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NY Post
New York Post
6 Jan 2024

NextImg:Hubie Brown talks coaching Knicks with Rick Pitino, broadcasting NBA games at 90

Longtime NBA analyst for ABC/ESPN and former Knicks coach Hubie Brown takes a timeout for some Q&A with Post columnist Steve Serby.

Q: Describe Rick Pitino as your Knicks assistant in the 1980s.

A: Rick Pitino came to us with excellent success at Boston University, and he came to us as a teacher, because we saw him all those years in the Five-Star Camp, of a player, to a coach, and then to a lecturer. He was perfect for what we were doing.

Q: Your 1985 Knicks season.

A: Bernard King was carrying us. He was averaging 33 points a game. We’re playing in Kansas City. There’s 20 games left. We’re still going to make the playoffs. So 2 o’clock in the afternoon I get a phone call. It’s the athletic director at Providence College [Lou Lamoriello]. “I have an opening for the head coaching job at Providence, and I want to know if you will allow me to interview Rick Pitino.” So I said, “Well, he’s a perfect guy for your school, but we have 20 games left. … I’ll let him go to interview, but if you like him, you got to give him the job, because this is going to be a big loss for us.” Rick leaves us, and naturally he gets the job. That night, Bernard King chases down Reggie Theus on a layup on the fastbreak in the fourth quarter. He blocks his shot from the rear, and as he lands, he blows his knee out. So not only did we lose Rick Pitino that night, we lost Bernard King for a year-and-a-half.

Hubie Brown, pictured in 1984, had Rick Pitino on his Knicks
staffs before the current St. John’s coach left for Providence. AP
Hubie Brown has remained involved with the NBA as an analyst for ESPN and ABC. Getty Images

Q: What kind of respect did Rick get from the Knicks players when he was your assistant?

A: First of all, by this time, he was experienced as a coach. And, he had presence. So that when we would put him … shooting drills, he could demonstrate and do the drills. And he still does that today. And he had a very high IQ for basketball, and then also in teaching and commanding respect. You have to prove to them that you can teach, that you can communicate, and that you can accept everything that we’re doing IQ-wise. And then, when he teaches a station at practice, the respect factor comes out by the teaching methods. He had all of that when he came.

Q: What do you think he will be able to do for St. John’s basketball?

A: I think he’s already changed the atmosphere and the talent level. It will come down to, because these are all new people except for the couple that he brought with him from the school that he was at [Iona], there are only a couple of guys that are used to this type of regimentation, this time of the accountability on a daily basis. For the players right now that have not involved with him from where he just came from, they are getting a culture shock. Because I don’t care how good the coaches were, they’re going to go through a whole new level of expertise, because he’s won — he did it at Providence, he did it at Kentucky, he’s done it everywhere, OK? Just give him a couple of years so that he can: a) develop the talent that he has, and b) recruit the better athlete back to the days of St. John’s, because everybody wants it to be back like when Looie [Carnesecca] had it, and all the games were in the Garden, and the success of the team was incredible in the Big East. … It doesn’t happen overnight. It could, if everybody buys into the style — the style of play, the style of practice. Then, how do you accept the coaching in the games, while it’s on the floor, pregame, halftime, and then after the game? How do you accept all this? With this crazy rule now that you can transfer at the end of the year and be eligible someplace else — worst rule in the history of college basketball, or college sports, because now the player can immediately go someplace else and possibly play — so you have no idea who’s going to stay anymore, which I know has to be a tremendous burden on every coaching staff in every sport. So, as far as preparation, as far as understanding talent, as far as teaching, as far as game coaching and then after the game the evaluating with his assistants, he’s at the top of the coaching ladder with everybody else. How many guys in college basketball can match what he has done? He can explain to them the difference in the levels, and how much you have to improve, and he can get you there.

Corey Sipkinfor the NY POST

Q: Describe recent Knicks trade acquisition OG Anunoby.

A: At the defensive end of the floor, you’re getting an all-NBA defensive player, plus the fact that at his size, he can rebound and he’s a great athlete and he can make the pass. You can’t have two guards and a wing guy that can’t defend off the dribble at the NBA level the way the game is played today. January and February are the dog days of NBA. This is where you can steal games, and this is where the Knicks have got to make a good run here now. You have to beat the sub-.500 teams, and then you have to catch the upper class of the schedule and get games that you’re not favored.

Q: Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau.

A: I don’t think he has to make any excuses about what his record has been, and the fact that he’s had them in the playoffs, and he’s done a great job. But it’s difficult when you’re doing in-season trades of importance. Can the people coming … accept basketball, accept the critiquing in the newspapers, accept the critiquing on the radio and TV? Not everybody is built to play and coach in New York City. He has proven that he can develop the product. I’ve always been a big fan of his because he did such a fantastic job with being an assistant every stop of the way. Nobody that ever had him on his staff didn’t say he was outstanding. And then when he got his chance to coach, he proved that he could coach and win.

Hubie Brown said that Tom Thibodeau has “proven that he can develop the product.” NBAE via Getty Images

Q: Jalen Brunson.

A: Very strong offensive player, can get his shot, whether it’s a 3 or whether it’s a mid-range game or in the paint. And he’s an excellent foul shooter, and he will pass the basketball when someone else is open on the move. He came here and has proven that he’s better than anybody thought. He’s excelling, because he’s leading. He’s making the big play, whether it’s offense or on the break, and it’s making the shot, distributing the ball at the right time, and he does it under pressure. Everything about that move was a 100-plus because he’s backing it up. He’s playing high minutes, and you got two-thirds of a season to go here, and you hope that he stays injury-free. But he’s such a tough kid that he can take the physical contact when he gets in the mid-range and when he gets into the paint. Not only does he take the contact, he makes the shots and he gets the 3-ball inside of the 3-point line. He does that night in and night out too. Everything about his game is excellent.

Q: Lou Carnesecca.

A: When he went to St. John’s, he was replacing a legend [Joe Lapchick], and Looie was able to recruit and then compete in the Big East when the Big East was at its highest point with all the incredible teams and athletes that went on to the pros. He put St. Johns’s back on the map.

Q: John Wooden.

A: John Wooden doesn’t have to take a backseat to anybody. … One of the greatest on-court teachers in the history of the game.

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Q: Bobby Knight.

A: Not too many people could do it at West Point, and he did it with 6-foot-3 and 6-foot-4 guys and brought West Point into the NIT at that time into the Christmas tournaments. What he did at Indiana, he brought it back to where the program used to be in the ’40s and the ’50s. You put him in the same box when you talk about Wooden and [Jack] Ramsay as teachers.

Q: Dr. Jack Ramsay.

A: He’s one of the greatest teachers of basketball, because you had him on the East Coast and you had Wooden on the West Coast and you had the great guys in the center of the country, and they were setting styles of play, defensive styles of play.

Q: Frank McGuire.

A: Probably one of the greatest recruiters in the history of the game.

Q: Red Auerbach.

A: In my opinion, he and Jerry West are two of the greatest general managers in the history of professional basketball. He had the confidence to trade great players a year before the player lost his talent. He was outstanding in the drafts. As a coach, at that time period that he coached, there was no team working harder in practice when they put together all of those championships in the ’50s. They ran the break, they ran outstanding plays and the pace was incredible for that time period. … And then how many of their players are in the Hall of Fame? It’s staggering, I can’t count that high.

Q: Mike Krzyzewski.

A: What Mike Krzyzewski did was not only as an X-and-O [guy] but as a recruiter, to a difficult school, where education is primary, then where he became an incredible teacher at clinics for coaches. Everything that Mike has done is in cement. Mike has never forgotten any player who’s ever played for him, he’s helped every guy who’s had a hard life. Remember, he never lost sight of his family in Chicago. Never.

Hubie Brown was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2005. AP

Q: Dave DeBusschere.

A: First of all, because I’m a baseball guy, I appreciated the fact that Dave pitched for the White Sox. Not only that but he was one of the fiercest power forwards, toughest guys at that position in the league. When we [Kentucky Colonels] won the [ABA] championship in ’75, Dave DeBusschere was the commissioner of the league. When he became the general manager of the Knicks, he was a wonderful man to work for. Dave didn’t interfere with you, which is always great when you have a general manager and a head coach.

Q: Describe the ’85 NBA Draft Lottery.

A: It was a great time for the organization, because of Patrick [Ewing] coming out at that time, where he had that incredible career at Georgetown. People underestimated him as a scorer that first year.

Q: Describe your coaching style.

A: My whole thing always has been — I got this from my high school coach Al LoBalbo — he always said when I started my first job: “Remember that they respect your voice. Use your voice because it’s so powerful. Don’t rely on the whistle all the time.” I would only use the whistle on the sleds in football. I thought that for me, because of my voice, the voice factor was always No. 1. No. 2, everything is daily accountability. When I went with Larry Costello and the Milwaukee Bucks in ’73 and ’74, I got a master’s degree and a doctorate’s degree in professional basketball, because everything was so organized.

Q: How good of a motivator were you?

A: Of our teams in Kentucky, Atlanta, New York and Memphis, 10 of my assistant coaches became head coaches in the NBA. What’s my point? My point is yeah, accountability is key, but you must have teachers, because you are not doing this by yourselves.

Q: What are the traits of the ideal Hubie Brown basketball player?

A: First of all, you want basketball IQ. The athleticism is right there with that, but basketball IQ is [No.] 1. Now, if you’re not quick and you’re slow, shooting makes up for a multitude of sins. Then, it’s are you coachable? Larry Costello says to me, “Now look, you’re in charge of players 9, 10, 11 and 12. We’re only going to play eight guys. Players 9, 10, 11 and 12 are all great college players … some of them All-American. But they’re not going to play.” I said, “OK. But why do I have to take care of them?” He said, “Because there are no minutes, no shots, no assists, no rebounds, and they will be coming up within a few years of new contracts. So we want them to be happy. Because, see, every day, they’re pissed off at me because I’m not playing them. It’s the first time in their lives that they’re not playing.” So I said, “Boy, when I get my team, I’m going to play 10 guys,” and I did.

Hubie Brown said “you don’t you’re 90 if you have things to do.” AP

Q: Who are coaches or managers in other sports you’ve admired?

A: I grew up on baseball in the ’40s. The Yankees and the Giants had 25 minor league teams. I think the general manager here in Atlanta [Alex Anthopoulos] has done a fantastic job. And then I’m a big fan of [Kevin Cash], who coaches the [Tampa Bay] team, where he has no money, but he’s able to compete and fight the Yankees and the Red Sox in that division. I was a big fan of [Al Arbour] who coached the [Islanders] team that won the four championships right there on Long Island. Big fan of [Lamoriello], who did it with New Jersey and is now the general manager over there. I’m a big fan of what [Bill] Belichick did and also before him [Bill] Parcells, because of the guys who worked for him, who have gone out and done it.

Q: Do you have an all-time NBA team?

A: No I would never do that. You can’t, because of the widening of the lanes, it’s taking away hand-checking, taking away the hard fouls, changing the 3-point line … that changed everything.

Q: Describe your 2005 Hall of Fame induction.

A: That’s the highest honor that you can get in your life in your profession. You never think of yourself. You think of all of the people that helped you get this notoriety. It’s just like I always say about all the television things you win. No, it’s a team. It’s the announcer and the analyst. And then it’s the director and the producer. The announcer and the analyst are out in front getting all the pub, but the guys that make the telecast are in the truck, the producer and the director that are working with anywhere from 30, 50, 70 people. And it’s a team. And it’s the same thing doing television games, it’s a team. And then when you coach, it’s not just you.

Q: Is it true that life begins at 90?

A: (Laugh) It’s like I say a lot of times: You don’t think you’re 90 if you have things to do. … See, people say, “Do you feel 90?” Well, if you have something to do, and then you’re still doing television, no, there’s always something to do and you’re always looking forward naturally to the action.

Q: What are you most proud of about your career?

A: You’re proud of the fact that you’re blessed that people opened their doors to you whenever a door was closed. And this year will be my 52nd year — 50 in the NBA and two in the ABA. When you’re growing up, I was just worried about the next game, and the same thing in college. But then all of a sudden, when you go into the Army and you come out, and you get a master’s degree and a teacher’s credential, things open up for you. Now it comes to: Can you deliver? And you just hope that at the high school level, that the students will remember you as a teacher first and as a coach second. And then, when you get into college, sure, it’s the coaching and the teaching and the recruiting. But then when you get into the pros, it’s can you deliver at this level? Because you didn’t play at that level. The feeling of being thankful to the people who opened the doors and gave us an opportunity. And as you get older, you appreciate that more and more, because I’m 90 years old, I’m going to do 15 games on national television, and I’m still going to be part of the action. That’s a testimony by me, and I’m thankful to ESPN and ABC that they keep offering the opportunity.