FEINSWOG: Brady living a coach's dream

John Brady and I are fortunate to go to the Final Four every year.

We usually hook up at the coaches hotel for a while and visit, schmoozing in the overcrowded lobby as other coaches stream by, all wishing they were with their teams instead of each other.

 

In Brady's first eight years, I can remember so many times when we talked about what it would be like if he made it to the Final Four with his team.

 

Now he'll know.

 

The spotlight, as well it should be, shined brightly the past few days on his players, from the lovable Big Baby Davis to super-leaper Tyrus Thomas to super-stifler Garrett Temple to senior-leader Darrel Mitchell.

 

And while they're from Baton Rouge or nearby and have followed LSU their entire lives, it's probably lost on them the trials and tribulations Brady has endured to get to this point.

 

He took over a program depleted of players and headed to NCAA probation.

 

He had one great season, taking the Tigers to the round of 16 in 2000. But there have been two embarrassing first-round NCAA exits, including last year to UAB, too many empty seats in the Pete Maravich Assembly Center and a failure to consistently get the program to a level where it could compete for the SEC title year in and year out.

 

Now it's there, as evidenced by an SEC regular-season title.

 

The key has been building with Louisiana players, players who get better under Brady.

Brady has an occasional brusque nature and his tell-it-as-is personality has rubbed some the wrong way. And those first-round NCAA defeats were public-relations nightmares.

 

But throughout his nine years, players who buy into his tough system improve, from Stromile Swift to Brandon Bass to this year's phenoms, Davis and Thomas. Simply put, that's what good coaches do, make their players better.

 

 

John Brady goes to high five Chris Johnson during Saturday's game. (SteveFranz)

 

The other thing that Brady did the past few years was finally upgrade his schedule, really making it tough this season. Now, as a Final Four team, the sky's the limit with pre-conference scheduling. Assuming Davis and Thomas return, the networks will be drooling to match LSU up with other big-name schools. Heck, the Final Four is a week away and you can already project the Tigers as a top-five team for next season.

 

This past December and January, LSU grinded through a really challenging pre-conference slate. I was curious to see what I thought about it and called up what I wrote in this space this past January 8 after the Tigers had five defeats by a total of 11 points:

 

"LSU is 8-5 as it enters SEC play. Its only senior, little guard Darrel Mitchell, missed what could have been the game-winner against UConn. The thought here is that sometime late in the season, the experiences from playing such a tough schedule early will result in him making that shot.

 

"The same can be said for all those youngsters on LSU's roster, from sophomore Glen Davis to redshirt-freshmen Garrett Temple and Tyrus Thomas to freshmen Tasmin Mitchell and Ben Voogd.

 

"The tough defeats sting, but they will pay off. At 8-5, LSU will have to win 10 or more games in the league and probably a couple more in the SEC Tournament, but the prediction here is it will, largely because of the experience it gained from playing all those tough opponents."

 

It's nice to be right, but nicer to see a team that has worked hard and carried itself so well reap the rewards it deserves.

 

And it's also nice to see Brady get a chance to bring his team to the Final Four. I'll miss him as I schmooze in the lobby of the coaches' hotel.

 

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Lee Feinswog is a Baton Rouge sportswriter and host of the television show Sports Monday. Reach him at (225) 926-3256 or lee@sportsbatonrouge.com.

His book, "HoopDaddy" is available at www.HoopDaddy.net.


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