By STEPHEN HAWKINS
AP Basketball Writer
DALLAS — Larry Brown knows his quick turnaround at SMU is much different than anything the Hall of Fame coach has done in the past.
Less than two years after Brown returned to college, a quarter-century after he won a national title at Kansas and with a record nine NBA head jobs to his credit, the No. 23 Mustangs (19-5) are in The Associated Press poll for the first time since March 1985. They are undefeated at home, with three wins over ranked teams in only five weeks.
“At Kansas and UCLA, I didn’t establish those programs. The traditions at North Carolina, Kansas, UCLA, I’ve been lucky enough to be part of that, but there’s so many people that have done great things there,” Brown said. “This program was highly thought of, but it was a long time ago. We were hopeful coming here we could be a really terrific program that played at a high level.”
Only 56 games into Brown’s tenure, the Mustangs certainly seem to be on a fast track.
“I’m not surprised how quick he turned it around, but I know he has something bigger than just basketball in this moment,” point guard Nic Moore said. “He’s trying to make us become great men in life. … That is how he’s getting me to be a better player.”
The Mustangs went more than 10 years without a win over a ranked team before opening the renovated Moody Coliseum with a win over then-No. 17 UConn. They have since posted double-digit wins over Top 25 teams Memphis and Cincinnati, the latter 76-55 on Saturday night for their first on-campus victory over a Top 10 team since 1967.
SMU last had multiple victories over ranked teams in 1984-85, the same season they were ranked as high as No. 2 before being No. 20 in the final poll before the NCAA tournament.
“I never imagined it could be like this for me at (age) 73. I mean, this is like going back to when I was freshman coach at North Carolina. I feel exactly the same way until I look in the mirror,” Brown said. “But I still have the same passion. I love coming to practice, I love being around our coaches. I don’t think anybody at my age deserves this, and I love it, and I feel real fortunate.”
Even before the new poll with SMU was released Monday, students were camped out to get tickets for the last three sold-out home games. Brown showed up with doughnuts and coffee, calling that interaction “far more meaningful than being ranked.”
Talk about Moody Madness, all for a team that last went to the NCAA tournament in 1993 and hasn’t won a tourney game since 1988, the same year Brown and Kansas won the national title. SMU basketball is suddenly a hot ticket in Dallas.
Before the Connecticut game Jan. 4, SMU hadn’t sold out a home game since 2001. The Mustangs will have sellouts their last six home games, the next Feb. 19 against Houston after games this week at Rutgers and Temple.
“When I first got here, it seemed like it was just our parents were here,” said senior forward Shawn Williams, who now gets noticed off the court. “I was pumping my gas and somebody actually knew who I was. That had never happened before.”
And it used to be the only reason classmates figured he was a basketball player was his 6-foot-7 frame.
“Now it’s crazy,” he said.
SMU was 15-17 in Brown’s first season, when five starters played more than 32 minutes a game. That was with Moore and starting big man Markus Kennedy sitting out after transferring and before the addition of three freshmen now making significant contributions.
“The school’s great, Dallas is great. … There’s great talent around here, we’re in a great conference, so all the things were in place,” Brown said. “But I didn’t know we could assemble a group like this, the transfers we got, the recruits we have, and the kids we retained. You look at the contribution of the freshmen and the transfers, it’s given us a chance to be pretty good.”
Fans rushed the court at the end of the Cincinnati game. It was a first for Brown, who had only been part of games where the opposing team celebrated that way.
“It makes me realize you haven’t had much success, and it was nice for them to enjoy that and share that with our players,” he said. “I would hope in the future that we’re excited because we beat a team we’re expected to beat, and then we get ready for the next one.”