Generally regarded as one of college basketball's top teachers and strategists, Ben Braun is in his sixth season as head coach at California.
And though his time with the Golden Bear program has been short, Braun already has developed a long list of accomplishments that is sure to continue to grow through his tenure in Berkeley.
Since bringing his energetic style of coaching to Cal in September 1996, Braun has guided the Bears to four postseason playoff berths in five years, including an NCAA Sweet 16 appearance in 1997 and a National Invitation Tournament championship in 1999. Two of his players - Ed Gray in 1997 and Sean Lampley in 2001 - have been honored as Pac-10 Player of the Year, and Braun himself was voted the '97 Pac-10 Coach of the Year.
As a result of his success, Braun has twice been rewarded with contract extensions, one in 1997 that runs until 2005 and another this past March that lasts through the 2008-09 season.
"When a University makes a commitment to you, I think the proper thing to do is to make the commitment back to the University," said Braun, a national coach of the year finalist in '97. "I feel very proud to say I'm here for the long haul and to make that commitment back to the University of California.
"I really believe that Cal is a dream job. This is a place that I'm going to choose to call my home, most likely for the rest of my career. To be able to work in an environment and area you enjoy living, to be at a University that you're proud of, to be able to work with quality young men and an outstanding coaching staff, I don't think I could ask for anything more."
During his initial season at Cal in 1996-97, Braun took a team that was predicted to finish in the conference's lower half and molded it into one that tied for second in the league and earned a berth in the NCAA Sweet 16 with tournament victories over Princeton and Villanova. In addition, the 23-9 overall mark gave Braun a school record for most wins by a Bear coach in his first year with the program.
Braun followed up his first season with the Bears with another upper division finish in the Pac-10, guiding a team that lost its top seven players from the year before to a tie for fifth place in the league. Cal ended the 1997-98 season with a 12-15 overall record.
In 1998-99, Braun's Bears became the first team ever at Cal to beat three Top 10 schools in the same season, defeating North Carolina, UCLA and Arizona during the course of the year. Then, after earning a bid to the National Invitation Tournament, the Bears went on a 5-0 run to capture the title - Cal's first postseason tournament championship since the Bears won the 1959 NCAA crown. Cal finished the 1998-99 campaign with a 22-11 record.
A year later, Braun took a freshman-dominated squad back to the postseason as the Bears reached the quarterfinals of the NIT. On Jan. 15, he picked up his 400th career victory with a 71-65 win at Oregon State.
This past season, the Bears returned to the NCAA Tournament, finishing with a 20-11 record, and Lampley - Braun's first recruit at Cal - became the school's all-time leading scorer late in his senior campaign. Braun enters the 2001-02 season with a 95-61 record with the Bears.
Although just 47 years of age, Braun already has 24 years of experience as a head coach, including 11 highly successful years at Eastern Michigan, where he guided the Eagles to four postseason berths, including three NCAA appearances. During his tenure there, Braun accumulated a record of 185-132, averaging almost 18 wins per season, and was named Mid-American Conference Coach of the Year three times.
In addition, Braun coached at Siena Heights College for eight years, taking the NAIA school to a 148-103 record and five postseason tournaments, giving him a career mark of 428-296.
Under Braun's direction, his players have proven equally successful both on the court and in the classroom.
"It is important that our players be academically sound as well as athletically motivated," said Braun. "We don't want one dimensional players in our program. Our goals go beyond championships. We want to be the best in everything we do. As long as our players put forth maximum effort, they're bound to experience success."
Nowhere was that more evident than with the 2001 Pac-10 All-Academic team. Three Bears - Morgan Lingle, Dennis Gates and Ryan Forehan-Kelly - were first team selections, while Donte Smith was an honorable mention pick, giving Cal more than twice as many academic members as any other school in the conference.
Braun began his career as an assistant coach at Park High School in Racine, Wis. Within two years, he accepted the head coaching job at Siena Heights. After an 8-21 debut season in 1977-78, his teams posted a 140-82 record over the next seven years, including four 20-win campaigns. His squads qualified for National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) postseason tournaments five times. During his time at Siena Heights, he not only coached, but taught English and Physical Education classes at the school. In the summer of 1999, Braun was inducted into the first class of the Siena Heights Athletic Hall of Fame.
Braun accepted the position of associate head coach at Eastern Michigan prior to the start of the 1985-86 season, but midway through the year, on Jan. 15, 1986, he was elevated to interim head coach. Success came quickly, as within two years he had the Eagles in the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever.
In 1989, Braun served as head coach of the U.S. men's basketball team at the Maccabiah Games. He took an internationally inexperienced squad into the championship round before bowing to the host Israeli team in the final.
During his career, Braun has coached 10 players who have gone on to play in the NBA, including Grant Long (EMU) of the Detroit Pistons. At Cal, he has coached Ed Gray, who was a first round draft pick of the Atlanta Hawks, center Michael Stewart (Toronto Raptors, forward Sean Marks (Miami Heat), center Francisco Elson (a 1999 second round pick by the Denver Nuggets) and forward Sean Lampley (a 2001 second round selection by the Chicago Bulls). Tony Gonzalez, now an All-Pro tight end for the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs, also played basketball for Braun in 1996-97.
A native of Chicago, Braun graduated from New Trier High School, where he starred in both basketball and baseball. He went on to play one year of basketball at the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse before he transferred to the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He earned a teaching degree in English in June of 1975 with a minor in African-American Studies. Five years later, he earned his master's degree in guidance and counseling from Siena Heights.
BEN BRAUN'S COACHING RECORD
Overall Conf. School Year Record Record Highlights California 2000-01 20-11 11-7/T4th NCAA Tournament 1999-00 18-15 7-11/7th NIT Quarterfinals 1998-99 22-11 8-10/T5th NIT Champions 1997-98 12-15 8-10/T5th 1996-97 23-9 12-6/T2nd NCAA Sweet 16 Pac-10 Coach of the Year California Totals 5 Years 95-61 46-44
Eastern Michigan 1995-96 25-6 14-4/1st MAC Champions NCAA Tournament MAC Coach of the Year 1994-95 20-10 12-6/3rd NIT Tournament 1993-94 15-12 10-8/T5th 1992-93 13-17 8-10/6th 1991-92 9-22 4-12/8th 1990-91 26-7 13-3/1st MAC Champions NCAA Sweet 16 MAC Coach of the Year 1989-90 19-13 8-8/5th 1988-89 17-12 8-8/4th Coached U.S. Maccabiah Games team 1987-88 22-8 14-2/1st MAC Champions NCAA Tournament MAC Coach of the Year 1986-87 14-15 8-8/4th 1985-86 5-10 4-10/T9th Named interim coach Jan. 15, 1986 EMU Totals 11 Years 185-132 103-79
Siena Heights 1984-85 18-15 1983-84 15-14 1982-83 21-12 1981-82 19-13 Michigan NAIA Coach of the Year 1980-81 22-11 1979-80 21-11 1978-79 24-6 1977-78 8-21 SH Totals 8 Years 148-103
CAREER TOTALS 24 Years 428-296