STEPHEN HAWKINS, AP Basketball Writer
DALLAS (AP) — Larry Brown figures he will be sick to his stomach watching SMU from afar for more than a month.
When the Mustangs open their season Saturday night, Brown’s nine-game NCAA suspension starts and it will keep the Hall of Fame coach away from his team until the week before Christmas.
“I know they’re going to be really well-coached, and I know they’re going to do the very best they can, and I’m really comfortable in that regard,” Brown said. “But it’s never easy watching people you care about.”
Brown remembers the queasy feeling he used to get watching his goddaughter play college basketball, “because I wanted so badly for her to do well.”
And that is how he will feel with the team he led last season to its first NCAA Tournament since 1993.
“It’s something I never ever imagined would ever happen. In the NBA, I acted like a silly man and I was suspended a game,” Brown said. “But to not to be able to have any contact with the kids, or the students, my staff, for 33 days, it’s going to be difficult.”
Brown was suspended and SMU banned from postseason play after a September report when the NCAA ruled that a former men’s basketball administrative assistant completed online course work for a student to meet NCAA initial eligibility and be admitted to the university.
Associate head coach Tim Jankovich will lead the American Athletic Conference favorite Mustangs in Brown’s absence. Jankovich was Illinois State’s head coach before coming to SMU with Brown in 2012 as the expected successor for the now 75-year-old coach.
“My approach is going to be to do the best job I can for the players, period,” Jankovich said. “I want them to get better so when the conference season comes we’re a different team than we are the first game.”
The school is appealing several sanctions, including scholarship losses, but didn’t challenge Brown’s suspension or the postseason ban that will keep the Mustangs from having a chance to get back to the NCAA Tournament or playing in the AAC Tournament this season. Their last game will be the regular season finale March 6 at Cincinnati.
Brown can return after a Dec. 17 home game against Hampton, and his first game back on the sideline will be Dec. 22 against Kent State in a tournament in Las Vegas.
Senior guard Nic Moore, the preseason pick to repeat as AAC player of the year, said he has the same mindset to win as many games as possible and be a leader.
“Just basically keep the team together,” Moore said. “When thoughts get bad, wash them thoughts away and just come back as a team.”
Moore played his freshman season at Illinois State for Jankovich before transferring to SMU, and the guard doesn’t expect any significant changes without Brown.
“Guys respect him and understand his mindset, so I don’t think it’s going to be that much different,” Moore said.
Jankovich knows it will be odd when Brown suddenly isn’t there for the first game, but said the two have spent countless hours together and have the same approach to the game.
“There’s no drastic philosophical difference that’s going to take place while he’s gone,” Jankovich said. “It would be really difficult for me if we were on such different pages and I was always going now should I say what I think he would want to say, or should I say what I think.”
During his forced five weeks away, Brown said he has been “invited everywhere,” but is reluctant to go to college practices or games. He instead plans to be around pro teams as much as possible, like he did watching college teams during a 1998-98 NBA lockout and before becoming SMU’s coach.
“I really learned a lot by watching other people coach, and I have every intention to do the same thing,” Brown said. “To learn as much as I can, so when I come back, I can be helpful.”
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