Brett Brown brings a new voice to the Sixers

Brett Brown has a reputation for teaching basketball fundamentals.
Brett Brown has a reputation for teaching basketball fundamentals. (PETR DAVID JOSEK / Associated Press)
Posted: August 15, 2013

The game is called "Beat Sam Brown," and it is a staple of practice sessions for the San Antonio Spurs. It is a shooting game, but not an easy one even for an NBA player to win.

A contestant must shoot from the five standard stations behind the three-point line: the two corners, the two wing positions and the top of the free-throw circle. He gets to shoot at each of the stations until he makes one, and then can keep shooting at that station until he misses. Then he moves on to the next and the next.

Add up the number of baskets after all five stations and if you made more than 20 shots, you did, indeed, Beat Sam Brown. Some of the newer Spurs don't even know what that means. They think it's just the name of the game. That's because they weren't at practice the day assistant coach Brett Brown let his son, Sam, do the shooting drill after the Spurs had left the court.

Sam, the youngest of Brown's three children, made exactly 20 shots from behind the NBA three-point line that day. He did it three years ago. . . when he was 8.

I'm not exactly sure what that story tells us about Brett Brown, the new head coach of the 76ers, but I really like it. It probably means his reputation as a shot doctor and teacher of basketball fundamentals is accurate. What it also indicates, however, is that Brown is a good guy to play for, and a coach players want to please. Otherwise, Sam Brown wouldn't have found that much joy in shooting a basketball, because anyone who ever shared space with an 8-year-old knows they generally only do what makes them happy.

For a while now, the Sixers haven't had a happy roster, and for a number of good reasons. Doug Collins is a great basketball mind and an extremely talented coach, but he isn't easy to play for. It takes a special kind of player, one extremely self-confident, motivated and ultra-competitive, to fully appreciate the way Collins does his job. Elton Brand was really the last guy on the team who fit that description. The other guys, including those on last season's roster, withdrew from the challenge.

They need to hear a different voice and that's what Brown seems ready to provide. He's the perfect Sam Hinkie hire because he also brings added value for the price tag. Brown has loads of head coaching experience, in the Australian pro league and for the Aussie national team, but he was on the market as just another NBA assistant, which is where the Sixers were doing their shopping.

There is some risk involved for Brown in taking this job and he was in pretty good position to turn it down if he wanted to, so it's likely the Sixers didn't get that all much of a bargain. If the rumor is correct that Brown wouldn't budge until all four years of his contract were guaranteed, that shows a steely side to a guy everyone describes as very likable. He'll need that here.

Risk doesn't bother him, anyway. Not long after he finished college at Boston University, Brown undertook a backpacking tour of Fiji, New Zealand and Australia. Along the way, he met the woman who would become his wife and decided to just stay in Australia for a while.

He did need to work, though, so he called Lindsay Gaze, the father of Aussie player Andrew Gaze and a legendary coach in Melbourne. Brown didn't know Gaze, mind you. He just called him out of the blue, told the coach his credentials - pretty good player, also the son of a longtime coach, and one whole season of grad assistant coaching under his belt - and asked for a job. Gaze hired him.

Brown would eventually become a head coach in the Australian league for seven years and was also the coach of the national team at the 2012 Olympics, where the Boomers reached the medal round despite the absence of injured star Andrew Bogut. For the last 10 years, he's been back in the States during the NBA season with the Spurs, first as a director of player development, then as a bench assistant to Gregg Popovich.

In all probability, if you sat a marmot next to Popovich for six years, it would learn more than enough to be an NBA coach. For a guy as bright and impressive as Brown, the apprenticeship under Popovich was merely a finishing school.

That doesn't mean it's going to be any rosier here for the next little while. The Sixers are being set up to stink on ice next season, and Brown will have to not only endure the losing, but manage to come out the other side of it with his reputation as a good coach intact. That's not always easy.

It will take some work to make believers of the local fans, but Brown hasn't stopped working toward this moment since Lindsay Gaze gave him a chance 25 years ago.

Here's something that will help: If he can get Evan Turner to win a game of Beat Sam Brown, we're all in.


Contact Bob Ford at bford@phillynews.com and follow him on Twitter @bobfordsports.

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