Early in his tenure, Rice University basketball coach Ben Braun positioned the Owls for the future. The success on the recruiting trail, work on the practice court and efforts in the community have certainly come to fruition.
With an incredibly young roster in 2012-13, the Owls relied heavily on Tamir Jackson while the younger portion of the roster quickly gained collegiate experience. The senior worked his way into sixth on the program's career scoring list and into the top four in several other offensive and defensive categories despite a challenging 5-26 record.
Braun also mentored rookie point guard Max Guercy to five C-USA Freshman of the Week awards and a spot on the league's all-freshman team. The Owls capped off the year by being one of just 21 NCAA Division I programs to earn the inaugural NABC Team Academic Excellence Award, given to programs with a cumulative grade point average above 3.0 for the full season.
Among the highlights of the season were memorable comebacks by the resilient Owls. Rice's furious rally from 15 points down in an eventual 79-69 win over Houston ranked among the greatest comebacks in program history. The Owls overcame other double-figure deficits on the season, including 18 points in the C-USA Championship opener.
In 2011-12, Braun's fourth year guiding the Rice program, the Owls won 19 games, marking the program's most wins and first winning season since the 2004-05 campaign. The Owls' record included an 8-8 mark in Conference USA play as the Owls finished seventh in the final league standings and equaled their best C-USA record.
Late in the regular season, Rice charged back from a double-digit deficit at home against UCF to beat the Knights 83-74 and give Braun his 600th career victory. He became the 40th head coach in NCAA Division I history and the 64th NCAA coach, regardless of division, to win 600 career games.
Rice advanced to the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament, where it won a postseason game for the first time since 1993, and went on to record multiple victories in a postseason tournament for the first time in program history. The Owls advanced to the quarterfinals of the CIT.
Under Braun's leadership, the Owls have consistently excelled in the classroom.
Rice Basketball received Conference USA's Sport Academic Award during the summer of 2011 and repeated the feat in 2012. The award annually recognizes the team with the highest grade point average for each conference-sponsored sport.
In five seasons at Rice, Braun has had a total of 17 student-athletes named to the Conference USA Commissioner's Honor Roll a total of 28 times.
This past season, sophomore Seth Gearhart and junior Austin Ramljak were named to the Conference USA All-Academic Team, giving Rice multiple members on the five-player squad for a fourth-straight season.
In 2012, Connor Frizzelle and Lucas Kuipers highlighted the Owls' success in the classroom as both were named to the Conference USA All-Academic Team for the third straight season. Dating back to his 12 seasons as the head coach at the University of California, Braun has had student-athletes earn conference all-academic honors a total of 24 times. Rice has had at least one C-USA All-Academic selection each of the past six years which is unequaled by any other conference basketball opponent.
Rice student-athletes have been named the Conference USA Scholar-Athlete of the Year for men's basketball in six-straight seasons. Ramljak claimed the title in 2013, Frizzelle was the selection in both 2011 and 2012, and Kuipers received the award in 2010. Aleks Perka began the Owls' run of C-USA Scholar Athlete of the Year honorees under Braun's leadership in 2009.
Starting with the Owls' 2008 signing class, which ESPN.com ranked No. 3 among NCAA Division I mid-major programs, Braun's staff has assembled consecutive highly-touted recruiting classes.
The 2010-11 team was 14-18 as Rice posted what was then the most victories since the 2006-07 season and the team's 5-11 conference mark doubled the program's total conference wins from the past three combined seasons. Along the way, the Owls beat LSU and TCU in back-to-back games, swept cross-town rival Houston for the first time since 1993 and posted its first series win over a Memphis team which would advance to the NCAA Tournament.
Success on the Court One of the winningest active Division I coaches, Braun has more than 30 years of head coaching experience and has had unequaled success everywhere he has been. He begins his sixth season at Rice with a 608-493 overall record (.552). He is one of 12 current Division I coaches to win 600 career games.
During his 12-year tenure at Cal, Braun directed the Bears to five NCAA Tournament berths and three trips to the NIT. He led the 1998 Bears to a berth in the NCAA Sweet 16 and to an NIT championship in 1999.
In his final season at Cal, Braun coached the Bears to the second round of the NIT before losing to eventual champion Ohio State.
While at the University of California, two of his players earned Pac-10 Player of the Year honors - Ed Gray in 1997 and Sean Lampley in 2001 - while Leon Powe was the 2004 Pac-10 Freshman of the Year. Overall, Braun's players received All-Pac-10 status nine times, Pac-10 All-Freshman notice on seven occasions and Pac-10 All-Academic accolades 15 times.
As a result of his success, not only at Cal, but during previous head coaching stops at Eastern Michigan and Siena Heights, Braun heads into his sixth season at Rice ranked 12th among all active Division I coaches with his 608 career victories. He ranks in the Top 50 on the NCAA's list of all-time winningest Division I men's basketball coaches by victories (No. 45).
Braun was 219-154 in his 12 seasons at Cal.
The 1997 Pac-10 Coach of the Year and a finalist for the 2003 Naismith National Coach of the Year, Braun has posted a 584-452 career record. He finished his Cal career second only to Nibs Price (1925-54, 449-294) in both longevity and wins and his Cal winning percentage of .587 was the best at the school since Hall of Famer Pete Newell guided the Bears to a 119-44 mark from 1955-60.
Generally regarded as one of college basketball's top teachers and strategists, Braun brought his energetic style of coaching to Cal in September, 1996. During his initial season, Braun took a team that was predicted to finish in the conference's lower half, molded it into one that tied for second in the league and reached 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.
In 1998-99, Braun's club became the first Cal team ever to beat three Top 10 schools in the same season with victories over North Carolina, UCLA and Arizona during the course of the year. Then, after earning a bid to the NIT, 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, 2000, he picked up his 400th career victory with a 71-65 win at Oregon State. In 2000-01, the Bears returned to the NCAA Tournament and finished with a 20-11 record. Lampley - Braun's first recruit at Cal - became the school's all-time leading scorer late in his senior campaign with 1,776 points.
The Bears again won 23 games and tied for second in the Pac-10 race in 2001-02. Cal reached the semifinals of the conference tournament by defeating UCLA in the opening round and earned a No. 6 seed in the NCAA playoffs, where the Bears toppled Penn before falling to Pittsburgh.
In 2003, Cal reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament behind All-Pac-10 forwards Joe Shipp and Amit Tamir. Shipp ended his career holding third place on the Bears' all-time scoring list, while teammate Brian Wethers finished in the No. 15 position.
Behind tournament MVP Leon Powe, Cal defeated USC and Oregon to reach the Pac-10 Tournament final for the first time ever in 2006. The Bears then earned a No. 7 regional seed in the NCAA Tournament and finished the year with a 20-11 mark. On Nov. 21, 2005, Cal defeated Long Beach State, 88-69, to give Braun his 500th career win.
Braun's 2007 Cal team fought off injuries to a pair of key post players to reach the semifinals of the Pac-10 Tournament for the fourth time in six years. The Bears upset top-seed and fourth-ranked UCLA, 76-69, in overtime in the quarterfinals, and freshman Ryan Anderson was voted to the all-tournament team.
Twice during his final season at Cal, the Bears defeated nationally-ranked opponents, including a 69-64 upset on the road of ninth-ranked Washington State. Sophomore Ryan Anderson was an all-Pac 10 selection.
Braun already has 36 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 and took the NAIA school to a 148-103 record and five postseason tournaments.
Braun's players proved to be successful both on the court and in the classroom, with Golden Bears earning Pac-10 All-Academic recognition 15 times under his direction. In 2001, three players - Morgan Lingle, Dennis Gates and Ryan Forehan-Kelly - were first-team selections, while Donte Smith was an honorable mention pick which gave Cal more than twice as many all-academic members as any other school in the conference. The Bears had at least one all-academic pick in each of Braun's last eight years heading the program.
Early in His Career 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 also taught English 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 and within two years he had the Eagles in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history.
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 to the championship round before bowing to the host Israeli team in the final.
During his career, Braun has coached 17 players who were drafted or went on to play in the NBA. Among the players on that list are Powe, who won an NBA World Championship with the Boston Celtics in 2008, Sean Marks of the New Orleans Hornets and the Orlando Magic's Ryan Anderson. Braun also coached Tony Gonzalez who has gone on to an All-Pro career in the NFL playing for the Kansas City Chiefs and now the Atlanta Falcons. While at Eastern Michigan, he coached both Grant Long and Earl Boykins.
Braun is on a short list of NCAA coaches who have had a large number of former assistants advance professionally to become Division I head coaches. Akron's Keith Dambrot, Texas A&M's Billy Kennedy and Cleveland State's Gary Waters were all, at one point during their careers, a member of Braun-led coaching staffs. Current Arizona assistant Joe Pasternack is the former head coach at New Orleans and a former member of a Braun-led coaching staff as are former Eastern Michigan coach Charles E. Ramsey and George Nessman, who led San Jose State for the past eight seasons. Additionally, South Florida head coach Stan Heath played for Braun at Eastern Michigan.
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.
Braun and wife Jessica have a son, Julius (5), and a daughter, Eliza, born in April 2012.
Braun Coaching Record
Michigan NAIA Coach of the Year
Named Interim Coach, Jan. 15, 1986
MAC Champions, NCAA Tournament, MAC Coach of the Year
Coach of U.S. Maccabiah Games team
MAC Champions, NCAA Sweet 16, MAC Coach of the Year
MAC Champions, NCAA Tournament, MAC Coach of the Year