Sixth Man: An open letter to Brown Men’s Basketball Coach Mike Martin ’94

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Dear Head Coach Mike Martin ’94 and the Brown University Bears Varsity Men’s Basketball Team,

I hope this missive finds you well. I am first and foremost a fan of your team–one of a select group, really–but I am also a concerned freshman at the university you represent. You see, there are only a few things I want to come away with from my college experience: a decent education; some good memories; some means of securing steady and potentially lucrative employment; and a trip to the NCAA Divison I Men’s Basketball tournament.

Unfortunately, this latter desire seems out of reach. Reaching the NCAA tournament (aka March Madness, aka The Big Dance) requires winning the Ivy League regular-season title: the Ivy League–echoing its academically elitist, survival-of-the-fittest ethos–is the only of the 32 D-I conferences that does not hold a postseason tournament to determine its winner. Postseason tournaments reward good teams, but they also reward lucky ones. Regular-season championships only reward good teams. And as an alumnus like yourself probably knows, Coach Martin, the Brown basketball program has had trouble offering any good teams, much less consistently good teams.

Before I go any further, I want to offer the following disclaimer: I love the Brown basketball team. I attended three of the past four home games, and only missed the fourth because of an unavoidable scheduling conflict. I am possibly the only person ever to download the 790 AM Radio app in order to listen to Brown basketball games on my phone. I have used ESPN’s Gamecast feature to follow every road game of consequence. And I think, from my admittedly limited observation, that every single member of the team seems like both a good human being and a competent basketball player. I just wish this collection of good human beings and competent basketball players could provide Brown the one additional dimension it sorely lacks (besides global prestige on par with its rivals, decent weather, and a nap room).

There are only two college sports seen as relevant on a national level–Division-IA football and Division-I men’s basketball; Ivy League football does not compete in Division-IA. So, at the risk of alienating the other 36 teams, I feel a deep sense of conviction in saying that our men’s basketball team should be the centerpiece of our athletics program. But it hasn’t ever really been. To bring you up to speed on what we are up against, here is a brief look at the state of each Ivy League basketball program (see if you notice a pattern):

1. Princeton: 26 Ivy championships, birthplace of the renowned “Princeton Offense,” alma mater of Bill Bradley. All-time record vs. Brown: 95-26.

2. Penn: 25 Ivy championships, 1979 Final Four appearance, 9th-most wins of any college program. All-time record vs. Brown: 99-21.

3. Cornell: 4 Ivy championships (including 2008-2010), 2010 Sweet Sixteen appearance. All-time record vs. Brown: 74-45.

4. Dartmouth: 3 Ivy championships, plus two national-championship game appearances in the 1940s. All-time record vs. Brown: 76-70.

5. Yale: 2 Ivy championships (plus two ties for first). All-time record vs. Brown: 100-51.

6. Harvard: 1 Ivy championship (last year, plus probably this year’s), alma mater of Jeremy Lin. All-time record vs. Brown: 94-74.

7. Columbia: 1 Ivy championship. All-time record vs. Brown: 67-63.

8. Brown: 1 Ivy championship (1986 baby! 101-52 loss to Syracuse in the first round of March Madness). All-time record vs. rest of Ivy League: 350 wins, 605 losses.

So history is working against us. The pattern, if you didn’t pick it up, is that we have a winning record against exactly zero Ivy League teams, including Columbia, the only school more athletically futile overall than we are.

But, Coach Martin, none of that has to matter. You were hired to turn around a team that sunk to a new low with its 2-12 Ivy League record last year, and you’ve already delivered promising results. This year’s team, led by point guard Sean McGonagill ’14 and shooting guard Matt Sullivan ’13, has already doubled that win total, sitting at a respectable 4-6. They also beat intercity rival Providence College, a group that itself has beaten top-25 squads like Notre Dame and Cincinnati. So we’re on the right track.

That being said, there’s still a long way to go. Next year the team will lose Sullivan, plus contributors Stephen Albrecht ’13 and Tyler Ponticelli ’13. The current freshman class is named Cedric Kuakumensah ’16. That is it. The 2017 class looks to be more of a multi-person affair (see here), but few Ivy basketball teams count on freshmen to carry the load. In other words, McGonagill better become Jeremy Lin over the summer if the 2013-14 iteration of the Bears is going to be the one to break the drought.

So yeah, it’s possible next year’s team won’t be the magic combination. But we can dream. Coach Martin, I’m sure we can agree that higher attendance would be a boon to the team’s chances–and there’s no reason why every member of the Brown student body shouldn’t start his or her Friday or Saturday night off right with a trip to the Pizzitola Sports Center. Seriously, it’s fun–me, two of my friends, and half the football team all think so; the rest of the student body, though, not so much. Let’s change that, starting next weekend (March 8-9) with the final two games of the season, and continuing into next season. Do your part, people of Brunonia.

As for you, Coach Martin, I know the team’s results on the court are only so much within your power. But I like your style, Coach. I see you jawing at the other team’s coaches and at the referees with equal regularity. I see you pacing the sidelines anxiously, calling plays that sometimes even result in points being scored. I see you pouring your heart and soul into the success of this group of ten young men. Keep doing your thing, Coach Martin. And then add a little extra oomph to your thing. Because 2013-14 is the year, Coach Martin. 2013-14 will be the year. Please.

Over and out,
David Oyer ’16

P.S. Speaking of open letters and Brown athletics, everyone should read the letter they got in their email from men’s hockey coach Brendan Whittet and then do what he says.

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