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john brady's march back to the ncaa
Story by Audrey Hanes; photography by Amy Long

When John Brady was named the 15th head coach in the history of Arkansas State University men’s basketball in 2008, he ushered in a new era for the program. Now in his sixth season at A-State, Brady and his Red Wolves have two Sun Belt Conference West Division Championship titles and an overall winning record under their belts, and they’re not letting up until they make it
to the NCAA Tournament.

The A-State coach came to Jonesboro with a long history of winning. Most
recently, prior to coming to Jonesboro, he spent more than 10 seasons serving as Louisiana State University’s head coach. There, the two-time SEC Coach of the Year led the Tigers to two Southeastern Conference (SEC) Championship crowns, three SEC Western Division titles and a trip to the Final Four. Before accumulating the third most wins for a men’s basketball head coach in LSU history, Brady spent six seasons at the helm of the men’s basketball program at Samford in Birmingham, Ala. There, he turned the program around and led the Bulldogs for four consecutive winning seasons, becoming the first head basketball coach at SU to do so.

Brady brought that same winning mentality and work ethic to the ASU
men’s basketball program, which enjoyed an overall winning record of 80-78 during the coach’s first five seasons at A-State. The 2013-14 Red Wolves are looking to have another winning season, with a 16-9 overall record following their win against Texas State. Brady says that with his team this year and with a talented recruiting class coming in next season, the program is certainly headed in the right direction.

“We’ve had some good teams and we’ve won a couple of Sun Belt Western Division Championships; we have a good team this year, but our goal is to do even better and win that conference tournament and go to the NCAA. I think we’re on track to do that,” said Brady. “This team has an opportunity because I think it’s a good basketball team this year, and I think our recruiting has really
been good. We have our best recruiting class coming in next year that I’ve had in my six years here. We have stabilized the program and we’ve made it better.

“I think legitimately every year now, we’re going to be one of the top two or three teams in the Sun Belt. It’s just going to come down to the conference
tournament – if we can string together three quality games and win that and go to the NCAA tournament – that’s what we want to do. We are better, we have a good team and we’re moving in the right direction. But still, we have a lot more that I want to do here because I think it’s a good fan base and they deserve it. I’m going to do everything I can to get us to that point.”

Brady says his 2013-14 team has been a challenge in some ways, especially when it comes to having consistent defense. Still, he is pleased with the team offensively and thinks it has the potential to go far.

“The challenge, for me, has been to let them to defend every game with the
mindset that it’s really going to win the game,” said Brady. “When our team has
done that, we’re quite good. We’ve had some games here against Little Rock,
obviously, and most recently against Western Kentucky, where we were really
good defensively. When we play like that, our team has a good chance to beat
anybody in the Sun Belt. If we can string some of those defensive performances together, I think come tournament time, we’ll have a great opportunity.”

The A-State head coach teaches his players to play as hard as they possibly
can and be as competitive as they possibly can by challenging themselves in practice. He also stresses the importance of accountability, particularly when it comes to holding his players accountable to a certain standard or level of play.

“I don’t think anything is really worthwhile in doing unless the accountability part is attached to performance,” said Brady. “I have this saying that I always use: ‘Responsibility plus accountability equals success.’ … Our team, in my mind, is responsible for playing as hard as it possibly can, to be as competitive as it possibly can be, and it’s my job as the coach to not only tell them that, but to hold them accountable if they don’t do that.

“My idea is to try to make them better in some way every single day, whether
that’s doing better in a class, lifting more diligently in the weight room, practicing a little bit harder. I think if you win those little battles every day, at the end you win the war, and the war is winning a game and winning a championship.”

Not only does Brady hold his players accountable on the court, he holds them
accountable in all aspects of their lives. When his players leave the program, he
wants them to be prepared for life after college and to be ready for challenges down the road.

“In the big scheme of things, if someone asked me what I want a player to
get from playing basketball, I want them to be a better person; I want them to be a more competitive and tougher individual when he leaves me, because when it’s his turn to go out there and make a living and he in turn has to be responsible for his own family, that’s not easy,” he said. “If a player can leave me a little more competitive and a little tougher than when he came to me,
then I think I’ve helped him do what he needs to do later on in his life.”

Those same principles apply to Brady’s players in the classroom, as well. Since
Brady came to A-State, every senior he’s had in the basketball program has
graduated, as will the seniors on the 2013-14 team. That focus on academics
is certainly appealing to parents when it comes to recruiting.

“We can tell them that it’s a program where we’re going to win games, and at the same time, we’re going to support your son and see that he gets his college degree,” said Brady of what he tells parents of recruits.

“Our APR (Academic Progress Rate) number has moved very much in a positive
direction – above what the NCAA requires. Our retention rate is good. … We’ve
stabilized the program. … Our academic support system has improved, and I’m really proud of the fact that every senior that has played for me has their college degree.” That academic focus and the program’s success in recent years has helped attract what Brady has deemed the most talented recruiting class he has seen since his arrival at ASU.

“We’ve signed six players and have one more committed, so we will bring in a class of seven,” said Brady. “In my opinion, and I’ve been doing this a long time, this is a very good class, a very talented class. We have two or three really good guards, three reallygood forwards around the goal with 6-8, 6-9 size, so it’s a good collection of players.

“With Kelvin Downs back and Rakeem Dickerson back, we’ve got a couple of guys sitting out with Sean Gardner and P.J. Hardwick, Seth Kisler, so we’ve got a nice collection of players returning, also. I like this present team, and I also like the players we’re bringing in with the players we have coming back. I think over the next couple or three years, this program will continue … to be one of the top two or three in the league from here on out, and I expect for us in the near future to win that conference tournament and go to the NCAA.”

Brady says that his 2013-14 team is preparing for March’s high-pressure tournament by simply taking it a day at a time. He asks that his players work to
prepare themselves every day in practice and with every game that approaches.
Whether it’s a layup drill or competitive rebounding drill, Brady wants his players
to have the attitude that they’re not just getting through practice; rather, they’re giving it their all and going full speed with a sense of urgency and detail.

“I want to concentrate on the moment,” he said. “I’m all about doing it right now and not having the anxiety of what something may bring later on down the road. I want to take care of it all day by day, and as you do that, you become aware of what you need to do to get better. If you do that every single day, … I think winning takes care of itself. Winning actually becomes a bi-product of doing things right every day, in my opinion.”

Focusing on and enjoying the moment is something that his wife, Misty, has
helped him prioritize in recent years.

“She has helped me enjoy the winning,” said Brady. “A lot of times in this coaching profession … when you win a game it’s just a sigh of relief, and when you lose a game it’s devastating. Misty has helped me enjoy the winning – to take it seriously but don’t let it upset what we’re trying to do, which is
to have a quality life. …

“What Misty has (done) in the last 10 years or so is to slow me down a little
bit and make me be more aware of other people and things that are around me and maybe enjoy it a little bit. That’s been a good thing. It’s been healthy.”

Brady says that he and Misty have truly settled into the Jonesboro community since moving to the Northeast Arkansas city from Louisiana.

“I think anywhere you are, regardless of whether you’re a coach or whatever you choose to do to make a living, the people can make it really nice,” he said. “What Misty and I have found here is that people here have been very receptive to us. We’ve both made some really good friends who are sincere who have really made it a great place for us to live.

“At the same time, I think Misty and I both understand that sometimes (it is) what you make it to be. We didn’t come in here thinking short term. … Everywhere I’ve ever been as a coach I’ve always thought long term, because the people deserve that. It’s a good place for me at this time in my coaching
career. … This is a great community, and the people really make a difference here. We appreciate the kindness they’ve shown us.”

Brady says he wants fans to understand that his commitment to the university is to make the men’s basketball program the best it can possibly be. He believes that it’s in the future of the program to have that breakthrough year where they make it to the NCAA tournament and that every year the team is getting closer to accomplishing that goal.

“I view my time here, the seat that I occupy … (as) it’s not about me, it’s about
the university, and I’m a steward of my time in this chair,” said Brady. “I’ve always tried to use it the best way that I possibly can. I’ve tried to do that here.”

For more information about the Red Wolves’ men’s basketball team, including the upcoming schedule, go to astateredwolves.com.