MENTION THE NAME “WILEY BROWN” anywhere in Kentuckiana, and there’s a good chance someone in the room knows him and watched him play ball: first, basketball at the University of Louisville, and later, football for the NFL’s Philadelphia Eagles, or — perhaps — even as the originator of the high five?
Now, the head basketball coach for IUS’s men’s basketball team – and the winningest one in the program’s history – Brown talked to Extol about his legacy, local lore and leadership.
Hailing from Sylvester, Georgia, Brown was recruited by UofL to play basketball for Denny Crum in the late 1970s. Yes, he’s the same Wiley Brown who played on the 1980 NCAA UofL winning team, besting UCLA 59 to 54. He’s also the same Wiley Brown who played defensive end for two seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles before suffering a knee injury and opting to return to basketball, playing around the globe with various leagues. And, some would have it, he also originated the high five move with a teammate at UofL.
“We won the (NCAA) championship in 1980, and that’s when the high-five thing came along,” Brown says. “We had some very fortunate players who could jump, and (were) very athletic and were very good players. It didn’t make (any) sense for us to do low fives when we could jump up and do high fives.
“It all came about with Derek Smith, who was a very, very good friend of mine who passed away. One of us stuck our hand out – I can’t remember which one of us – and the other one said, ‘no, up top!’ So we invented that right then and there.”
(Go ahead and hit up the term “high five” on Google. We’ll wait.)
“The reason it got so famous was because we played a lot of national television games back in the ’80s and it was very well-publicized when you can get a lot of games like we played on TV,” Brown says. “That’s how it got so big and became a national thing to do.”
In 1992, Brown returned to UofL to earn a degree in communications, and “fortunately, I got a job there,” he says. “I was (coaching) up under Denny Crum, who I played for, for a long time, and then when Rick Pitino came in, I was up under him for a while.”
Today, Brown serves as the men’s basketball coach at IUS, where he’s coached for the past 13 years. “I’ve been enjoying myself,” he says. “I always wanted to do coaching. … Fortunately, we’ve been doing well since I started here. But when I first came here, we had to go out and search (for players). We do a lot of recruiting in the Southern Indiana and Kentuckiana area. … Louisville, Kentucky, Bellarmine and all those other big schools that recruit can’t get all the players. Fortunately, we get some of those kids.”
As a head coach, Brown also serves as de facto dad to many of his young players, some of whom are just out of high school. “I love seeing these young freshmen come in and become young men and be able to take care of their families at the end of the day,” he says. “Getting their degree, that’s the most important part of it. I tell them that all the time. I’ve won a championship, I’ve been all over the world playing professional sports, but when I got my degree, that was my most important success story.”
And the world, Brown says, is not always kind.
“At the end of the day, it’s not all about basketball,” Brown says. “The kids that I get, most of them aren’t going to get the chance to play professional sports. They can develop their life skills and be successful at a job out there and be able to take care of their families. They come in, and they’re not fully developed yet. They become men in the four or five years that they’re here, look people in the eye and make great decisions. That’s what I love.”
And that love for others deserves a high five.