On Saturday Albany had a 4-PT win at Vermont in the America East conference tourney title game to earn an automatic bid to this week’s NCAA tournament. The Great Danes lost to Manhattan in the 2012 CIT, but bounced back in 2013 to claim the school’s 1st NCAA tourney bid since 2007. Earlier today Jon Teitel got to speak with Coach Will Brown about what it feels like to square off against Coach K in March.
Coach Will Brown
Your father was a high school basketball coach: how big an influence was he on your own decision to get into coaching? He was a huge influence: I grew up in a gym and have been around the game my entire life. My initial thought was to take my business degree and make some money in the real world, but my dad and I had a discussion about what my next step should be and he knew that I wanted to become a coach. I loved watching him coach and the enjoyment it gave him.
You graduated from D-2 Dowling College as the school’s all-time leader in FT shooting (85.9%): what is the secret to being a good FT shooter? When you are slow and unathletic, FTs are right up your alley! It is about repetition/confidence, and can make the difference between winning or losing close games. FTs were integral to the success of our team.
You had a 10-PT loss to Manhattan in last year’s CIT: what did you learn from that loss that you think will help your team this March? Our guys were so disappointed that we lost in the conference tourney and did not make the NCAA tourney, so they were not initially focused on playing our best in the CIT, but they eventually embraced the opportunity before running into the hot hand of George Beamon.
Jacob Iati transferred to Albany from High Point: how big a factor was that fact that his brother Jon is your assistant coach (as well as 1 of the best 3-PT shooters in school history)? The main reason that we got Jacob is because Jon played for me for 4 years. The 2 of them have really enjoyed it, and their relationship has grown as brothers (and even as player-coach).
You lost to Ohio State in your road opener back in November: what makes the Buckeyes so good, and how far do you think they can go this month? I did a bracket-buster breakfast this morning and picked them to make the Final 4. Aaron Craft is an absolute winner and has become a much better offensive player. They realize that Deshaun Thomas is their main guy and a huge inside-outside weapon. I think Thad Matta has done a tremendous job with that team, and they all embrace their roles.
You set a school record with 12 non-conference wins this season: how well do you think that will prepare you for the NCAA tourney? I approach our schedule with balance: we have some games that we are not supposed to win, as well as a few that we should win. We had a good road win at Washington in November, and the 12 wins gave us confidence entering conference play.
You lost 6 of your final 11 regular season games, then won 3 conference tourney games by a total of 7 PTS: how were you able to turn things around this month? We changed our lineup by starting Gary Johnson at the wing down the stretch: he might be the best defender in our league and inserting the Australian (Sam Rowley) into our offense. We also learned how to defend/rebound at a high level.
Mike Black made a last-second game-winning lay-up in a 2-PT win over top-seed Stony Brook in the conference tourney semis en route to being named conference tourney MVP: where does that rank among the most clutch shots you have ever seen? I have been here 12 years, and Mike’s shot is probably the biggest shot in our program’s history because it helped us survive a big game and eventually advance to the NCAA tourney. He is a senior leader who has been around the block, so we just got him the ball and gave him the opportunity to make a winning play.
You had a 4-PT win over Vermont in the conference tourney final to snap an 8-game losing streak against them: how did it feel to get the Catamount off your back, and what was the reaction like when you got back to campus? It felt good. We had 600 Albany fans at the Vermont gym to see us in person, and they were tremendous. We are now 3-0 against Vermont in conference tourney title games. There is a tremendous buzz both around campus and in the community. I have spent the past couple of days responding to hundreds of emails/text messages (many of which are ticket requests), which is better than being out recruiting because our season is over.
You play Duke in Philly on Friday: how do you prepare to face Coach K in March, and how the heck are you going to defend Mason Plumlee? Coach K is arguably the best coach in the world, and Plumlee is going to be a lottery pick. It is easier said than done, but we cannot let Plumlee get good post position around the basket. Since they shoot the 3 so well, we cannot really double-team him the entire game either. However, if we play him straight up for 40 minutes, he might foul out all 14 of our players…and a few of our fans as well!