Wichita State removed the interim tag from coach Isaac Brown’s title Friday, agreeing in principle to a five-year deal with the longtime assistant who took a program in chaos to the top of the American Athletic Conference this season.
The Shockers (13-4, 9-2) head into the weekend with a slim conference lead — mere percentage points — over No. 12 Houston, which it beat last week for one of the biggest home victories in school history. They haven’t lost since Jan. 21, ripping off five wins in a row while navigating COVID-19 pauses within other programs that have forced four postponements.
Brown, the first Black coach to lead a Division I program in the state of Kansas, took over on the eve of the season when school wins leader Gregg Marshall resigned amid allegations of verbal and physical abuse dating back several years.
The Shockers had watched seven players transfer off last year’s team and appeared headed for a total rebuild. But with help from longtime coach Billy Kennedy, who came aboard as an assistant, Brown has led the Shockers to the brink of a regular-season conference title and a likely berth in next month’s NCAA Tournament.
“I hadn’t talked about the conference tournament early on in the season. I never talked about championships. I never talked about getting to the NCAA Tournament,” Brown said recently. “I talked about getting better every game, but now we have two games left and I want these guys to stay focused, so I’m starting to mention ‘championship’ a lot more because we know what is at stake now. And I just want to make sure these guys are prepared.”
After games against East Carolina and SMU were postponed, the Shockers are scheduled to be off until visiting Tulane on March 3. They would wrap the regular season at Temple three days later, unless make-up games get scheduled.
“You know, it’s something you can’t control,” Brown said. “I feel sorry for all the teams that had to cancel for COVID. We went through the same situation. We went to South Dakota, these kids practicing and all of a sudden, the next day they got COVID. ”
The 51-year-old Brown spent six seasons on Marshall’s staff, helping the Shockers go 170-54 with four straight NCAA Tournament appearances and a trip to the NIT semifinals in 2019. The former Louisiana-Monroe standout also has coached at Louisiana Tech, Arkansas State, Arkansas and South Alabama during his 19-year career.
His ever-positive outlook along with his familiarity with Wichita State were exactly what the Shockers needed when athletic director Darron Boatright made him the interim coach. The program had watched several of its best players depart the past few years, had welcomed several freshmen and transfers, and were in need of someone to steady the program.
“When we first had our first team meeting,” Brown said, “we told them, ‘This is your team. We want you to take control of this team, be a leader. We’re going to make sure you guys are organized. We’re going to make sure you guys are in tip-top shape. We’re going to make sure you guys are ready to compete, but we want you to take on leadership of this team.’”
It appears the Shockers are on solid footing for at least the next five years.
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