Panther men setting new gold standard

It’s not that the Middlebury College men’s basketball team has never been competitive, or never had good players. A few coaches in the history of the program have left with winning records, although only one who can say that, former college athletic director Tom Lawson, coached more than 28 games.
Lawson led the Panthers from 1970 to 1978 and compiled a winning percentage of .569. Discounting one guy who went 7-0 in the 1920s and another who went 16-12 in the 1940s (winning at a rate of .571 percent), Lawson remains the gold standard in winning percentage — although that could change.
The coach with the second-most men’s basketball wins at Middlebury is another former athletic director, Russ Reilly. Reilly’s teams went 173-260 from 1983 to 1997 for a .400 winning percentage. Reilly fielded a few competitive units, including records of 14-9, 13-9 and 13-10.
John Humphries, he of the school-record 1,844 career points, played for Reilly. Humphries, a guard, had great range and herky-jerky moves that made him almost impossible to keep away from the basket. I once saw him play one-on-three with buddies who probably had played high school ball. They had no chance; they couldn’t stop him.
Humphries is among any number of talented players who have worn Panther blue and white. Mike Baumann, he of 1,733 points and a couple rebounding records, also played for Reilly, to mention another.
It’s different now, though, and the identity of the coach with the most wins in program history will come as no surprise. Coach Jeff Brown’s teams have won 94 games and two NESCAC championships in the past four years, most recently on Sunday, when the Panthers shut down the No. 1 team in NCAA Division III, Williams, on its home court.
In each of those four years, the Panthers have earned berths in the NCAA Division III tournament. In the past three years, they have played well enough to host games.
In the past four years, the Panthers are 94-18, for a winning percentage that rounds to .840. In the past three years, the numbers are 74-9 and 89 percent.
Reilly led the charge to hire the Brown as his replacement, whose teams at Bates had not set the world on fire — they went 30-41 in three years. Let’s just say the folks on the hiring committee saw something they liked, and they were right.
As of now, Brown’s record at Middlebury is 193-149 entering the NCAA tourney. Earlier this winter, Brown passed Reilly (who came out of retirement to assist the program a few years back) for the career wins record.
Brown’s winning percentage has jumped so far this season from .546 to .564. Another good campaign — say, 20-5, even — would vault him past Lawson in that department.
Past the numbers, this is a program that increasingly is easy to like. There was a glitch a number of years ago, where some players did not live up to off-court expectations.
Since then, like the song says, seldom is heard a discouraging word. Anyone who knows the guys on the team in the past half-dozen years has nothing but good things to say about them — alumni like Mike Walsh, Andrew Harris, Evan Thompson and Aaron Smith helped set the tone of hard work and team play, and the ball has kept rolling.
Current and former players I have interviewed — Kyle Dudley, Andrew Locke, Ryan Sharry, Tim Edwards and Ben Rudin — are uniformly bright, personable, team-oriented student-athletes.
As I was correctly and politely reminded on Saturday at a women’s hockey game, no cheering is allowed in the press box.
It’s hard not to root for this program, though.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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