Will Brown easily could have claimed his first America East Coach of the Year award earlier in his tenure as head coach. In fact, he knows it.
When Albany last won a regular season title in 2005-06, Brown said that he and a group of coaches swung their votes for Hartford’s Larry Harrison to win the award.
“We heard some grumblings that the coach at Hartford was going to potentially lose his job and we rallied together and voted for the coach to win the Coach of the Year award,” Brown said. “I had several coaches say to me, ‘You know, you were the Coach of the Year in the league, but it’s impressive that you were on board with us in doing this.'”
Brown though was not to be denied on Monday, his team having won the conference by three games and posting a 15-1 record, their best ever in the America East.
Albany followed an unlikely script to defend its two straight tournament championships. Brown mentioned prior to the season that winning a regular season championship was a priority, considering the new playoff format, but did not know how nine new players and three new starters would mesh.
Junior college transfer Evan Singletary claimed the point guard spot and his 12.7 ppg ranks seventh in the conference. He and fellow junior Ray Sanders (9.6 ppg) helped fill the void. However, when junior Peter Hooley took an extended leave of absence to be with his mother Sue in Australia, senior Sam Rowley took over as the Great Danes continued their winning ways.
“Watching Sam Rowley just elevate his game to another level during that eight game stretch, when Peter was gone, and then having other guys really step up in Peter’s absence, I think the group collectively wanted to prove that, ‘Hey we can still win without Peter, we could hold the fort down until Peter returns,'” Brown said. “Just dealing with adversity and the resiliency of the group, I think is what makes it so special to this point.”
Among one of the things Brown does too easily is deflecting credit for earning the conference’s top head coach award.
“I think too often head coaches just get too much credit,” Brown said. “It’s not possible without a tremendous coaching staff, some really good players and a really good team.”
“For me, it’s not about awards. I think me winning this award, it’s about my team and my staff, quite simple.”
When discussing Hooley’s absence, Brown’s players constantly referred to the group as a family that needed to bind together and play for each other. Over the course of Hooley’s absence, Albany beat every America East team in their 8-game winning streak.
Family is emphasized in almost every way up at Albany. The 43 year-old Brown is a coach’s son, his father Bill Brown coached 17 seasons at Miller Place High School on Long Island where he won three county titles. His parents, now retired, live near their only child in the area and have followed their son’s journey at Albany since.
“They’re with me every step of the way,” Brown said of his parents. “They both completely understand what goes in to the job and how difficult it is to be successful, as a team, at this level.”
Brown will celebrate with his family, his wife and two sons who have seen him work hard to now bring his team to what will be their fourth straight postseason appearance.
“I think if you’re going to do this, if you’re going to be in this business long term and you’re going to coach, you’ve got to have a rock at home,” Brown said. “I think my wife is that rock, who operates our household and allows me to do what I love to do. She’s just as much ingrained in this as I am and deserves a lot of credit.”
“It’s a family atmosphere, from the coaching staff, to players, to my own wife and kids, so its like its hard, man. You’re lucky a if you have a job at this level, as a head coach, if you have a job and you can keep it you’re doing something right. Most assistants aspire to be head coaches and they’re trying to prove themselves every day and players want to win, so it really is a program effort in my mind.”
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2014-15 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference and Hofstra for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.