ALBANY — As far as milestones go, Will Brown said this one says more about those around him than anything else.
That’s what the UAlbany men’s basketball head coach, whose next win will be his 300th leading the program, said ahead of the Great Danes’ 7:30 p.m. Wednesday non-conference game against Yale at SEFCU Arena.
“When you win 300 games, I think you’ve had good players and the coaching staff’s done a good job,” Brown said after Tuesday’s practice. “I’ve just been fortunate to have the opportunity to coach enough games to win 300 games.”
In his 19th season at UAlbany, Brown has compiled a 299-271 record and led the Great Danes to five trips to the NCAA tournament. This season’s Great Danes are 5-3 after winning their last three games, but pushing that winning streak to four will be a tough task Wednesday when they play after the school’s women’s basketball team takes on Fairleigh Dickinson University-Florham.
After Saturday’s win against American, Brown described Yale as “the best team that will step foot in this gym all year long,” and that was before the 6-3 Ivy League program downed America East Conference favorite Vermont on Sunday.
Making things more difficult for Brown’s team, though, is a lack of healthy players. UAlbany expects to only suit up eight scholarship players for Wednesday’s game. While the absences of redshirt junior Jojo Anderson (knee), redshirt sophomore Adam Lulka (knee) and redshirt freshman Sam Shafer (shoulder) were expected, not having sophomore Malachi de Sousa (knee) and freshman Mitch Doherty (ankle) was unexpected.
Brown said both de Sousa and Doherty are day-to-day for the Great Danes after suffering injuries in recent practices.
“We’re shorthanded, so we have to be even more physical and compete even harder,” UAlbany redshirt sophomore Cameron Healy said.
Yale’s top strength is its imposing frontcourt with 6-foot-10 junior Paul Atkinson and 6-foot-9 senior Jordan Bruner. Dealing with that duo will be difficult for the undermanned Great Danes, but its injury woes likely will force UAlbany to play with smaller lineups, anyway. While the Great Danes will struggle to defend Atkinson and Bruner down low, they could cause Yale problems on the other end of the court with four-guard lineups.
“That’s going to make them have to come guard us,” UAlbany senior Ahmad Clark said.
Yale head coach James Jones is a UAlbany graduate who played for, and coached with, Richard “Doc” Sauers at the school.
Brown’s current coaching staff at UAlbany is filled with graduates of the university, and that’s something in which the head coach takes pride. Associate head coach Jon Iati, assistant coaches Josh Pelletier and Jerrad Knotts, director of basketball operations Greig Stire and video coordinator Shane Hammill each have a degree from UAlbany. Iati, Knotts and Stire played for UAlbany, while Pelletier played at Saint Rose and Hammill was previously a manager for the UAlbany program.
“Nothing speaks volumes like having a coaching staff right now where every individual on your staff has a degree from this university,” Brown said. “I think that says a lot when guys want to be a part of your program, then graduate from your program and then they want to come back and work in your program. I think it says it all right there.”
‘RED PANDA’ ARRIVES
She goes by “Red Panda.”
When it comes to halftime entertainment, though, Rong Niu — who also goes by Krystal Niu — is the G.O.A.T.
“She’s the greatest,” said Griff Hunter, UAlbany’s assistant athletic director for marketing. “Or, obviously, at least I think she’s the greatest.”
Few would disagree with Hunter’s assessment of Niu’s stature within the world of halftime entertainment, which admittedly isn’t the largest of worlds. As the “Red Panda,” Niu has entertained in arenas throughout the country these last few decades, and her unique show comes Wednesday night to SEFCU Arena during halftime of UAlbany’s game vs. Yale.
What’s Niu do exactly? That’s relatively easy to explain, even if understanding how Niu — who has appeared on “America's Got Talent” and has worked the halftime show of the NBA Finals — has developed such a cult following isn’t as simple.
During Wednesday’s halftime, Niu will ride a seven-foot-high unicycle, which is impressive enough on its own. Then, she’ll take one of her feet off a pedal so she can stack several bowls onto her foot before kicking them into the air and onto her head. She’ll then repeat the act, balancing more bowls atop her head with each subsequent kick.
With each successful kick, she’ll smile as the crowd cheers. That’s been a staple for decades with her act, which she has regularly performed at NBA and college games since the mid-1990s.
“We were able to find a date that worked and, thankfully, we were able to get her here,” Hunter said.
SEEKING ANOTHER WIN
In the first part of Wednesday’s doubleheader at SEFCU Arena, the UAlbany women’s basketball team will play FDU-Florham at 5 p.m.
After losing five consecutive games, head coach Colleen Mullen’s Great Danes have won their last two games. UAlbany averaged 71.5 points per game in its back-to-back wins against Canisius and Central Connecticut, a pair of games played right after the Great Danes scored a season-low 47 points in a loss to Lafayette.
On the season, UAlbany is 3-5, while FDU-Florham is 2-5.
After Wednesday’s game, UAlbany plays Saturday at Siena in a renewal of the rivalry between the two programs. Before the schools didn’t meet in a game last year, UAlbany had won eight consecutive matchups between the Great Danes and Saints.