Building a basketball program from the ground up is never easy. A man who has seen the best and worst the basketball basketball world has to offer as a head coach, Larry Brown stepped up and decided he would take on the rebuilding process of Southern Methodist University, which is most noteworthy for their football program receiving the death penalty by the NCAA for the 1987 season.
Since then, it’s been a roller coaster ride for SMU athletics, especially their basketball program. Before Brown took over, the Mustangs last earned a trip to the NCAA Tournament in 1993, losing to BYU in the first round.
Their last NIT appearance was in 2000, making it to the semifinals before losing to Santa Clara.
With no recent success and a time of hardship on the national recruiting circuit, many wondered why Brown would take the job instead of retiring. He won that elusive NBA championship he had been searching for for nearly 25 years as an NBA coach, taking the Detroit Pistons all the way to glory over the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2004 Finals.
Brown preached defense and chemistry throughout his NBA tenure, receiving praise from around the league. The Pistons returned to the Finals in 2005, but couldn’t replicate their success against the San Antonio Spurs.
Brown only spent two years in Detroit and his success made other, higher-profile franchises interested in his services; most notably, the New York Knicks. Brown packed up and headed for the Big Apple.
Due to a plethora of reasons, the Knicks couldn’t make it happen in Brown’s lone season, missing the playoffs. He would not return for a second season, taking two years off before his next coaching gig.
The Charlotte Bobcats needed a spark and hiring Larry Brown as their next head coach felt like the right thing to do. Charlotte would miss the playoffs in his first season at the helm, but Brown led the Bobcats to the postseason in his second season, their first playoff appearance since the expansion, before losing in the first round, being swept by division rival Orlando Magic.
Brown would only make it through 28 games before leaving the franchise the next year.
After spending a season in semi-retirement, Brown shocked many when it was announced that he would be taking over the head coaching duties at SMU, a lesser-known basketball program in Texas. With the big schools such as Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Baylor leading the way, it was hard to see what Brown saw in the Mustangs to take his talents down south.
Lucky for the coach, he doesn’t have to win Texas to be successful, he just has to win his conference.
Winning the conference seemed very doable for the Mustangs in the 2014-15 season. Thanks to realignment, SMU found itself in the newly christened American Athletic Conference (AAC).
While the conference features the defending national champion Connecticut Huskies, as well as the Louisville Cardinals and Memphis Tigers, all three of those teams will be filling major holes up and down their respective rosters. Meanwhile, SMU was bringing in a recruiting class ranked in the top 50 despite only bringing in one player.
That player just so happened to be fifth-ranked recruit in the nation, point guard Emmanuel Mudiay from Dallas.
Mudiay’s presence immediately launched SMU into the discussion for preseason rankings for the 2014-15 season … before the 2013-14 season even began. Brown’s bunch wasn’t willing to wait to Mudiay to be a good basketball team, though, as the Mustangs surprised everyone by finishing the season with a 27-10 record and narrowly missed the NCAA tournament, though most feel they were the most egregious snub.
The Mustangs, while disappointed, decided to make a statement, taking their NIT berth and turning it into a run to the championship game before losing to the Pitino coaching combo (technically Richard is the coach, but Rick was right behind the bench, literally coaching from the stands) and Minnesota.
The future appeared bright for SMU.
Then the news broke on Monday that Mudiay had decided to forego college all together, instead going pro overseas. There was some speculation as to the reason why Mudiay would make this decision so close to the season.
Some thought it could be because of poor academic standings that would keep him ineligible. Others thought it may be a completely different eligibility issue because his high school was having its charter revoked for a number of reasons.
Instead, Mudiay says it was because he felt he could help his mother financially immediately by playing overseas for a year then entering the NBA. There’s no word yet on where he will play, but he won’t be taking his talents to SMU.
This news leaves Brown and SMU in an interesting situation. An early favorite to challenge Louisville for the AAC crown this coming season, the Mustangs may now be undervalued, left flying under the radar once again.
Nick Russell and Shawn Williams are gone from last year’s squad, but that only accounts for 16 points of total offense to make up. Nic Moore and Marcus Kennedy, the top two scorers from last year’s team, return for the Mustangs.
The firepower is still there, but the national intrigue surrounding SMU leaves with Mudiay.
Now, Brown has another challenge ahead of him, one he didn’t think he’d have this season. He’s been able to resurrect the Pistons and Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA, but he had the help of pro athletes.
This time, the one future pro athlete he should’ve had at his disposal will not be an option. Without Mudiay, the Mustangs will essentially have the same team they did last year, which could be both a blessing and a curse.
SMU went unnoticed until the end of the season, so having that type of success is not out of the question. However, having the same team also means that teams have seen your best efforts from last season.
Players can improve, but the overall essence of your team remains relatively the same.
Larry Brown has seen his share of ups and downs throughout his career. Whether this coming season with the Mustangs is an up or a down depends entirely upon his ability to adapt to the situation, something he has grown very accustomed to in his illustrious coaching career.
Writing off SMU without Mudiay may be a bit premature. After all, he had yet to join the team.
His overall talent is unquestioned, but saying the Mustangs are better or worse without him is something that can’t really be debated because it never happened. Despite this, SMU is in an interesting situation and it will be intriguing to see where the season takes them.
Can Larry Brown work his magic again?