American University headed to NCAA Tournament under first-year coach
WASHINGTON (AP) - Jesse Reed began his answer with the usual player-speak, reflecting the attitude of his coach. He finished with a refreshing bit of candor.
Reed is a sophomore guard for American, which defied expectations by winning the Patriot League tournament under first-year coach Mike Brennan. Brennan took over a team coming off a 10-20 season.
"At the beginning of the year," Reed said, "he told us, 'This season wasn't about wins and losses, it was about getting better.'"
Reed then smiled and added: "But we all pretty much knew that was a lie. We knew he wanted to come in and win right away."
And win the Eagles (20-12) did, upsetting Boston University in the tournament final to earn an NCAA tournament bid for only the third time in school history. American was given a No. 15 seed and essentially a road game, playing No. 2 Wisconsin in Milwaukee on Thursday.
Tony Wroblicky called the trip an "epilogue" to an already successful season and said the Eagles will have to play their "best game of the year to even be competitive," but he also pointed out recent 15-vs.-2 upsets: Florida Gulf Coast over Georgetown, Norfolk State over Missouri, and the Patriot League's Lehigh over Duke.
"It definitely gives us the confidence that it has been done," Wroblicky said.
Brennan felt the pain of such an upset last year as an assistant coach at Georgetown. He was also an assistant on the other two AU teams to make the NCAAs in 2008 and 2009. It's also worth noting that he's a student of basketball legend Pete Carril and therefore runs the Princeton offense, the type of off-kilter scheme known to discombobulate teams from top-tier conferences.
Brennan surely would be a candidate to win the bracket outright if modestly counted. He defers credit to his players at every opportunity. Asked how he would describe himself, he answered: "I wouldn't. I'm not used to describing myself."
Brennan famously didn't bother decorating his office once he took the job, leaving the walls bare until a staff member hung a photo and poster in later January. Asked Tuesday if he's done anything else to spruce up his workspace, he said: "Uh, we've got that (Patriot League) trophy in there right now, so that's a good way to start."
Not that Brennan is a basketball automaton. He laughed as he gave a couple of self-deprecating answers at his news conference, and he showed up in short sleeves in the cold weather for the rally held on the steps of the Mary Graydon Center before the team boarded the bus for the airport.
"Apparently somebody told him he was playing in San Diego," school President Neil Kerwin said.
Brennan gave the mascot - an eagle named "Clawed" - a fist-bump and joked about the daunting prospect of playing Wisconsin in Wisconsin.
"We're just going to tell 'em," Brennan said, "that all that red out there is AU red."