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Straight Shooter - Times Union

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Straight shooter

Coach Brown's frankness strikes a chord with his UAlbany players


By MARK SINGELAIS, Staff writer

Click byline for more stories by writer.

First published: Thursday, March 9, 2006


ALBANY -- Asked to describe Will Brown's coaching style, University at Albany junior guard Jamar Wilson compared his coach to one of the most successful -- and controversial -- men in college basketball.



"I would say he's the Bob Knight of America East," Wilson answered on Wednesday.


When that comment was relayed to Brown, he responded with a hearty laugh.


"The Bobby Knight of America East?" Brown repeated. "I don't know how to take that."


Wilson didn't mean that Brown flings chairs or has temper tantrums. He was complimenting Brown's direct approach and his willingness to tell players things they don't necessarily want to hear.


"He knows I love him no matter what," Wilson said. "He doesn't use negative comments. But he's a real motivator, and sometimes he doesn't do it in a positive way just so he can get a reaction from you."


With his frank style, Brown has driven top-seeded UAlbany (20-10) into its first America East Conference championship game, against Vermont at noon Saturday at the Recreation and Convocation Center.


"The one thing with me is I challenge our kids," said Brown, in his fifth season. "I call them out when they make mistakes. I challenge them to get better every single day. When a kid does something well, I'll also let him know. It's a two-way street with me. But if you try to sugarcoat stuff, I just don't think kids are going to get any better."


Brown, 34, capably handled enormous pressure on two fronts this season. He entered the final year of his contract at the same time the Great Danes were chosen by America East coaches to finish first.


UAlbany overcame a 2-6 start to earn its first regular-season title. The Great Danes have won 18 of 22 games entering Saturday's final, where a victory would give UAlbany an automatic bid to its first NCAA Division I Tournament.


It would be the culmination of a five-year rise for a program that was in shambles when Brown took over in 2001-02 as the nation's second-youngest coach.


Brown, who has a career record of 52-82, did not win America East Coach of the Year honors. Those went to Hartford's Larry Harrison in a surprising vote.


But players and UAlbany athletic director Lee McElroy, who holds Brown's fate in his hands, said Brown should have gotten the award.


"We were picked first, and Will reflected those expectations," McElroy said. "So I was surprised he didn't win Coach of the Year."


McElroy said Brown was especially effective at getting former starters such as forward Levi Levine and guard Jon Iati to buy into lesser roles because the Great Danes are deeper than they've ever been.


"He did a masterful job of saying to our guys, 'You've been playing X minutes; now your minutes are reduced, and your roles are going to change. But it's in the best interest of the team,' " McElroy said.


While Brown still is awaiting a contract extension, the sides have been negotiating since midseason. McElroy made it sound like a mere formality.


"The basic premise is that Will wants to be there and we want Will," McElroy said. "Whenever we're finished playing, we're going to cross the T's and dot the I's."


Brown said he didn't panic over his own future when the team started poorly.


"Do you think about it once in a while? Yeah, I'd be lying if you didn't," Brown said. "It's not something that consumes me. I thought I would be fine."


Brown said he felt his team was "complacent" during its slow start because of all the predictions of greatness.


But Brown made a key change in the starting lineup, inserting senior guard Lucious Jordan and sophomore guard Brian Lillis. And he called one-on-one meetings with players.


"If he doesn't like something you're doing, he's going to let you know," sophomore forward Brent Wilson said. "I think a lot of us respect that because for us to be good -- and for us to get to this point -- you need someone who's at times going to be brutally honest with you, even though sometimes it's tough to hear."

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Some more love for Coach Brown in a collegeinsider.com article about mid-majors that could make some noise in the big dance...


"Will Brown’s Albany team, should they defeat Vermont in the America East Championship, has some good senior leadership. They play well as a unit and don’t seem to be intimidated. That is a well-coached team."



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