Larry Brown's first year at SMU won't be easy

Bob Donnan-US PRESSWIRE

The Hall of Fame coach has already upgraded the talent on the Hilltop, but turning the SMU basketball program will take a few years.

After a big let-down season that saw them turn in a paltry 13-19 overall record with an even more underwhelming Conference USA mark of 4-12, the the Mustangs overhauled their stagnant program. With the impending move to the Big East, the Ponies showed Matt Dogherty the door and gave the program a spark with the splashy hire of Larry Brown. In an instant, the future of SMU Basketball looked brighter. But now comes the transitional phase.

Brown's first order of business was to scourge the team he inherited of under-talented players. All 5'5" of Dogherty's starting point guard and go-to crunch time closer Jeremiah Samarippas was shown the door, and Brown brought in the transfers. Luther Head's younger brother Crandall came from Illinois, Markus Kennedy came from Villanova and Nick Russell came back to Dallas after Frank Martin left Kansas State. Then it was time to bring in his own players.

The Brown hiring invigorated the program's recruiting reach, with top-5 recruit Julius Randle listing SMU among his final 10-15 schools. The Harrison twins even came to campus for a visit. While the Mustangs didn't grab those top tier guys, they did manage to make their 2012 recruiting class a solid one. However, much of the talent is developmental, with wing Uche Ofoegbu and big man Blaise Mbargorba offering the greatest promise.

As a result, much of the heavy lifting will be borne by the returners -- not particularly great news for Mustang fans. Of those returners, Shawn Williams figures to be the one Larry Brown leans on most to provide him some offense. A former top-50 national recruit out of Duncanville, Williams was lost in a deep rotation at Texas and came home last season with disappointing results, shooting 38% from the field, 27% from beyond the arc and 39% from the charity stripe.

Regardless of who takes the reigns on offense, Brown's coaching ability is their greatest assets. His basketball mind is unparalleled at pretty much any level of the game, but that can only compensate for so much. To be fair, this year's team would have to try to be as talentless as last year's bunch, and it should be interesting to see what Brown can do with the young kids he has coming in. They may struggle to adapt to his demanding style early on, but if they buy in, it could pay surprising dividends by the latter part of the season.

Looking beyond this season, Brown has his first big time commitment for the 2013 class in Sterling Moore, the younger brother of Phoenix Sun Shannon Brown. If Sterling Brown's choice of the Mustangs over DePaul, Minnesota, USC and the hometown Fighting Illini is any indication, SMU is a national player in recruiting going forward. And while that long-term future looks undeniably bright, the immediate future looks to be an improved struggle -- look for the Ponies to split their conference games and finish above .500 in Larry Brown's first year.

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