Staff Profile: Dee Brown
Every member of Lawrence Frank’s assistant coaching and extended staffs had either a prior relationship with him or roots with the Pistons, except one. Frank had never met Dee Brown when he contacted him among the 31 people he spoke to in his quest to fill out his staff with coaches of diverse backgrounds.
What he saw from Brown, the 1991 No. 1 pick of Boston whose “no-look” dunk at the 1992 All-Star dunk contest rocketed him to fame, made him the easy choice for the spot on Frank’s staff set aside to focus on point guards and player development.
“What I wanted was a former point guard in the league who could teach, who could coach, who I know I could trust with the development of our point guards – our ones and our twos,” Frank said. “I interviewed a lot of good people, but I thought Dee can really be dynamic. A 12-year NBA career, first couple of years playing with those legends in Parish, Bird and McHale. The fact that he coached three different teams – two WNBA teams, one D-League team – been doing the Nike skills (camps) for eight years in player development. Very, very impressive and I’m really excited to have him on our staff.”
Brown has taken a holistic approach to coaching, plotting a unique course to get where he is today from the moment his playing career ended with the Orlando Magic in 2002. It wasn’t coaching, in fact, that was Brown’s focus, he says. Teaching was.
“To get into teaching was my mind-set,” Brown said. “It’s a lot different. Coaching, I think, that was a byproduct of learning how to teach.”
His first stop was in management with the Magic. “Because when you’re a player, you’re always on the other side of the window. So I wanted to learn the other part, to deal with guys off the court a little bit more.”
The end game, Brown said, was to familiarize himself with “all the different silos it takes to oversee a basketball team, and teaching was the most important part of that to me – to relate to guys, to instruct them the right way, to motivate them, not just physical things on the court but mental things off the court.”
Brown launched his basketball skills academy in Orlando, working with everyone from pre-high school players to college players preparing for the NBA draft. His first and best student? His daughter, Alexis, a high school junior ranked among the national elite, such a phenom she accepted a scholarship offer from national power Maryland after her freshman season. Her position? Point guard, of course.
Coaching girls and women, Brown discovered, allowed him to teach basketball at its most fundamental levels. It was why Brown deliberately pursued WNBA jobs.
“To me, the purest form of basketball is the women’s game,” he said. “It takes a lot of the quote-unquote super athletic ability out of it. You’ve got females who are super athletic, but the majority, you don’t have the extremes where it separates them so much. That’s when you really have to teach footwork and pivots and boxing out and ballhandling and passing, because everything is below the rim. For me to understand the game as a teacher, to coach, instead of as a player who is going to repeat what you’ve heard, I had to put myself into an environment where you always teach, every day.”
Because the Pistons’ roster will include young point guards, Frank especially wanted a teacher of the game to work with players at that position. And what he saw from Brown during his working interview raised his eyebrows.
“His workout was dynamic,” Frank said. “He was off the charts. The stuff he did … I had a bunch of people watching, in terms of management, different people in different roles who work in this building, and everyone was very, very impressed with what he did. Great energy, great teaching, gets his points across quickly. He’s sharp.”
That begs the question: Can the things that make a good basketball player an efficient point guard be taught? Brown concedes there are some instinctive qualities that players either have or don’t, but contends there is much about the position that can be taught – and learned.
“You don’t teach the instinctive parts,” he said. “You teach the mental parts, the nuances. Some things you can’t drill. But you can put a framework on how to be a point guard. I can list 10 things on how to be a point guard and you can drill that stuff on the court. After that, you’ve got to put your DNA on it. Whatever your DNA is to meet that framework, that’s the kind of point guard you’re going to be.”
“There’s a process,” Frank said. “The position has changed tremendously. The throwback point guards are almost dinosaurs. Dee has walked in those shoes. He can communicate my message to them because he’s done it. There is so much you can teach about the point guard position. You can’t just rely on instincts. It’s like being a quarterback.”
While Brown will work directly with point guards, he will touch players at every position, younger players especially.
“I want him to be impactful with the whole player development program,” Frank said. “He has great ideas. It’s virtually an egoless staff, so if he has an idea that’s going to help the other assistants, I want him throwing it out there.”
“That’s why the opportunity to come here with coach Frank was perfect,” Brown said. “The opportunity to be around young players that are learning … he’s teaching the way he wants to teach and it gave me a chance to fit into his style and do what I do best. He’s given us the freedom to do what we do best and you don’t find that too much at this level.”