When West Texas A&M makes its first appearance in 20 years at the Division II men’s Elite Eight basketball tournament Tuesday in South Dakota, the Buffs sideline will have four men on their bench wearing ties.
Even in the tight-knit world of coaching, WT men’s basketball coaches Tom Brown, Chris Gove, Quincy Henderson and Dan Kratz bring a unique bond which has built the foundation of the Buffs success.
When Brown said yes to leaving his life-long roots of Minnesota and 16 years as an assistant at D-II power Winona State to become the WT men’s head basketball back in April of 2014, he stood alone at a podium on the WT campus meeting boosters and the press for the first time.
Little did the majority in the room know who was coming along for the ride and what was in store.
WT athletic director Michael McBroom was one who did know.
McBroom, even though it ticked off a lot coaches throughout Texas, wanted to try something different from the grind-it-out-style of hoops the Lone Star Conference is known for.
“There is nothing wrong with that style,” McBroom said. “But I’ve always loved the Midwest different style of play you see in places like at Kansas, Indiana and Illinois. I targeted Tom early on.”
Brown had built a stellar reputation in the D-II ranks as the associate head coach and recruiting coordinator at Winona, a program playing a fast-paced style and opening eyes nation-wide between 2006-08 when it went 105-6 winning national titles in 2006 and 2008, along with a national runner-up in 2007.
Brown and McBroom met in McBroom’s living room as part of the first interview “and five minutes in I knew he was our guy,” McBroom said.
In 2014 the WT Lady Buffs made the Elite Eight in Erie, Pa., so McBroom and former WT president Dr. Long met Brown in nearby Cleveland at the airport for a two-hour interview.
“When we were walking away from the interview Dr. Long said do whatever it takes to get him,” McBroom said. “When Tom told me he thought Chris and Quincy were coming too I was dumb-founded by that. We hit a home run.”
Brown basically knew nobody in Texas, but did do his homework and liked what West Texas offered.
“First of all Canyon is a great town,” Brown said. “You have really good people here, a lot like where I came from in Winona. And then you have Amarillo, a quarter of million people nearby, and the airport so that’s good. And I had have respect for the teams coaches in the Lone Star Conference.”
Plus, lifelong friend and fellow Winona assistant Gove, along with his former Winona players Henderson and Kratz were all-in on the new adventure.
“That’s the first thing I asked, can I bring my staff,” Brown said. “I’m not sure I would have taken the job if Chris and Qunicy didn’t come along. When we got the job, Dan called later and asked if he could help. That was the cherry on top.”
The Buffs under Brown like a tire, a flat tire.
WT started 0-3 under Brown and “because our fan base is so passionate, which I love,” McBroom said. “I had a lot of people tell me I was crazy.”
“I did get a few e-mails when we started 0-3,” Brown said.
That first 2014-15 season WT went 17-12. The next year the record moved to 21-10, last year the Buffs reached the Sweet 16 finishing 21-10, then this year WT sits with a school-record 31 wins and will play Tuesday in the national quarterfinals.
Much of that success falls on the shoulders of the detail-minded Brown himself. But when asked about being LSC coach of the year, Brown shrugged it off say it was staff and players award.
WT senior Rylan Gerber, who has been in the Buffs program all four years, says WT hit the lottery with Brown, Gove, Henderson and Kratz.
“I think it’s best staff in the nation regardless D-I through NAIA,” Gerber said. “Just the way they prepare us. The way they go about handling it and recruiting good kids and just not because they are good players. That goes so far in creating a culture and a program. It’s been awesome. It’s crazy how good they are.
“They know we are human and we make mistakes and are college kids. That goes a long way and they don’t blow everything up.”
Each coach bring their own personality and definite basketball knowledge to the table several players said in interviews throughout the year.
Brown is intense and “you learn right away his knowledge of basketball is ridiculous,” Gerber said.
And as WT all-time leading scorer and senior guard David Chavlovich Twitted and then made sure everybody knew at a recent press conference: “Tom Brown is the best coach in Division II basketball.”
Gove is intense as well, and knows how to lighten things up at the right time with a joke. He’s also known Brown since their college days.
“Chris and I have coached together 20 years at the Division II level and went to college together,” Brown said. “He played basketball and was a baseball All-American at Winona and a great pitcher. A really good athlete who can do anything. We’ve always had a great relationship together. Chris has a great basketball mind and is great recruiter and does it all. He knows everything. He’s a winner and he’s not going to lose. Plus, he knows the players and keeps the coaching staff lose.”
The calm, cool Henderson was recruited by Brown and Gove out of high school but spent two years at D-I Creighton University before returning to Winona as a standout defensive player on the two national championship teams.
“Quincy does it all for us,” Brown said. “He is very calm. He has a great focus and a great demeanor. He’s actually really funny. He has a great basketball mind and calls all of our out-of-bounds sets. He is through and brings consistency. And by the way we don’t win any of those national titles without him.”
Kratz has the admiration of Brown, Gove and Henderson because he has officially been a volunteer coach and is working on a masters in psychology.
Kratz is a players favorite, Gerber said, simply because he’s a good guy, knows what he’s taking about and “is hilarious.” Among Kratz’s many duties, WT fans well know, when the possession clock is running down he starts bellowing out “Six! Five! Four! ...
“Dan is so good at building relationships with the our players,” Brown said. “He goes above and beyond. If there is a player who needs help in the classroom he’s there. He won’t do it for you, but if you put out the effort he will make sure you get the help. And yes, he and Brady Moore are the greatest count downs ever.”
When these four WT coaches arrived from the “Great North” four years ago not many people had ever heard of them.
Now, look at what’s about to happen Tuesday.
“Anybody who watches them know they are a family,” McBroom said. “They love each other and their families hang out together. They know when how to work and they don’t want to let each other down.”
“I wouldn’t coach under somebody I didn’t have faith in, or was a winner,” Henderson said. “I knew that playing for him. Tom and Coach Gove were two of the catalysts behind us winning it all at Winona. It’s all encompassing with them.
“It starts with recruiting. We have strong relationships with the players themselves, their coaches, their family, and it doesn’t stop when they get here. We like to have fun, I think that’s what works with us, but we take this job very seriously. There’s a reason Tom let’s any of us speak up in a time out because we have done the work and taken the time and watched a ton of film.
“Tom has empowered everybody from the staff and players. We have confidence in each other. But we have unfinished business.”