Iona assistant Taliek Brown facing old UConn side
Talik Brown joked about the possibility, never thinking it would actually happen.
Then, Iona’s name flashed across the television screen, paired with Connecticut.
The matchup was a reality.
The assistant coach for 13th-seeded Iona will see his old school in the NCAA Tournament just months after leaving his job.
“It’s an exciting feeling. It’s like student against teacher now,” Brown told the Post in a phone interview as the Gaels prepared for their West Region opening round game against No. 4 UConn in Albany on Friday afternoon. “Those guys there, that staff, got me into college basketball, got me into coaching. It’s going to be a great war, because they know I’m coming and I know they’re coming.
“It’s hard to believe [we’re playing them]. But regardless of everything we just have to be prepared and ready to go. ”
That’s just one of the many stories in this intriguing matchup.
A Queens native and McDonald’s All-American out of St. John’s Prep, Brown won a national championship at the Big East school in 2004 and was a four-year starter at point guard under legendary coach Jim Calhoun.
The former Huskies captain is the only player in school history to score at least 1,000 points (1,039) and dish out at least 700 assists (722).
He is the all-time assists leader for the Huskies.
The school also introduced him to coaching.
After a long professional career abroad that took Brown to Turkey, Macedonia, Greece, Venezuela and Mexico, he returned home to New York City.
He started a non-profit organization, Team Footprints, and began training young boys and girls basketball players.
Then came his break.
Childhood friend and Connecticut assistant coach Kimny Young talked him into Dan Hurley, who hired the former Huskies star as director of player development.
He spent three years there, helping the Huskies reach back-to-back NCAA Tournaments.
After last season, Young told him it was time for him to take the next step.
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Little did Brown know that Young had suggested Rick Pitino to him as someone worthy of the opportunity.
Iona started on the staff after Casey Stanley left for Arkansas State.
“I came in for an interview and the coach gave me a shot,” said Brown, 40. “I must have wowed him. It has been nothing but great for me. ”
He knew that Pitino’s reputation was demanding as someone who expected his assistant coaches to go the extra mile.
It was more than he had imagined.
In the lead-up to the MAAC Tournament, Pitino and his staff routinely put in 12-14 hour days.
There are mornings and late nights.
“You really have to love the game,” Brown said. “Anybody that’s around him, on the team, on the staff, you’ve got to love what you’re doing, because he’s going to get everything from you. … I heard the stories, but I didn’t know it was going to be this big. I see why he’s a Hall of Fame coach.”
However, he is perfectly fine.
After Iona’s impressive win over Marist to clinch the MAAC Tournament’s automatic bid to the Big Dance, Pitino singled out Brown for his work ethic.
“Talik must have seen 24 hours of film at Marist. Talik is a new coach and he did a great job this afternoon with a speech as well as a scouting report,” Pitino said at the time. “He just said, ‘ It’s a life-changing experience. To go to the NCAA Tournament, it’s a life-changing experience, because then you get to see how far you can go. Consider it a life-changing experience.’ … He’s a great role model for my guys and that’s why I hired him. They love him.”
He’s obviously been to the NCAA Tournament before as a player, and also as a coach.
However, it is different. Brown will face his old school, where he enjoyed the best moments of his playing career and gave him his start as a coach.
It will be different to see the Huskies as an enemy.
But that won’t change his job: Prepare to upset Iona. “Just playing against them and trying to get that ‘W,’ that’s like winning for me,” Brown said. “I want to win so badly. … I’m trying to put these guys’ batteries back in to get this W. I’m off.”