FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Mike Anderson knows all about the coaching legend that will be on the opposing sideline tonight, when the Razorbacks play Southern Methodist in Bud Walton Arena at 7 p.m..
Larry Brown is the only coach to win both an NCAA championship (Kansas in 1988) and an NBA title (Detroit in 2004). He’s already enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame, too, and has logged four decades in the profession.
But Anderson hasn’t spent much time the past couple of days thinking about Brown’s accomplishments during his coaching career. Impressive as they are, Anderson’s only concern is the group Brown has assembled at his current position.
“You know he’s going to bring in a team that is going to come in and compete and try to win,” Anderson said. “Our job is to take care of business at home.”
Arkansas was pushed by Louisiana-Lafayette on Friday night, but Anderson and the Razorbacks know their next test — which is the last before heading to Hawaii to compete in the Maui Invitational — is the toughest to date. Brown is in his second season working to transform a struggling program and has put together a team with much more depth and talent the last year’s 15-17 group.
SMU is 2-0 so far with wins against Texas Christian and Rhode Island. The program is now looking to snap its 11-game losing streak to the Razorbacks. It would be SMU’s first win against Arkansas since knocking off the Hogs on Feb. 13, 1988.
“The nice thing for us is we’re going to go into an environment in Fayetteville that’s a little different than we’re used to, and I think that’s going to be helpful for us,” Brown said. “I’m anxious to see how we react. I love playing teams from great conferences in a good environment. So this is a good thing for us.”
Brown will make his first trip to face the Razorbacks since the 1986-87 season, when Arkansas beat Kansas 103-86 in Barnhill Arena. It came during coach Nolan Richardson’s second season with the program and a year before Brown – with Danny Manning as his star player – led the Jayhawks to the national title.
None of the current Razorbacks were even born when that game was played in Fayetteville, but Arkansas players said they know Brown because of his success in the NBA at places like Philadelphia and Detroit. Arkansas guard Fred Gulley called Brown a “living legend,” while Mardracus Wade said he’s looking forward to tonight.
They know SMU will be well-coached because of Brown’s history as well.
“He coached Allen Iverson, so obviously he knows what he’s doing as far as the offensive end, spacing, guys attacking,” Wade said. “So we probably have to do a better job with containing guys. Hopefully closing out. Because I’m pretty sure he’s going to have an offense set with a lot of ball screens, a lot of set offenses. “It’s going to be new for us, but something we have to learn and kind of adjust to.”
This is Brown’s ninth season as a college coach after leading UCLA (1979-81) and Kansas (1983-88) earlier in his career. The Mustangs hired him in April 2012, which was a year after he resigned from his last NBA job with the Charlotte Bobcats.
It looked like a peculiar move considering Brown has never been known to stay in one position long. But after last year’s 15-17 mark, the Mustangs are off to a good start with a roster that features a handful of impact newcomers and transfers.
It includes point guard Nic Moore, who transferred from Illinois State and is averaging a team-high 16.5 points. Then there’s Yanick Moreira, a 6-foot-11 junior college signee. Brown also signed guard Keith Frazier, a McDonald’s All-American who became one of the key pieces of a class ranked 14th nationally.
“We’ve got a lot of new people and we’re trying to define roles and trying to find out who needs to play has become challenging,” Brown said. “But it’s a better problem than we had last year because we only had five guys that we really could play.”
Arkansas will be playing its second game in four days tonight and is looking for a more consistency against the Mustangs after being tested by Louisiana-Lafayette.
The Razorbacks struggled to slow point guard Elfrid Payton until the 17-3 run over the final six minutes. But Anderson was confident his team’s depth eventually would wear down Payton and the Ragin’ Cajuns. It helped the Razorbacks prevail.
“It’s important for us to be able to close out games and finish whenever we don’t play our best,” Arkansas guard Fred Gulley said. “And (Friday) night we didn’t play our best, but we still managed to finish and come out with the win.
“So that’s important for a team that has some young pieces on it.”
It leads Arkansas into its next test against a Hall of Fame coach’s new team.
“He has done a great job at SMU, but this game is going to be about Arkansas vs. SMU,” Anderson said. “It’s going to be about those players out there on the floor. … They’ve got a balanced team. They’re going to play up-tempo probably, to mid-tempo. They’re undefeated and it’s a big game. It’s a big game for a lot of reasons.”