Well-traveled Hubie Brown is first-class teacher of game

Commentary

November 15, 2005|By PAUL MCMULLEN

Saturday marks the first anniversary of the great Pistons-Pacers brawl.

Ron Artest and some alienated Detroit fans are the starting point for pop sociologists eager to dissect where hoops went wrong. Its bookend evils are a bronze medal at the Athens Olympics and an NBA Finals in which the San Antonio Spurs' defense defied the Detroit Pistons and television viewers.

Hubie Brown wants you to take a breath, pick up your remote control and appreciate the work ethic of the hip-hop generation.

Brown is antsy in his Atlanta home, awaiting the Christmas Day cuddle between Shaq and Kobe that will begin ABC's coverage of the 2005-06 season.

Younger fans who knew him only as a network analyst were surprised three years ago, when Jerry West lured Brown away from a TNT microphone to coach Memphis. The Grizzlies won 50 games and Brown was the NBA Coach of the Year in 2003-04. A year ago on Thanksgiving, the oldest full-time coach in league history retired because of his age and health.

Brown, 72, was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame two months ago. In 12 seasons and 12 games as a professional coach, Brown won 48.6 percent of his games, but his induction was not a case of an old-boy network taking care of its own. He is the game's eminence grise, the coach who has taught thousands around the globe how to teach the game.

Johnny Cash sang "I've Been Everywhere."

Hubie Brown has.

He'll be in town tomorrow, to be feted at the Little Italy Lodge, by the local franchise for the Five-Star camp circuit. A flier says the program will stop at 9 p.m., but as another quintessential Jersey Guy would say: Forget about it.

Brown once began lecturing for a 30-minute instructional video. Four hours later, there was enough for seven tapes. One story leads to another, as Brown connects the game's evolution.

A still photo from the best college game I've seen this century shows Emeka Okafor elevating for a basket in a 2002 NCAA regional final. Ben Gordon stands on the left wing, awaiting a kick out. Draw a line from the ball in Okafor's hands to the middle "C" in the Connecticut on Gordon's chest. Maryland's Juan Dixon is marking that imaginary path.

Ball-you-man.

Brown was there in 1950-51, when the primary tenet of modern defense was unveiled. He was the senior point guard for St. Mary's High in Jersey City, N.J., where Al LoBalbo began to coach his boys to position themselves between the man they were guarding and the opponent with the ball.

Five decades later, the denial, rotation and traps employed by great defensive teams still begin with ball-you-man.

Brown played in college for Niagara, went into coaching and became a must-hear clinician. Five-Star, the NBA, Nike, FIBA and Bacardi Rum are among the clients that helped fill his passport.

"I did 25 clinics in a three-year period for the NBA, most of them overseas," Brown said. "We had 650 coaches for the first clinic outsiders gave in the Soviet Union. I used to speak at the European Final Four every year. One time in Argentina, we had over 900 coaches."

He has been interpreted in Catalan, German, Portuguese, Spanish and an assortment of Slavic dialects. Smart nations supply their under-21 teams as his demonstration players. People who attended his clinic in Argentina were involved in that nation's gold medal at the 2004 Olympics, the one that didn't go to the United States.

He agrees that American kids play too much and practice too little, which provides a telling tangent. LoBalbo's first and only head coaching job in college was at Fairleigh Dickinson. The FDU fieldhouse became a site for one of the meat-market camps where NBA executives could see the top 16-year-olds against their peers.

The game that Brown learned bears little resemblance to today's NBA. The athletes are superior, and Brown knows that the preparation is too.

"In 1973, I became an assistant coach with the Bucks," Brown said. "I'd work practice, take a flight, scout the next opponent and take a red-eye home. When I became the head coach with Memphis, I had three assistants, a shooting coach, a conditioning coach, a weight-training coach and an advance scout for each conference. I had a video coordinator, who taped every NBA game and broke down each team's offense, defense and individual players.

"My blood pressure goes up when I hear people talk about basketball in the good old days. Teams put three shot-blockers on the floor instead of one, like you saw in the 1960s. The player of today takes more shots in one week of practice than a player way back when took in a month. He has to work harder, because defenses are so much quicker and more sophisticated."

paul.mcmullen@baltsun.com

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