduled such that SMU can play around it this season. The anticipated completion is December 2013.
This is SMU’s last season in Conference-USA as they move into the Big East next year. There is no question that SMU will need to recruit better players to compete with the big boys of college basketball like Georgetown and Louisville. Brown has attracted three transfers that will be sitting out this season – Crandall Head, Markus Kennedy and Nic Moore. Head is a 6′-4” guard transferring from Illinois. Kennedy is a 6′-9” forward from Villanova, while Moore is a 5′-9” guard from Illinois State. Next week is the early signing date for high school and juco players. Three players have given non-binding verbal commitments to the Mustangs, the headliner of which is Yanick Moreira a 6′-10” center.
This Sunday’s opening game is the first of nine between now and December 1. Included in those nine games is a trip across the Metroplex to face TCU next Thursday night, and a tournament in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Utah will be in Moody Coliseum on November 28. The Mustangs will also participate in the Cable Car Classic in Santa Clara, California next month before wrapping up non-conference play in early January. Tulsa at home on January 6 is the C-USA opener. The talent cupboard was not bare when Brown arrived. His predecessor Matt Doherty got good marks for recruiting, somewhat surprising with the lack of success on the court. It will be interesting to see how the Mustangs perform for Brown, who is known to field teams that are well coached and fundamentally sound.