‘He’s a player’s coach:’ Isaac Brown provides positivity in first full season as head coach

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Sean Marty / The Sunflower

Head coach Isaac Brown yells towards a player during the exhibition game against Missouri Southern State on Nov. 4 inside Charles Koch Arena. Brown is set to enter his first full season as head coach, after being promoted from his interim status last February.

Eleven months ago, Isaac Brown was thrust into a situation filled with unknowns. Longtime head coach Gregg Marshall had just resigned following abuse allegations and Brown was announced as the team’s interim head coach. Since then, a lot has changed. 

Brown led the Shockers to an American Athletic Conference regular season title and to the NCAA Tournament, while getting the interim tag removed last February. During that season, Brown helped WSU maneuver through the COVID-19 pandemic and other obstacles put in front of them. 

The 52 year-old, first time head coach remained a source of positivity during some of the toughest times last season. When the Shockers fell to Cincinnati in last year’s AAC Tournament, Brown remained positive even though the Shockers’ postseason chances looked bleak.

“When I walked into the locker room, the first thing I said was keep your head up,” Brown said after the loss. “You guys have had a great season, you guys have battled. Nobody expected you to win the conference championship in the American. I’ve got a good feeling that we’ll still be in the NCAA Tournament. We’ve done the work we needed to do.”

Brown’s source of positivity and confidence has been crucial for players up and down the roster. Sophomore guard Tyson Etienne flourished under Brown, winning AAC Player of the Year in a breakout season.

Etienne said that Brown’s support was a welcoming sign since he took over last November.

“I love IB, he’s a players coach,” Etienne said. “He definitely is there for you, supporting you on and off the court. He’s really going to care about you and it doesn’t matter if you’re first on the roster or you’re 16th on the roster, he’s going to care about you. That’s encouraging to know that your coach is going to ride with you.”

After being picked to finish sixth in the American last year, the Shockers used that as fuel en route to its first ever AAC regular season title. Even with everything surrounding the program last October, no players left the program. Brown said a big reason for that was the relationship between the coaching staff and the players.

“Those guys really bought in, they had the coaching staff’s back and went out and performed on the basketball court,” Brown said. “It’s just given me a lot of confidence, having a great group of guys that you can coach and go out and understand how to play basketball and how to win basketball games.”

Brown spent last season prioritizing the players and those relationships. He quickly won the team over in large part due to his focus of becoming a ‘players coach’.

“Issac came in and he just took his role,” freshman Ricky Council IV said. “I mean he gave us a lot of freedom, let us play fast like we like to do and it was just great. I love Isaac for real. He’s my guy.”

In the age of the transfer portal, Brown was able to keep the team’s core intact, in large part due to the relationships fostered during last season. Chaunce Jenkins, a freshman guard, could have easily chosen to leave WSU after receiving limited minutes last season but didn’t. A big reason was his relationship with Brown.

“Me and IB are real close,” Jenkins said. “He’s the one that recruited me here in the first place so, every day he’s on me in practice but I know it’s for the better. I know he’s just pushing me to be better. I know that’s going to get me far.”

Jenkins said that the freedom that Brown gives the players on and off the court was key to last season’s success.

“He lets us be ourselves,” Jenkins said. “I think that’s one of the best things you can have in a coach. Going out there, we feel 10 times more comfortable knowing that’s going to help us get far.”

This summer, Brown was able to have his first offseason as a head coach. With the opportunity to build stronger bonds with the players, Brown said that makes him more comfortable heading into his first full season as head coach.

“I think I’m more comfortable just getting to know my team,” Brown said. “The coaching staff has done a great job in recruiting a lot of talent. We’ve got six new faces so the biggest challenge for us this year is getting the new guys to buy in.”

Brown was tasked with building his first roster as head coach, following six players entering the transfer portal. One of the players Brown won over in the recruiting process was three-star prospect Jalen Ricks.

Ricks, a 6’7 guard, played his high school basketball career at Oak Hill Academy – one of the top prep schools in the country. Despite having offers from schools such as TCU, Arkansas, and Oklahoma State, Ricks decided to become a Shocker. A key part of that decision was the relationship he quickly built with Brown.

“Coach Brown made me feel wanted,” Ricks said. “He did a good job recruiting me and I felt comfortable with the decision. I felt like it was the right place for me and I feel I can really thrive here.”

Brown and the Shockers are now faced with larger expectations this season after the surprise finish a year ago. But Brown and the team feel ready to meet them.

“These guys have some expectations now,” Brown said. “Handling that success and the fact that, coming off a conference championship, everyone will be shooting for us. Now we’ve just got to go out and play well.”