SOUTH PORTLAND — Brett Brown has played for Hall of Fame basketball coaches, coached Australian professional teams and won NBA championship rings with the San Antonio Spurs.
On Sunday, Brown’s quest for gold at the London Olympic games begins as his Australian team takes the court against Brazil at 5:15 a.m. EST.
“I’m not apologetic about admitting it is why we are here,” Brown, a 1979 South Portland High School graduate, said in a telephone interview this week from Paris. “It’s going to be extremely difficult, as it should be.”
The road to any medal stand will be arduous. The Australians are without injured center Andrew Bogut, a solid NBA center since the 2005-2006 season. The team is initially grouped with international powers Brazil, China and Spain, and could face the powerful American team of NBA stars in medal rounds.
“We are not going to boast NBA players,” Brown, 51, said, “but you always dream. It’s what keeps you going. I want my players to do the same.”
He also said he wants his squad to play the game as he has learned it over decades from his father and legendary coaches Rick Pitino, Lindsay Gaze and Gregg Popovich: with unified purpose, aggressive defense and in as good, or better shape than their opponents.
“The group I have is a very tight unit. They make sure there is no backing down in the way they go about things,” Brown said.
Brown brings an expansive basketball pedigree to London. In high school, he played on state championship teams for his father, New England Basketball Hall of Fame coach Bob Brown.
Father and son then went to Boston University, where Brett played for and his father assisted Pitino, now the University of Louisville head coach. Pitino has won 627 games in his collegiate coaching career, and guided the Cardinals to the NCAA Final Four in March.
After deciding he was not meant for corporate life, Brown went to Australia and coached professional teams while learning from Gaze, an International Federation of Basketball hall of famer.
In Australia, Brown met his wife, Anna, and two of their three children were born there.
“I blink, and I ended up living there for 17 years,” he said.
In 1996 and 2000, Brown was an assistant coach for the Australian teams that finished fourth in the Olympics in Atlanta and Sydney, Australia.
A decade ago, Brown rejoined the Spurs’ front office; he became an assistant to coach Gregg Popovich before the 2006-2007 season. He also was part of the front office in the 1998-1999 season, allowing him to be part of all four NBA championships won by San Antonio.
“It has been a fantastic basketball journey over the last 25 years,” Brown said.
While noting their career tracks have followed different paths, Bob Brown said a common element can be traced through his career and his son’s.
“He has been like me, very very fortunate to be in the right place at the right time, with the right people,” Bob Brown said.
Bob Brown’s coaching career began in 1960. He retired last March after 52 years of coaching high school and collegiate teams. In the last decade, Brown was named Coach of the Year three times by The Forecaster.
Father and son have a deep appreciation for basketball’s global popularity and its international players. The Spurs feature players from Argentina, France, the Dominican Republic and Brazil, and Brett Brown said the impact of global growth is very evident in the Olympics.
“You can catch a wave of players and ride right through the games,” he said.
Bob Brown said international players generally have a better grasp of basketball fundamentals, and Brett Brown said international rules can be a challenging adjustment.
“The common rules you grow up with change,” he said about the shorter international court, wider lanes, shortened three-point shot lines and reduced foul limit for players. Players can also touch the ball on and above the cylinder of the rim.
The Australians became one of the best dozen teams in the world just by qualifying for the Olympics, and the competition only gets stiffer.
“There are no easy games,” Brown said. “But we want it that way.”
Whether across the country or the world, he said he is happy to have a Maine following in his career.
“I wear my Maine hat with pride,” Brown said. “You don’t forget where you are from.”
NBA stars Tim Duncan, left, and Manu Ginobli of the San Antonio Spurs share a laugh with assistant coach Brett Brown. Brown, a 1979 South Portland High School graduate, leads the Australian Olympic team in London next week, beginning with a game early Sunday morning. “It has been a fantastic basketball journey,” he said in an interview this week.
Brett Brown said he will take lessons from four legendary coaches, including his father, Bob Brown, as he guides the Australian Olympic team. The teams will play a unified game with aggressive defense and strive to be in better shape than their opponents. “You always dream, it’s what keeps you going. I want my players to do the same,” he said.