Brett Brown: Reflections on London 2012
Ken Rodriguez is a San Antonio native who covered his first Spurs game in 1981 for The Daily Texan, the University of Texas student newspaper. He spent 26 years in the newspaper business -- 21 of them covering sports -- before joining the marketing department at Our Lady of the Lake University in 2009. His Spurs.com column will appear every Wednesday.
The Olympic experience for Brett Brown was colored Silver and Black. In his first game in London, Brown's Australian team faced Brazilian center Tiago Splitter. When the Aussies played France, Brown coached against Tony Parker, Boris Diaw and Nando de Colo. Australia never played Argentina. But back in the Olympic Village, Brown ran into Manu Ginobili more than once.
Just about everywhere Brown turned -- on the court, in a hallway, in a dining area -- there was
Spur, including one on his own team, Patty Mills.
For those keeping count, six Spurs and one coach -- Brown -- advanced to the Olympic quarterfinals, and one Silver Star -- Becky Hammon -- reached the women's semifinals with Russia. Watching the action nearby was a distinguished observer from San Antonio: Gregg Popovich.
"There was a very special bond in London," says Brown, the Spurs assistant coach, "a special relationship so you genuinely looked forward to seeing your Spurs teammates."
The spirit of the Spurs manifested even in games against teams with no San Antonio players. Trailing Russia by two points with four seconds left in the game, Brown called time and summoned inspiration from the Spurs playbook.
"I was able to draw up a play we had used here," Brown says. "I expected them to switch on a screen and thought we would get a different shot than we ultimately got. There were two or three looks you can get out of the play. That look that Patty got was one of them."
Joe Ingles found Mills open beyond the three-point line. Mills rose and released the ball. The buzzer sounded. "Patty made one of the big shots of the tournament," Brown says. "One of the big shots of his career."
The game-winner ranks among Brown's sweetest moments in London. Mills provided many more as a breakout star of the Summer Games. He scored 26 points in a quarterfinal loss to the U.S. and finished with an average of 21.2 points per game, more than LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant -- more than anyone else in the Olympics.
"Patty grew in a bunch of areas," Brown says. "He grew as a leader. He grew from a responsibility standpoint to his country. He's highly skilled. He's personable. He carries the Indigenous flag with great pride. I think the Olympic games experience and the growth of Patty will be seen as he comes back to San Antonio."
The Summer Games were not a first for Brown. He served as an assistant coach for the Australian team in Atlanta (1996) and in Sydney (2000). Twelve years later, he got the head coaching gig and buried himself in the job.
How many events outside his own games did he see in London?
"None," Brown says. "I might as well have been in a cave with zero access to any Internet or video. You were all consumed with your next game. And the turnaround comes quick. I had no idea what was happening in other sporting events. I wasn't aware when world records were broken. I wasn't aware when other events were taking place. Fortunately, my experience in Atlanta and Sydney helped prepare me for that reality."
He may have missed Usain Bolt's sprint into history and Michael Phelps' final race, but that's understandable. Brown arrived in London without star center Andrew Bogut (ankle), without a supporting cast of NBA players like France (6), Spain (5) or Argentina (4). Brown had one. Mills.
"We have a team that's overachieved" Brown says. "We don't boast multiple NBA players. We don't boast All-European type players. Whatever is done is done by committee, by tremendous team cohesion."
Brown built the Aussies on three cornerstones: defense, chemistry and fitness. "We knew," he says, "that the only true edge we would have is if we came in with a fantastic fitness base."
The defining game unfolded against Great Britain, a major rival in every sport from rugby to cricket. The Aussies trailed by 17 in the third period.
"The game began in an almost surreal fashion," Brown says. "It was extremely loud. I had a difficult time communicating with my players. We got jumped hard and we got jumped early.
To be down by such a significant margin in a 40-minute FIBA game, against the host nation, against such a fierce rival, all those things could have been insurmountable. But then all of a sudden the game started to turn."
Shooting guard Matthew Dellavedova got hot, Mills took control, the deficit vanished. In a stunning Olympic comeback, the Aussies put Great Britain away with a 70-29 run, and Mills finished with 39 points. "That's probably what I'll remember most," Brown says. "Even more than Patty's shot that beat Russia."
Mills followed his 39-point performance with the buzzer beater against Russia. On the world's greatest stage, Brown will always remember how Mills delivered, how his team exceeded expectations.
"I think the country is proud of their efforts," Brown says. "I'm proud of their efforts. I feel we maxed out. We got to be as good as we could be."