Seems like old times, as Will Brown debuts as Albany Patroons head coach with a win

Former UAlbany head coach Will Brown made his home debut as coach of the Albany Patroons on Friday.

Former UAlbany head coach Will Brown made his home debut as coach of the Albany Patroons on Friday.

ALBANY – In a gym where players like Micheal Ray Richardson, Pearl Washington, John Starks and Mario Elie once hit the floor, a line from “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” came to mind, in reference to the men playing there on Friday night:

“Who are those guys?”

They hailed from college basketball programs like Alcorn State, Stetson and Grand Canyon University (as well as some from the power conferences).

A few have NBA G League experience, but their names did not ring bells, their faces did not rattle any memory.

The Albany Patroons’ head coach, on the other hand, could not have been more familiar to 1,648 fans at the Patroons’ Washington Avenue Armory season opener. Everybody knew who he was.

Will Brown, synonymous with the UAlbany Great Danes men’s basketball team, made his head coaching debut with the Patroons of The Basketball League. Another echo to Brown’s successful career uptown – the Patroons won 134-99.

TBL may attract players from as far on the fringe of pro ball as it gets, but it can also serve as a welcome landing spot for a coach who has won over 300 games at the Division I level and has taken teams to the NCAA Tournament five times.

Just over a year ago, Brown’s contract at UAlbany expired and was not renewed, after 20 seasons as the Great Danes head coach.

On Friday, he was back on a sideline, doing what he loves, and if the trappings, the rules and the players seemed like a different species of the game from college ball, in the end, “It’s basketball. So it’s comforting,” Brown said.

“Not too many similarities. And an awful lot of differences,” he said with his characteristically wry grin. “The pace is different, it’s a different set of rules, and you’re dealing with guys who have played all over the world. I had a guy fly in from Hong Kong 36 hours ago, 50-plus hours of flights. The fact that he’s actually able to play …

“It’s basketball. You know, I’ve been around this game my whole life. I’m a coach’s son, so there’s no better place to be than in a gym, coaching this game.”

Brown’s roster is still in a state of flux, he’s still adjusting to an extra eight minutes of game time, his players may not be so inclined to play defense and he hasn’t had time to install much in the way of offensive design.

But his approach has not wavered from how he led the UAlbany program since 2001, now that he has a job once held by the likes of Phil Jackson, Bill Musselman and George Karl.

“The intensity, there’s no drop-off,” said Brown, who shed his sport coat before the game even started. “My expectations haven’t changed. I just think I’ve got to continue to be patient. This league, in particular, is a premium on offense. I’m trying to get these guys to understand that if we play a little bit of defense, we’ll have a chance to be really good.”

Brown’s entire coaching staff is deeply rooted in Capital Region basketball, with Don Bassett, Brian Beaury and Julie McBride serving as assistants.

“These guys” on the Patroons roster, on the other hand, have played pro ball around the world: Spain, England, Republic of Georgia, Nicaragua, Hong Kong, Poland, France, Jordan, Macedonia, Cypress, Vietnam …

That many paths are bound to cross.

In fact, one of Brown’s players, guard J.C. Show, played against Brown’s Great Danes as recently as 2019, when Show was a senior at Binghamton and UAlbany swept the America East season series, including a 64-50 UAlbany win over the Bearcats at SEFCU Arena for the annual Big Purple Growl.

As much as Brown has embraced this new opportunity, he has been embraced by the Patroons faithful who know him so well.

In fact, two former UAlbany season ticket holders, Jon Laico and Scott Wilk, drove up from Long Island for the game and were among the well-wishers greeting Brown as he walked out two minutes before tipoff, and again on the court after the victory.

“They drove up from Long Island and wanted to be here for my first game, and they’re going to donate the rest of their season tickets to whoever I want to give them to,” Brown said. “When I looked at them, I did a double take. ‘What are you guys doing here?’ They’re like, ‘C’mon, you think we would miss this?’

“Even better, they said, ‘Our season tickets are at the end of the other team’s bench, so we’re going to heckle the other team for the whole game.’

“I’m like, ‘Beautiful.’”

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