New coach has American off to 8-0 start in Patriot

WASHINGTON (AP) As of Tuesday morning, Mike Brennan had an 8-0 conference record in his debut season as head coach at American University.

He also had some fresh advice from mentor and basketball legend Pete Carril, who had sketched a plan for beating the press on the back of a box score – a piece of paper that could probably net a hefty price at a Sotheby’s auction in about 30 years.

But Brennan had nothing on his walls.

They were white and bare, except for the studs left behind when former coach Jeff Jones moved out last year. Finally, on Tuesday afternoon, just to give the room some atmosphere – and to supply a decent background when Brennan is doing on-camera interviews – assistant director of athletic communications Mike Gambardella hung a photo from the 2009 Patriot League title game and a poster.

Brennan, 41, kept right on working. He’s a coach, not an interior decorator.

”He’s very, very passionate about basketball,” senior center Tony Wroblicky said. ”Coach Jones was, too, but I think coach Brennan’s on a slightly higher level.”

From Princeton to American with a stop at Georgetown, Brennan has taken a team projected to finish ninth in the 10-school Patriot League and transformed it in a hurry. Using his single-minded basketball focus, Brennan got the players to buy into his version of the Princeton offense made famous by Carril. Share the ball. Do a little bit of everything. Oh, and look for the backdoor cut.

”It’s just getting guys to be skilled, getting them to share the ball, that’s probably the biggest obstacle,” Brennan said. ”Getting people to share goes against human nature.”

Brennan played for Carril at Princeton in the early 1990s and coached for seven years on the Tigers’ staff. Then came two seasons as an assistant at American under Jones and four years at Georgetown working for another Carril protege, John Thompson III.

When Jones left for Old Dominion, Brennan didn’t have to leave Washington, D.C., to get his first head coaching job, leaving the Hilltop at Georgetown for AU Park. It took a few games for his offensive philosophy to take hold: The Eagles went 4-7 in nonconference play, including a 63-52 loss at Ohio State.

But things have started to click. AU won a first-place showdown with Boston University last week by 30 points.

”Princeton, I was kind of unsure about that” at first, Wroblicky said. ”But I couldn’t be happier playing under it right now.”

There’s always room for improvement, however. Carril attended the BU game and found a flaw or two in the 86-56 victory.

”We got pressed a bit and turned it over a couple of times,” Brennan said, ”and he was drawing something on the back of a box score, saying, `Hey, try this against the press.’ He’s a teacher at heart, and he’s a coach at heart.”

Ever since American moved to the Patriot League from the Colonial Athletic Association in 2001, the running joke in D.C. circles has been that AU’s coach is hired to win one game per season – the conference tournament championship game that guarantees an NCAA berth.

Jones prevailed in 2008 and 2009, and Brennan will have to do the same to get to the big dance. Even an unbeaten league record might not be enough to get the Eagles’ RPI out of triple digits.

But 8-0 is a pretty good start.

”It’s nice to have some success in the league,” junior guard John Schoof said. ”But it still comes down to the end of the year to tournament time. That’s definitely the main goal, is the Patriot League championship – and hopefully more than that.”

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