ALBANY — Nearly two full decades into leading the University at Albany men’s basketball program, Will Brown said he took a couple days to “decompress” when his team’s 2018-19 season concluded last Saturday with a loss at UMBC.
It was a trying season.
An eventful year.
And one Brown said he learned from as much as any, if not more.
“Really, just to appreciate every day,” Brown said was the top lesson from his last year guiding the Great Danes. “There’s a lot of things in this profession that you cannot control. The grad transfer thing is getting worse, not better, and you need to plan accordingly, and you need to know your roster better and where they are academically. You can’t assume it won’t happen to you and your program. The other thing is, we as coaches want guys that want to be in our program, and [we need to] focus on the guys that want to be in our program and not on the guys that don’t.”
At the end of last March, Brown had two star players — Joe Cremo and David Nichols — he expected to lead his 2018-19 Great Danes decide to utilize the NCAA graduate transfer rule that allows a player to switch schools and not sit out. That move caught Brown by surprise, and left the coach needing to scramble to replace Cremo and Nichols, a pair of other transfers, and four graduating seniors.
With a 12-20 season complete, this week offered Brown one of his first chances to catch his breath after needing to hustle to find players, and then teach an inexperienced group his system and expectations. Brown said the last year “probably went by too quick” for his liking, but he also found himself enjoying the year as he immersed himself into it.
“It was a little frustrating at first, but it ended up quite an enjoyable year because we had a group that was willing to work, that was eager to learn and they were fun to coach,” Brown said.
UAlbany suffered its first losing season since 2009-10, but the campaign offered plenty of promising moments for the Great Danes to build on as they move forward. UAlbany ended its season starting five freshmen and is slated to return 85.3 percent of its scoring for next season when it should move back into the top half of the America East Conference.
“It’s all about the growth and development for this group,” Brown said, “and the future is really bright.”
Each of the team’s four leading per-game scorers — junior Ahmad Clark, redshirt freshmen Cameron Healy and Adam Lulka and freshman Antonio Rizzuto — are able to return next season, while freshman Malachi de Sousa took major steps forward in the season’s final months.
“The light just went on, and he really understood what we were teaching and preaching,” Brown said of de Sousa, who averaged 3.5 points per game, but finished the season as a starter and with a team-high 15 points in UAlbany’s finale. “He has the most potential. He’s got unbelievable length. He’s a really good athlete, and he can do things naturally that others can’t. To be honest, he’s the guy that can make the biggest leap forward.”
Clark and Healy each made third-team all-conference for the Great Danes, while Healy was also an all-rookie pick. Besides UAlbany’s returning players, Brown sees incoming freshmen Mitch Doherty and Trey Hutcheson as being able to compete for playing time right away — especially Doherty, a 6-foot-7 forward Brown said plays with strong perimeter instincts and skills.
“I’d be surprised if he’s not in the rotation from Day 1,” Brown said. “He’s ready to play.”
Brown’s ready to move forward, too, with a young core he’s said several times should eventually lead UAlbany to earning an NCAA tournament berth. The next step in making that goal a reality is having a strong offseason.
“It’s about what we’re going to do from March to November,” Brown said. “So now it’s about charging forward.”