Larry Brown — in the second year of his basketball revival — awoke early Monday morning before making his way towards Southern Methodist’s basketball arena.
It was two days after his Mustangs squad stormed past nationally-ranked Cincinnati. And later that afternoon, SMU would find itself ranked for the first time in 20 years.
But Brown said what he saw as he neared Moody Coliseum was more meaningful than an upset win or national ranking.
Twelve tents of students — waiting to buy tickets at 7 a.m. — camped out overnight in front of the school’s ticket office.
“When I saw all those kids and saw how happy there were, I think this is flattering as anything I’ve been associated with,” Brown told reporters.
The former 76ers coach and his upstart program — ranked 23rd and on course for its first NCAA Tournament berth since 1993 — visit Temple on Sunday afternoon. It is Brown’s first game in Philadelphia since returning in to the college ranks.
Camping tents did not crowd the ticket office when Brown took over the Mustangs in 2012. The 73-year-old Hall of Fame coach has rejuvenated interest in the program with a perfect 13-0 mark at home and three wins over ranked teams.
Brown visited the tents on Monday, surprising the students with 17 dozen donuts from a popular Dallas donut shop and eight gallons of coffee.
“I think they all feel like they’ve been a big part of this and I think it’s true,” said Brown.
The Mustangs are seventh in the nation in field goal percentage (.496) and have scored at least 75 points in four of their last five games.
Nic Moore, a sophomore guard, is averaging 18 points over his last five games. Philadelphia-native Markus Kennedy, a sophomore transfer from Villanova, burnt Temple earlier this month for 14 points and nine rebounds.
“People ask me ‘Are you surprised by how you guys have played,’” said Brown. “And I’m really surprised.”
The majority of the team was assembled by Brown and last year’s recruiting class was ranked in the top 25 by Scout.com. The Mustangs have just two seniors and three of their five starters are either freshmen or sophomores.
“I never imagined it could be like this for me,” said Brown. “This is like going back to when I was freshman coach at North Carolina. Feel exactly the same way. Until I look in the mirror.”