“A Turn For The Awesome” (Ben Braun Memories)
Because I only caught the tail end of Cal basketball under Braun (the NBA consumes too much of my life to follow college in earnest), I can really add nothing to personal memories of Ben Braun. I just watched what I saw on TV, and it was kind of like watching paint dry, then repainting over it wand watching that paint dry.
So here are some memories from people who know him better, who love him, enjoyed him, or well…you know.
“I still remember when we were in Trieste, Italy. Our team got into a fight with the Italian team were playing against. Later that night, everybody had their stories about what they did during the fight. There were only two stories that never added up once we saw the tape. The first was Leon Powe’s story about “two of the biggest guys holding him back.” Leon was the largest guy there by far, so we were all wondering who in the world could hold HIM back. When we saw the video, we saw that Leon was clearly free to hit whoever he wanted and just stood there. That was probably a smart move even though we did laugh at him for it. The second story with a hole in it was that coach Braun was breaking the fight up. The tape showed him by himself in the corner, doing what appeared to be the cha-cha slide. He kept sidestepping around by himself with his hands up.”
This is not like the Holmoe thing, where it was a done deal, where even he knew he had to quit. This could have gone either way, and he knew it was happening on Monday Night. You could just tell looking at him and at the team. I wonder if the team knew then, or if they just could sense it. Either way, they played like crap. But I think that was the wake. The murder happened when only 1900 folks showed up to see the Bears play in the NIT opener.
Ray Ratto seems to think the odds of Cal landing such a person are not good, calling Cal “a school with a largely mid-major profile.” OK, leaving aside the major media market and the new facilities and the local recruiting talent and the major conference exposure and the sterling academic reputation, he’s got a point (don’t tell Kevin over at TheBand that). Still, Ratto could’ve written (and probably did) the same article following Tom Holmoe’s resignation in 2001. I think that coaching search turned out OK.
Boykin noted that Braun took things in stride as he met with the players midday. “He pretty much just said that he wishes us the best of luck in the future, that he’s proud of what we accomplished and that he wants us to stick together and work hard in the off-season and take care of ourselves,” said Boykin.
“He was calm. He’s always handled things like this well. He’s been dealing with it all year. It was just hard to see him go through that because I think it was kind of unexpected, especially this early. It was really unexpected by a lot of people.”
“I know a lot of guys were really appreciative of things that Coach Braun brought to the team,” said Robertson. “He gave us an opportunity to play at this level and gave us a place to play and receive a top-flight education. But as for the overall feel of the day, I think a lot of guys right now are a little unsettled about what happened. It was such a quick turnaround with us just getting back. But as Jamal was saying, it’s a business and not just basketball –the game we love and play. I think from that standpoint, everyone understands the decision.”
The best part about being a writer for the Daily Cal wasn’t the tickets, the thrill of following the best Cal football season ever, or having a prime voice among a massive student body.
It was the food.
Free food. Salmon, sandwiches and big cookies at football press conferences. Boxed lunches at games. The occasional random free pizzas from the athletic department. When you are a college student working for $15 per story, free food is good.
Ben Braun took advantage of this – and I love him for it. Before the 2004-2005 season, Braun had me and another writer into his office. We ate sandwiches and talked about basketball and about his girlfriend and about our majors. We did this again a couple times later in the season. People were jealous – the paper thought we were giving up our integrity. I didn’t care. Instead, I taunted other writers with the fact that I had Braun’s cell phone number (I still have it too).
Braun always sincerely answered my questions, always took time for whatever I wanted to talk about, and always made sure players talked. Sure, he probably did this with some self-interest (Haas was just losing its homecourt advantage and we had direct access to students), but he always made me feel honest about what I was writing.
Finally, The Play in CA is utterly joyous, and I think you should just read the whole post. When I lose our brackets despite their worst efforts at bracketology, you’ll get to enjoy posts like these for a week.
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