Khánh Nguyễn/ The Sunflower
With eight days remaining until the start of the 2020-21 basketball season, Isaac Brown was preparing for his sixth season as an assistant coach for Wichita State. With the resignation of longtime head coach Gregg Marshall, Brown was elevated to the interim head coach position.
Even with an offseason of turmoil, which included six scholarship players transferring, Brown has the Shockers on the verge of returning to the NCAA Tournament. Brown has quickly emerged as a candidate for the open head coach position.
On Thursday, Brown led the Shockers to the first home victory over a top-six team in the country since 1967 with a 68-63 victory over No. 6 Houston.
“I’m just so proud of these guys,” Brown said. “You know, when everything when I first got this job, we told these kids, just trust us and we’re going to give them 110% every day, and all those guys trust the process. And they just basically stepped up and just doing tremendous on the court off the court, and in the classroom.”
WSU’s victory catapulted them into first place in the American Athletic Conference. Earlier this offseason, the Shockers were picked to finish seventh in the conference with no players picked to an all-conference team.
But even with the adversity that the team has faced, Brown has led the Shockers to a conference lead and on their first NCAA Tournament birth since 2018.
“There was a lot of adversity when the season started,” Brown said. “And like I said, our first meeting with the team, our staff, we talked about you guys just got to trust us. We’re gonna give you 110% every night, we can’t let anybody in our circle. We didn’t make any excuses in the end. Those guys kept battling. They kept getting better. They kept believing, and they just trust us. We trust them and they trust our staff.”
Throughout the season, the team has backed Brown and their support of him has been critical to the team’s success.
Sophomore guard Tyson Etienne was one of six players to stay at WSU even with everything surrounding the program. Etienne has been one of the most vocal supporters of Brown and in turn is averaging a team-high 17.2 points per game, while emerging as one of the AAC Player of the Year candidates.
“I never doubted it, I said that from day one,” Etienne said. “When everyone was transferring and it seemed like the world was falling, I stayed solid in my decision and it’s for reasons like this. I knew what we had even though we lost Coach Marshall, I knew what we still could do. Just because Coach Marshall left doesn’t mean the talent left with him.”
This team has been through more adversity than most especially with dealing with the COVID-19 virus and Brown deserves credit for how the team has performed. Keeping the team focused with numerous postponements and other hardships would’ve made it easy to categorize this season as a rebuilding one.
But Brown has guided the Shockers through these muddy waters and deserves credit for the team’s performance. In press conferences, Brown typically deflects questions about himself and wants to give credit to the players. But it’s time for Brown to be recognized for what the team has accomplished so far.
“We’ve been through so much, you know, the country has been through so much dealing with COVID, us not even knowing if we’re gonna have a season and stuff going on internally within our program,” Etienne said. “You know, just to be in this moment before the game fighting for first place was a blessing, but to be, you know, on the other side of that, and to say that we’re number one is something that, you know, is unbelievable.”
Isaac Brown might not be the flattering head coach hire the program was hoping for, but the player’s support for him has to mean something. The team is together like a family much more than last year and Brown has been crucial for that. He’s brought a new swagger and culture to the program that can last for seasons to come.
So, Athletic Director Darron Boatright it’s time to take the interim tag off Isaac Brown. He deserves it.