Issac Brown has been patient.
At 51, he’s spent 19 years as an assistant basketball coach at Division I schools, always with the prize of eventually being a head coach as his dream. Well, Brown’s dream came true Feb. 26, when Wichita State University announced they’d given Brown a five-year contract as the school’s head men’s basketball coach.
Brown, who joined the Shockers as an assistant basketball coach in 2014, had been serving as interim head coach since Nov. 18. Along the way, in the midst of a pandemic and the turmoil around the “resignation” of long-time WSU Coach Gregg Marshall, Brown took his Shocker team to the front of the American Athletic Conference and a possible invite to the season-ending NCAA tournament.
The team had been picked seventh in the American Athletic Conference preseason poll.
“When we found out we got picked seventh in the league, our returning players had a chip on their shoulder. It felt like we had a good basketball team and we had something to prove,” said Brown. “They came in on day one and worked hard to make sure they were at the top of the league like we have been in years past.”
After a 1-2 start, Brown’s Shockers went 12 for 14 – capped by last week’s upset of No. 6 Houston – and are now receiving votes in both national polls.
Experience Finally Pays Off
Despite working for three different head coaches who each took a team all the way to the Final Four, Brown wasn’t offered a head coach job after just a few short years as an assistant.
Prior to his six years at WSU, Brown worked as an assistant at four other Division 1 schools: Louisiana Tech (2011-14), Arkansas State (2010-11),
Arkansas (2007-10) and South Alabama (2002-07).
“I felt like I had a lot of experience as an assistant coach, but I worked for three Final Four coaches, so those guys gave me a lot of tasks throughout the years and I completed them, so I felt like I was ready for it,” Brown said.
“I think Isaac’s maturity and career experience are differentiation points. I think so often times, coaches get an opportunity to be a head coach too early. Isaac has been very patient. He’s a first-time head coach, but he’s no spring chicken,” said WSU Director of Athletics Daron Boatwright. “Isaac has maturity. The people he has worked under and the programs he has worked for have set him apart in my mind.”
Against Houston, Brown carried a black towel, a tribute to former Georgetown coach John Thompson, a leader and fierce advocate for Black coaches. Brown thought about the work done by coaches such as Thompson, Temple’s John Chaney and Rob Evans, one of his top mentors, to make Friday possible.
“They were father figures to their kids,” Brown said. “My job is to help these kids be successful in life, even when basketball is over.”
Brown’s appointment makes him the first Black men’s basketball coach ever to lead a Division I program in the state of Kansas.
In a video where Brown’s permanent appointment was announced, the players excitement and approval was evident.
“It was really exciting to know the players had your back like that,” Brown said.
“He deserved it, especially with all the turmoil going on,” sophomore guard Tyson Etienne said for Roundhouse, a WSU blog.
Brown is known around college basketball as a player’s coach and people person. Morris Udeze, a junior center for the Shockers, said Brown proves that by talking and listening away from the court, away from the topic of wins, losses, scouting reports and baskets.
“You know he wants the best for you,” Udeze said. “When somebody is talking to you about life situations, wants to know about your family, you know it’s genuine.”
When I came here as an assistant, my ultimate goal was to be a head coach somewhere some day. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d be the head coach at Wichita State.
“I’m excited for the players and I’m excited to be the coach at such a great basketball school,” he said. “I want to keep things going. We want to compete to be at the top of the league every year.”
The Pascagoula, Miss. native was a standout point guard in college, helping Louisiana-Monroe to a berth in the 1993 NCAA tournament. He earned a bachelor’s degree from ULM in health and physical education.