Miami Hurricanes’ injured star Bruce Brown ready to give up coaching

Bruce Brown at a high school gym in Manhattan, where the Hurricanes practiced in advance of the ACC Tournament in Brooklyn. (Matt Porter/The Palm Beach Post)

NEW YORK — Bruce Brown describes his game as “a little bit of everything.”

He slashes to the basket and shoots it from distance. He creates for his teammates and crashes the glass. He defends anyone in his path, often after hitting them with a stare, a devilish grin and some “come and get it” clapping.

Five weeks ago, a stress fracture in his left foot turned Miami’s best all-around player into its best volunteer assistant coach. He’s doing well at his new role, thanks to the competitive fire that made him one of the ACC’s brightest stars. He can’t wait to give up the gig.

“It’s great because we’re winning,” he said Tuesday, as the Hurricanes practiced at a Manhattan prep school in advance of the ACC Tournament. “I really want to be out there. I’m happy for them. They’re playing extremely well. I’m just trying to give them the knowledge I see from the sideline. I try to put them in the right positions.”

During a recent game, he noticed Lonnie Walker was driving into the defense, when a pass to the wing would be a better option. After Brown chatted with him on the bench, “he came down, he hit the pass, found an open three,” Brown said. “Next time, he had an open layup.”

2018 ACC TOURNAMENT
Bracketology update | Schedule, how to watch

At this rate, Miami’s real coach might hand him a clipboard.

“We’re only going on this run because he’s the coach now,” Jim Larranaga said.

He was kidding, even though without Brown, the 6-foot-4, 200-pound combo guard from Boston, the Hurricanes have won four games in a row and seven of their last 10. Brown, who last played Jan. 27 at Florida State, hopes he doesn’t have to coach much longer.

The Hurricanes play Thursday at Barclays Center (9 p.m., ESPN2) against the winner of Wednesday’s North Carolina-Syracuse/Wake Forest game. They hope to stay in Brooklyn long enough to lift their second ACC title, and first since 2013. They’ll learn their NCAA Tournament destination Sunday.

Monday, doctors will take another look at Brown’s foot. He hopes they’ll clear him for next weekend.

“It feels fine,” said Brown, speaking publicly for the first time since his Jan. 29 injury. “It looks good. It’s healing. Hoping it’ll heal fast enough to get back for March. … I’m going to come back 100 percent.”

The injury, he said, happened in practice one day before Miami hosted Pittsburgh. “I didn’t really feel it. I didn’t know,” he said. “It just felt weird one time in practice when I came down. I thought it was going to be a little check-up, you’ll miss a practice and be back.”

That week, surgeons inserted a pin to fix a crack in his fifth metatarsal, on the side of his foot. He won’t need another procedure to remove it. He’ll wear a corrective insert in his shoe.

He’ll take that over the walking cast he has worn since. He removes it only when he sleeps, showers and swims for fitness. He rides a stationary bike and lifts weight. He can shoot, but only if he pushes off the right side.

He said he “definitely” feels good enough to go, but he’ll trust UM’s medical staff. Similarly, when it comes to his future, he leans on Miami’s coaches.

According to NCAA rules changed in 2016, college underclassmen can declare for the draft, work out for teams, and return to school. Brown, a NBA prospect since the day he walked on campus, said he “[hasn’t] even thought about it.

“I’m going to wait until the season’s over and see where things are at,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of time.”

Last March, Brown felt his game had holes. After the season, he took Larranaga’s advice to stay in school. After 19 games this year, he was leading UM in rebounding (7.1 per game) and assists (4.0) and was second in scoring (11.4). ESPN this week rated him as the 26th-best draft-eligible prospect (Walker, his freshman teammate, was 13th). NBADraft.net’s most recent mock draft had him 32nd overall.

Assuming he is healthy, does he feel like his game is where it needs to be to explore the process?

“If the coaches think I’ve made the right strides, then I think I should take that turn,” he said. “But we’ll see. Nothing’s set in stone yet.”

He’s more concerned with getting back on the court, helping a team that finished with the No. 3 seed in the ACC Tournament – via a series of tiebreakers – without their driving force.

“They’ve matured,” Brown said.  “They’re coming into their own. They know how to play without me. They have great chemistry out there. It’s good.”

It was on display at Tuesday’s practice, a spirited session at a Lower Manhattan prep gym. A highlight came at the end, when Anthony Lawrence Jr. got a steal and hit a 3 on the break, then big men Ebuka Izundu and Dewan Huell – both decidedly not sharpshooters — matched each other with triples.

“High school 3s,” Brown said, clarifying. “They were 2s.”

He’s not just a player, not just a coach. He’s a referee, too.

He’d rather focus on one.