By Mike Lowe
Tony Hamlin couldn't help himself. He wanted the folks in Philadelphia to know just how special Brett Brown, the new 76ers coach, is.
So after reading the story that appeared on the philly.com website of the Philadelphia Inquirer announcing Brown's hiring, Hamlin had to make this comment:
"I've known Brett for 30 years he is a winner in everything he does get ready Philly give him three years and you'll be in the hunt for conference title!!!!"
Maybe Hamlin, who recently retired as a high school basketball coach in Maine after 31 years, was a little over- enthusiastic because Brown is a Maine native, a South Portland High graduate and the son of one of the state's greatest basketball coaches, Bob Brown.
He doesn't think so.
"He's got the right personality," said Hamlin, who led Penquis Valley of Milo to the Class C state championship last winter. "He's a great communicator and his pedigree is such that Bob Brown knows more basketball than anyone I know and Bob has repeatedly told me he is dwarfed by what Brett knows.
"His basketball knowledge? It's off the charts."
And, Hamlin added, "He's going to outwork people. He's going to outwork anyone they've ever seen."
And he'll have to. Brett Brown, a 1979 South Portland High graduate, is now the head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers, a franchise that is clearly in a rebuilding mode. The 76ers were 34-48 last season and traded away their best player.
"I understand the landscape," said the 52-year-old Brown. "I'm the son of a coach. I've been around the game for my whole life. Coaching is coaching. You just have to understand this is a rebuild.
"There needs to be some tolerance, there needs to be some patience."'
Brown is the second Maine native to become an NBA head coach this year. Steve Clifford, who was born in Lincoln, grew up in Vermont and graduated from UMaine-Farmington, was hired by the Charlotte Bobcats earlier this offseason.
Brown calls himself lucky to be in this position. He never dreamed of becoming an NBA coach.
"I knew I wanted to coach," he said. "I knew I wanted to follow in my dad's footsteps. But the NBA? That never crossed my mind. I just wanted to coach basketball and do a good job."
Perhaps he was destined to become a head coach. He learned at the knee of his father, who is in the New England Basketball Hall of Fame. He played under Rick Pitino at Boston University where he started at point guard and was team MVP as a sophomore.
After a short stint as a salesman at AT&T in Boston, Brown packed up and went to Australia. "I didn't feel comfortable in that (corporate) environment," said Brown.
There he met Lindsay Gaze, the renowned Australian basketball coach, and learned more under him. He coached 14 years in the Australian National Basketball League. Then he joined the staff of the San Antonio Spurs, learning even more under Gregg Popovich. The Spurs won NBA championships in 2003, 2005 and 2007.
Bob Brown, contacted by phone while fishing the Yellowstone River in Montana, said his son was one of the lucky few.
"He fell in love with something and he was in the right place at the right time with the right people," said Bob Brown.
When Brett was growing up, Bob said there was nothing to indicate basketball would be his career. "It was always about him having fun," said Bob Brown. "And he had fun doing just the mundane things, like spending time in the garage dribbling, or playing with his friends."
Bob Brown said Brett didn't take an interest in basketball until probably the second or third grade, when Bob was the head coach at Rockland. "It just evolved from that," said Bob Brown. "I think he just fell in love with the game."
Hamlin could see that over the years, when he saw young Brett at basketball camps, or when he coached against South Portland.
Dana Colwill, the director of the Augusta Civic Center, saw it up-close as well.
He and Brett Brown lived a couple of streets apart when Bob Brown was an assistant coach at Cony High in Augusta. "Back in elementary school, we ran in some of the same circles, we had some of the same friends," said Colwill. "We did kid stuff, ride bikes in the neighborhood, go to playgrounds."
Then years later, they met on the basketball court. In 1978, when they were high school juniors, Colwill played for Cony and Brown for South Portland, in the Class A state championship game. Cony won, 84-63.
"It was obvious he was the team leader, the captain," said Colwill. "He was a very good athlete, but it was evident he was a better leader."
A year later, South Portland won the state championship, beating Presque Isle, 102-58. The Riots are the only team to ever score more than 100 points in a state title game.
Colwill finds it almost mind-boggling that Brown is now coaching in the NBA. "I was watching the announcement on TV the other night," he said. "And I said to my wife, 'I grew up with that guy, I played against him.' And now, here he is."
Brown started to think about being an NBA head coach back in 2012, after he coached Australia to a 3-2 record at the London Summer Olympics.
"It gave me a taste (of being a head coach) again," he said. "It made me refocus on what I wanted to do with my career. It was like I almost drew a line in the sand and said, 'This is my time.' "
After the Spurs lost in seven games to Miami in the NBA championship series, Brown's name surfaced whenever a coaching vacancy occurred. He interviewed with Denver, and was mentioned in Boston. Philadelphia caught his attention, but he took his time before accepting the position. He wanted a commitment from the 76ers that he would be there when the rebuilding was complete, otherwise he had no reason to leave one of the NBA's most stable franchises in San Antonio.
They gave it to him with a four-year contract.
"I think the 76ers did him well," said his father. "They're giving him an opportunity to succeed and that's what every coach wants."
Brett Brown also knows about Philadelphia's reputation and is looking forward to coaching there.
"It's a great city," he said. "It's a hard-nosed, sometimes ruthless city, but I love it."
Bob Brown likes it even more.
"You don't want to go to an apathetic city," he said. "Philadelphia is not that."
No it isn't. And Bob Brown figures he and his wife, Bonny, will get to know it a little better now.
"The train goes from Portland to Philadelphia," he said. "How good is that for a 75-year-old married couple? To get on a train to watch your son coach in the NBA. It doesn't get much better."
Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at: