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A new sideline for Albany Patroons coach Will Brown this March

Will Brown is introduced as Patroons coach in Albany.
WAMC/Dave Lucas
Will Brown is introduced as Patroons coach in Albany.

When the new season tips off on Friday, Will Brown will join a club that includes names like Phil Jackson, George Karl, and Bill Musselman to name a few.

Brown is in his first season as head coach and general manager of the Albany Patroons, who start their season against the Massachusetts Monarchs and are hoping to make the Washington Avenue Armory the place to be over the next three months.

Brown took over the Patroons after 20 years as head coach of the University at Albany men’s basketball team, where he went to five NCAA Tournaments.

What made you want to take this position on given your long stretch at UAlbany?

Well, to be honest with you, as I was trying to figure out the next step, and the next move, family played a huge priority for me. My son was going to start his freshman playing career in college and I thought this might be a good time for me to have an opportunity to see him play. You know, over the years coaching at the college level, I was always on the road traveling, I missed a lot of both of my boys’ games, I missed a lot of them.

So when this Patroons opportunity came about, I did my research, I did my homework. The organization has a lot of history and tradition. And it gave me tremendous flexibility to watch my two boys play, but also coach at a level that I have not coached that before. It's a pro game with pro rules, and also gave me the opportunity to coach guys that have all been paid to play this game all over the world. So I thought from a talent standpoint, get to coach some really talented individuals, be involved in the game again, and also with the coaching staff that I was able to assemble, I knew I'd be working with great people on a daily basis.

You yourself were a player before you were a coach, a very good one. For a while, your sons were not following in your footsteps with basketball. What changed with them?

I'll tell you what, my older guy, it drove me crazy from the time he started playing sports, he gravitated toward the baseball field. He loved the game of baseball. And that's where he spent all of his time. And, you know, my wife had a nice talk with me and said, let him find his way. And so he really didn't start playing basketball until ninth grade. And he came to me right before ninth grade started and said, Hey, Dad, I don't want to play baseball anymore. And I said, What are you going to do with your time? He said, I'm gonna play basketball. I'm like, you don't play basketball. He's like, I do now. And I started laughing. That was my initial response, was a chuckle. And I said, I said, OK, you have a lot of work to do. And, you know, I'll help you the best I can.

Through the experience with my older guy, I think once my younger guy started to get old enough to play sports, he started to enjoy the game of basketball, so I really didn't have to push him or, you know, work with him or twist his arm and my wife gave me the OK, if you want to push them toward the game of basketball a little bit. But I'm just glad that they’re both enjoying the game right now. They're playing the game and, you know, I can watch them play and help them as needed.

For people who aren't experts on basketball, what kind of stuff are you missing by not starting younger? What gets drilled into you if you have played basketball from a younger age than your older son did?

You know, that's a great question. I think the younger they are, the easier it is to instill the fundamentals and get them to create good habits at an early age. So they get to start developing those habits, you know, younger, and you know, the competition piece. You know, you're developing a skill set, you're competing, what you're working on every day, you know, you're carrying over to games. And I think the later you get started you're trying to speed up the process and you're trying to maybe do it too quickly and some fundamentals get lost in the shuffle or you're trying to make up you know, for lost time.

And that's the thing with my older guy, just the experience of competing at a younger age and just the process, the natural process of developing year after year after year. I felt that with him, you know, we were trying to make up for that last time. And maybe he was trying to get too good too quickly and, you know, really didn't appreciate the process or maybe you felt he didn't have time to really embrace the process. We live in a world nowadays everybody wants to get good at something like yesterday. And they don't understand that it takes time to evolve. And you have to understand, appreciate and embrace the process.

But I do see it a lot with younger kids, there's a lot of kids that at a younger age are just more gifted physically and athletically and more mature, and they're usually the better players. That's why I encourage young kids to not give up not quit, to realize that everybody matures at a different rate. And more often than not, the kids that were really good when they were younger, especially if they were more mature physically, they peak at an earlier age. And I see that with my younger son right now, I think he understands the game, I think he has a good solid skillset. But he's got to grow into that body. He's gangly now, he doesn't move as well as he needs to move. But that's just gonna take some time. So keep developing that skillset. And when the body catches up to the skillset, you have a chance to be a really good player. So you know, it's not easy. A lot of work has to go into it. And I know I've been rambling on but you know, I just think at a younger age everybody needs to be really patient, but it's the experience factor. And developing those habits at an early age is really beneficial if you can start at an early age, but you have to be careful, as I saw with my son with the baseball, of the burnout. I didn't my son was burnt out from baseball. And trust me, I wasn't pushing them to baseball because I think I didn't baseball is the boringest sport.

You've never coached pro basketball before. So this will be an adjustment for you as well. Do you have a preseason jitters? How have you been approaching the transition?

Yeah, you know, I've never coached pro basketball, it's a completely different set of rules. Probably the biggest adjustment for me is going to be defensively because of the illegal defense and defensive three seconds. But it's also a longer game, 48 minutes. And if you follow the NBA at all, you hear announcers talking all the time about a second unit. Well, in college, you know, you were lucky if you had five good solid starters, if you had a good bench player or two, you probably had a great chance to win your league. Well, now we've got 12 guys that have all been paid to play all over the world, they're all going to expect to play, they're all going to expect to have prominent roles. So I have to figure out how we're going to handle our rotation. You know, I think I have an idea, but I've got to shore that up in the next day or two before we head into Friday night's game.

Back court, you know, you've got 10 seconds in the college game to get the ball of a half court, 8 in the pro game. So the rules are different, for sure. So familiarizing myself with the pro rules has been something that I'm doing on a daily basis. But I think regardless of how long you've been coaching, levels are different. It's all about growth and development. So, I think the pro game offers me an opportunity to continue to evolve and grow and develop as a coach.

And that's something that excites me about coaching now the Patroons. And then the other thing I talk about nerves, usually, you know, my mindset has always been, the coaches that have the most nervous are probably nervous because they didn't prepare their team as much as their team needed to be prepared. So the one thing with me is I've always prided myself on our preparation. I'm a big believer in preparation, I always felt that my teams were prepared. We might not have always played well, might not have looked like that times that we were prepared. But I always felt that we were prepared to a fault. So it's not going to be nerves for lack of preparation. It's going to be nerves just because I'm a competitor and I'm nervous before every game. I was that way as a player. I've been that way as a coach and I'm just going to be happy to be back on the sidelines and coaching with the talented staff that we have in place and working with the players that we have in the Patroons’ organization who are really, really good guys and we're just hoping to make an impact on them.

You know, The Basketball League is not the America East Conference where you're likely to win 60-59. Are you changing your approach to offense at all?

Yeah, you know, I've told our players this. I said, listen, work with me here. Let's embrace the defensive side of the ball. Let's rebound that ball. And I said, I'll let you play on offense, as long as we're not throwing the ball into the 10th row every other possession, as long as we're getting a shot every time down the floor. You know, let's have some fun. Let's put up some points.

The scores in this league, it's a very offensive-minded league. So I do think if we play a little bit of defense, we'll have an opportunity to win a lot of games. But we have some stuff in place offensively. But again, the more stops we get, the more opportunities we'll have to get out in transition. And you know, I don't think you'll see any 60-59 scores in this league or with the Patroons. You might see a 60-59 halftime score, and that probably will be the norm.

These guys have goals, they want to get bigger and better jobs and opportunities through their experience with the Patroons. So, you know, it's my job to do what I can to help them grow and develop on and off the floor. Player development’s a big piece of what we're doing every day in practice, whether it's before practice, in practice, after practice, I want these guys to get better every single day. And I want that to carry over to the court on game night. So I think we can have an awful lot of fun. If we embrace defense, because that means that we can attack a defense that's not going to be set if we get out in transition, and we run the floor and we share the ball, and we can get the defense on their heels. So we're talking every day about having fun offensively and being, you know, very difficult to score against defensively. And so I think our players are excited, I think our fans will enjoy the pace that we're playing at. I'm sure shot selection will be something that we talk about at the end of every quarter, during every timeout, postgame as we get ready for the next game. But, you know, again, as long as we're not turning that thing over, I think we'll have a chance to put some serious points on the board.

Former UAlbany men's basketball coach Will Brown
Ian Pickus
Will Brown during the UAlbany years

In addition to being the head coach, you're the GM, which means you had to work to assemble the roster. How did you do it? And it sounds like, you know, from what I understand, it's been somewhat a stressful process.

Yeah again, another learning experience. For me having a general manager title, spent a lot of time on the phone every day for the past few months with agents, agents that are in the United States, agents that are in in Europe, really all over the world and trying to assemble a team within the structure of the salary cap that we have in place.

So, roster management, salary cap management have been two things I've been focusing on quite a bit. And, you know, you have to understand the more money that player makes, the more money the agent makes. So, you know, that dynamic of working with the agent has been quite a learning experience for me. We have 12 roster spots. That's what the TBL allows. And I've got a guy flying in today that I have to pick up the airport at 3 o'clock from Hong Kong, he was playing overseas, the league went on pause, and he decided to get back into the United States while he could. And you know, he'll be with us today. And I've got another guy flying in hopefully tomorrow, if not tomorrow, it won't be till Saturday. So we do have one player that might miss the first game. So we might only have 11 in uniform on Friday night, but I like the roster that we have. It's a combination of highly talented players, but really good individual people as well. And that's something that I was looking for, you know, who's going to represent the Patroons’ organization in a positive manner, but can also go out there on the court and really make an impact.

Coach, you have Don Bassett on the sideline with you again. He was with you at UAlbany and he's also a former Patroons assistant coach himself. What does he bring to you? What do you get from having Don Bassett nearby? And he's a Capital Region coaching legend for people who might not know.

Donnie’s great. We've worked together for a long time. Right out of college. I took the job working for Brian Beaury at the College of Saint Rose. And Donnie Bassett was an assistant with Brian at St. Rose and I shared an office with Donnie for three years. And then Donnie was with me, you know, at Albany for a long time. And he's with me now with the Patroons. Donnie worked with George Karl and the Patroons back in the day, he understands the pro game, he's experienced the pro game. So he's been someone that I've been able to lean on, been able to give me some advice about the pro game and dealing with professional athletes and the 48-minute game, which, you know, again, 8 minutes longer than the college game. But Donnie and I have a great relationship. He's one of the best basketball minds that that I've ever been around. And because of our relationship, he can be blatantly honest and upfront with me. And that's something that I really appreciate. And our players really enjoy working with them as well. As I like to say Donnie has forgotten more basketball than most people know.

You know, the 3-pointer has really revolutionized the NBA and to a degree college basketball too. What kind of factor is it in The Basketball League where you'll be coaching this season?

It's a factor at all levels of basketball right now. And I think we want to utilize the 3-point shot to our advantage. I think it comes down to this: there's a lot of shot takers out there in a game of basketball, there's just not enough shot makers. And I think somewhere it got lost that players don't have to earn the right to shoot certain shots. And for us, we have some guys that can shoot it and make it and guys that we think could make it at a high rate. So we want to take advantage of that. You know, you just don't shoot to shoot. And so we want to be efficient and effective offensively. And we want the right guys taking shots that are good for them. You just don't shoot it to shoot it, like I mentioned. Shot selection is key. And we really want to defend the 3 and take the 3 away from our opponents. And we want to take advantage of the 3 offensively we just want to make sure that the right guys are shooting it for us. Steph Curry, who I love, who's going to go down as one of the greatest players of all time and the greatest shooter of all time, he ruined the game of basketball. And I say that with a smile on my face. You know, guys like him and James Harden. Young kids nowadays, I've said it multiple times through training camp, in gymnastics, you're rewarded for a degree of difficulty. In basketball, you are not. So let's keep things simple. Let's be efficient and effective and call it a day.

What's your theory about following up three late? Let's say the shot clock’s dead. Does it change at all going from college to the pro game?

For me, I will almost always do it. Coach Bassett told me this Don't ever say always don't. And don't ever say never. So now I say, almost always or almost never. But I'm fouling. But I think it's easy for a coach to say he's going to foul. But you need to practice it. And you need to practice it on a daily basis. Guys need to be taught how to foul, when to foul, where to foul. But I'm a big believer in it. Because when somebody goes to the line in that situation, team is down three. I mean, so many things have to happen for you to lose the game in that situation.

You know, the player and you see this a lot. Players don't practice missing, you'll see a guy miss the rim completely and that's a violation. You'll see guys, they don't know how to miss. You know, now they have to miss it. They have to get the offensive rebound. Now they have to kick it out for a 3. And the initial reaction when they get the offensive rebound is to put it right back up. So we even teach, miss shot, they get the rebound. Let's foul them. And make sure you do it before they go into a shooting motion because most teams are going to look to kick it back out. So a lot goes into it. I just think so many things have to happen against you for you to really be impacted in a way that you can potentially lose the game or force overtime. So big believer in fouling. Coach Bassett and I, if he watches a game and he sees it and a team doesn't foul, he calls me or text me and if I if I see it happen, you know, I'll let him know. We both get a chuckle out of it. I saw something today. Purdue has been beaten four times this year by late 3s, whether they've lost in regulation or it's forced overtime. I believe in two of those situations, they did not foul if I'm not mistaken. But again, I think it's easy to say you should have fouled, especially after you watch a team get beat because they didn't. But I'm just a big believer in it. And I've been that way all along. And it has not backfired on a team that I've coached yet.

I'm glad you brought up Purdue. Who do you like to win the NCAA tournament this year?

Oh, put me on the spot here. And prior to watching them, played the other night against St. Mary's, I would have said Gonzaga.

Right, they lost that game.

Yeah, they lost that game and St. Mary's is good. Don't get me wrong. They're really good. There'll be in the NCAA Tournament. You know, I just think right now that I don't think that Gonzaga team’s as good as it was a year ago. But with an NCAA Tournament, one and done, season over, I really like Gonzaga. I really like Kentucky if they're healthy. And I do like Auburn, but they're scaring me of late because they have a guy that I think potentially can be the first pick in the NBA Draft, Jabari Smith. 6-foot-10 wing. He's going to be one, two or three in the NBA Draft. And it seems like they forget about him an awful lot. And he's not getting touches in key moments.

Those are the three teams that that I that I like. I’ve seen them play a lot earlier in the year. After watching Purdue play at Mohegan Sun, I thought they had a legit shot to get to the Final Four and win it all but it seems like they're struggling defensively right now at this point in time, but they do have two big men that are terrific. And Jaden Ivey, their point guard, is as good as any player in the country. So a lot of parity. I know I mentioned a couple of teams. But you know, this is one year where I think anything could really happen. Last year, I think the two best teams got to the championship game. And I think they were the two best teams most of the year. Right now, I think there's a handful of teams that can probably win it and nothing would surprise me in regards to a Final Four.

Do you see yourself coaching college again someday?

Probably, you know, probably. I had a long run. I'm accustomed to the college game, I've got a great appreciation for college basketball, I think it's the NCAA Tournament is the greatest sporting event we have, you know, the Olympics are every four years, the NCAA Tournament’s every year. And whether you like basketball or not, it seems that everybody is involved in an office pool. So everybody is following the NCAA Tournament, rooting for their teams, regardless of their formula for picking their teams. You know, I just think it's a great game. It's fun to be around it and as much as he at the pro level you can impact lives on and off the court, you know, at the college level, you're really growing and developing young people and trying to help get them ready for the real world and you can have such an impact on their lives. And that's something that I always tried to do during my time coaching at the college level. I love the game, but I can see myself for sure coaching college basketball again in the near future, but you know, we'll see how that plays out.

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