Larry Brown: Better not sleep on SMU

August, 20, 2013
08/20/13
10:45
AM ET

On Monday afternoon, Larry Brown was making sure his son, L.J., got settled into his freshman dorm room at SMU.

And then he went back to his office, settling in for yet another grind of a day to ensure the Mustangs will matter.

Suddenly, a year after Brown decided to go back to college coaching for the first time in three decades, there is a sense that he is fully comfortable with this new life, not ready to retire or bolt to the next gig, as he's done so many times in his storied career.

"I want to see my son graduate,'' said Brown, whose son wanted to attend SMU for its performing arts program. "This helps in recruiting.''

But does it really mean he is going to stay as the coach for the next four years?

Who knows. But he may not have to wait that long to get SMU into the college basketball public consciousness.

"We are going to be relevant,'' said Brown, whose Mustangs head from the relative obscurity of the bottom of Conference USA to the new American Athletic Conference. SMU will have two games each against Louisville, UConn, Memphis, Cincinnati and Temple in a league that will be featured quite a bit on ESPN's platforms.

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Keith Fraizer
Travis L. Brown/ESPNDallas.comA McDonald's All American at SMU? Believe it. Dallas native Keith Frazier stayed home.

"We've got a JC center [Yanick Moreira] who can play,'' Brown said. "We've got Keith [Frazier] who can play. We've got two other kids [Sterling Brown and Ben Moore] who can play. We've got all five starters back. We've got Nic Moore [transfer point guard from Illinois State]. I don't know if any of the starters will play. We have competition at every position.

"We're pretty good and we're going to be pretty good for a long time."

Brown took the job a year ago and hired Illinois State head coach Tim Jankovich as his coach-in-waiting. He may wait for a while the way Brown is talking right now.

The Mustangs were 15-17 last season, 5-11 in C-USA. There were no blowout losses in the league. Most of them were close and a few could have easily gone either way.

"We were in every game but three,'' said Brown, who admitted he probably should have held onto more of the players who bolted a year ago because depth was an issue. But he had a feeling he was going to recruit well.

He did. Landing ESPN 100 recruit Frazier was a major step, landing an in-state player from Dallas who showed that it was OK to stay home.

Brown has been involved with blue bloods like North Carolina, UCLA and Kansas. In the 1980s, he could choose in recruiting from a handful of elite players.

"I didn't realize at SMU you had to look at so many kids,'' Brown said. "But we got Frazier and Yanick and that gave us a whole different perception. Selfishly, I thought it would be quicker. But realistically, it was much harder than I thought.''

Quicker? It's only Year 2.

Of course, the Mustangs won't be expected to finish anywhere above fifth in the 10-team league with Louisville, UConn, Memphis and Cincinnati set as the first tier. But SMU does have a chance to knock on that door as well as push back Temple, Houston, South Florida, Rutgers and Central Florida.

"I believe without question that we're going to be good,'' Brown said.

The Mustangs' nonconference slate is highlighted by a road game at Arkansas and a neutral-site matchup with Virginia in the Corpus Christi tournament. Having Moore's experience changes the face of this team immediately. He was a stud in the Missouri Valley and could be one of the top guards in the American in what should be the strongest/deepest position in the league.

"He can make shots and is a great competitor,'' Brown said. "I think if we had him last year we would have won 25 games. Having him and Markus Kennedy [a transfer from Villanova] and Crandall [Head, a transfer from Illinois] practicing with us for a year helped us. Nic is a winner. We didn't have a point guard last year and that cost us a lot. Now we have one with a year experience.''

Brown is banking on SMU making its mark in Dallas, something that has proven to be extremely difficult for decades in the football-heavy market. He has visions of a Georgetown-like program with its strong academics and city footprint. But of course football still is the program of record at SMU and in Dallas that won't change. Still, landing Frazier and recruiting well in the fertile area of Texas is critical to the health of the program.

"We're going to get our share,'' Brown said. "We're going to get more than Frazier.''

The learning curve for Brown in the past year has been immense. He had been gone from the college game since 1988. Then, he had to call recruits. Now, he must text.

"Players don't want to talk,'' Brown said. "I'm 73. What do they want to talk to me about? It's different now. But it has been great to work with them. I've realized I did the right thing. Tim has been great. I tease him that we're going to be really good and so if there is another good job out there why not go and consider that. It is set in writing that if I leave, but what if we got real good. Somebody is going to recognize that [and go after Jankovich].''

Brown said the athleticism on this team, the length and the overall commitment to defense will allow the Mustangs to be even better in the area of the game he loves -- defending. Will that be enough for the school's first NCAA tourney trip in more than two decades? Brown isn't ruling it out.

"Last year's team with the personnel we had did a phenomenal job,'' Brown said. "This year we will be so much better.''

Andy Katz | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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