(Original story credit: Matt Schoch of the Virgin Islands Daily News)
ST. THOMAS – One of the greatest coaches in basketball history came to Ivanna Eudora Kean High School on Thursday to give local coaches a free clinic on how to mold young players and young people.
As Milt Newton said as he introduced his college coach to a group of Virgin Islanders to kick off his first Emerald Gems Foundation initiative: “There isn’t anyone else I’d want more to get this started than this man.”
Then, Larry Brown breathlessly talked basketball for over two hours – with no written notes or breaks – juggling messages of caring for players and loving your assistants, with strategies of defending the pick and roll and funny stories about the headstrong Allen Iverson.
That was before the Southern Methodist University coach – about a month shy of his 75th birthday – directed an on-court clinic that made a complicated game seem simple with relevant drills fit for youth players and NBA stars alike.
But it wasn’t the difference between a “hard hedge” and a “soft hedge” on a ball screen that most hit home with Ricky Mercer, who coaches young players through the Zero Tolerance Basketball Organization on St. Thomas.
“It was more off-the-court stuff,” Mercer said. “To reinforce with players that it’s about hard work, and trying to interact with them more to really show that we care about them.”
Mercer referenced Brown’s four tenets that his mentor, former University of North Carolina coach Dean Smith, wrote on the board at every practice each day: Play hard, play unselfishly, play smart and have fun.
“My favorite thing to do is to coach and teach,” Brown said after more than four hours of holding court. “But being involved with people who want to be coaches and get to do what I’ve been fortunate to do is something I love.
“At the end of the day, my coaches that I had on every level helped me get to where I am. I’m older now and I want to share all the knowledge that I was taught.
“I worry about that all the time. Because I think a lot of people, when I was growing up, they got into coaching because they love kids, and love to teach. Now there’s a lot of other reasons that they’re getting into it. So when you have people like this (at Eudora Kean), you know they’re in it for the right reasons, and that’s why I love being parts of things like this.”
Brown is the only coach with an NCAA championship – with Newton’s University of Kansas team in 1988 – and an NBA title, which he won with the Detroit Pistons in 2004.
At UCLA and Kansas, he coached storied college programs, and also coached nine NBA teams. He is entering his fourth year at SMU.
The NBA Hall of Famer is visiting the Virgin Islands for the first time, although he said he nearly visited when St. Croix’s Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs had training camp on St. Thomas in 2005. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was the best man at Brown’s wedding.
“I’ve always heard things from Timmy and Milt,” Brown said about the V.I. “For me, just coming because of what Milt has meant to me and just to see what he’s trying to do to give back, it’s pretty incredible.”
Newton, the St. Thomian who is now general manager of the Minnesota Timberwolves, said the opening of his foundation’s weekend was a rousing success because of Brown.
“He always talks about playing the game the right way, and that’s always made an impression on me,” Newton said. “I know what it means for the local coaches to have a Hall of Famer come and spend time. He was here for four-and-a-half hours strong.”
Activities continue with free youth clinics today and Saturday at Eudora Kean. Registration is closed for the sessions.
Newton brought along several professional basketball coaches and personnel along with him this week to help with the clinics, including: former 10-year NBA player Calvin Booth, the Timberwolves director of player development and a scout; Ed Tapscott, former Washington Wizards interim head coach, former president of the Charlotte Bobcats, and now Washington’s vice president of player programs and a scout; former NBA player Harold Ellis, who is director of pro scouting for the Orlando Magic; and Chris Alpert, vice president of basketball operations and player personnel for the NBA Development League.
Also tonight, there is a 7 p.m. public ceremony on western St. Thomas where the Estate Bordeaux park Newton grew up playing at will be dedicated in his honor.
Newton has said part of the Emerald Gems initiative, which he started this year along with his wife, Shalaun, will be to rebuild that park.
Other projects will come down the road, he said.
“We’re here to stay,” Newton said. “Basketball is a vehicle, but we plan to use our foundation to impact the youth. It could be things where we host them, or we bring in speakers. We don’t know where we’re going to be led, in terms of how we’re going to use this, but it’s here for the benefit of the youth of the Virgin Islands.”
Newton thanked the Virgin Islands Port Authority, A&R Transportation, Allie Petrus, and the West End Alliance, along with Sen. Clifford Graham and other members of the V.I. Legislature for their support of the foundation’s opening weekend.
So far, it’s certain Brown made the biggest impression on Thursday, the feeling was mutual for the veteran coach.
“I’m going to come back,” he said.
– Contact Daily News Sports Editor Matt Schoch firstname.lastname@example.org.