- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 18, 2009

It was going to work out well for Brad Greenberg, one way or another. He had arrived at the University School of Nova Southeastern University to glad-hand with the booster club and become familiar with his latest corner of the basketball sky.

Yes, the college and pro games would soon be a distant memory. But there was a substantial upside. Life in the Miami suburb of Davie, Fla., is typically enjoyable, and after remaining on the move for years, Greenberg finally would settle down and perhaps live closer to his teenage daughter and his ex-wife.

It would mean leaving Virginia Tech and his younger brother, Seth, the Hokies’ coach. It also would mean at age 51 a career already filled with unexpected twists would head in an different direction.

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So as the spring of 2005 churned ahead, Brad Greenberg approached his daughter, Ali, with his plan.

Enter for a chance to win $1 million.

“She looked at me and said, ‘Dad, you are an NBA general manager; you’re not going to coach high schools,’ ” he recalled this week. “I said to her if I do this, she could go to this school. She said, ‘Don’t worry, we’ll be cool.’ ”

Just about everything is cool for Greenberg these days. He remained at Virginia Tech as associate head coach, helping his brother establish the Hokies as a reputable program.

He grew closer to his children; his son, Cory, graduated from Virginia Tech last year, and his daughter is wrapping up a stable high school experience in Blacksburg.

And in a professional triumph, the man who was funneled into administration early in his basketball life is making his NCAA tournament debut as a coach with Big South champion Radford.

Greenberg owns perhaps the most unorthodox of tales in this year’s 65-team field - and also one of its most compelling.

“It’s one of the great stories of the NCAA tournament,” Seth Greenberg said last week. “You think about his journey, think about what he’s been through from player personnel with the Portland Trail Blazers and playing in the NBA Finals to a general manager drafting Allen Iverson to being let go because of an absolutely criminally insane president who was clueless, to getting back into college coaching at the lowest level to becoming a head coach that has a chance to win a game in the NCAA tournament.”

That won’t be easy; the 16th-seeded Highlanders (21-11) meet North Carolina on Thursday in Greensboro, N.C. But if anyone owns a huge array of experiences to draw upon, it’s Greenberg.

Total ‘mastery’

Jim Lynam couldn’t place the date of his epiphany, sometime in the 1990s in all probability. But the Philadelphia 76ers assistant (and former Washington Bullets coach) remembered the place and the occasion Monday since he had just passed the Los Angeles gym where it all unfolded years ago.

Lynam coached Greenberg at American and employed him as an assistant at both AU and Saint Joseph’s. But it was during an innocuous summer league game as Greenberg coached a free agent team that Lynam took notice of his protege.

It wasn’t so much that the team was composed as it was prepared. If the opponent employed a press, Greenberg didn’t jump out of his chair and shout instructions. But it wasn’t just his cool; his players knew it was coming and understood how to extricate themselves from the situation without a word from the bench.

“I know Brad. He worked for me, but this is him coaching his own team, and it was an eye-opener,” Lynam said. “I’m telling you, that’s happened exactly two times in my life. Not that I haven’t seen great coaches, but it’s just you know they’re coaching but I didn’t know they could coach like that. He had complete mastery over the game.”

The trouble was there was no obvious entry back into coaching. He spent a decade as a college and NBA assistant and eventually landed front-office jobs in Portland and Philadelphia.

The stint with the 76ers lasted a season - one long, losing season. Sure, Greenberg drafted Iverson a year earlier, but management opted to shake up the franchise.

“I think it was hard. I don’t think there was any question,” said Temple coach Fran Dunphy, Greenberg’s longtime friend. “They just didn’t play particularly well that year, and the brunt of it seemed to fall on Brad. Unfortunately, that’s the way it was. Nobody handled it professionally better than Brad.”

The decision sent Greenberg into an eclectic professional wilderness. He wrote for NBA.com, consulted for some pro teams and performed some TV work when his brother took over at South Florida.

Deep down, he was a coach, even if he was a nontraditional candidate.

“I hadn’t been in college for a long time,” Greenberg said. “I can understand why people were skeptical, hesitant maybe. Then I realized the only way to probably arrest people’s concern as to whether this guy was really interested in being a college coach was to be back in it and put some time in.”

Unconventional and uncanny

It didn’t hurt that Greenberg’s biggest backer was his younger brother. Seth Greenberg hired Brad as South Florida’s director of basketball operations, allowing his sibling to reimmerse himself in the sport.

It was a different world. Brad Greenberg’s last college experience came before the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams.

But Greenberg wanted to be a head coach and became a full-time assistant when his brother took over at Virginia Tech in 2003. Two years later, though, both family concerns and the frustration of not having his own program prompted Greenberg to look toward a high school gig.

“I brought him in my office and said, ‘I think you’re nuts,’ ” Seth Greenberg said.

Ultimately, he remained, and he was interested in the Radford job when former coach Byron Samuels announced in the fall of 2006 he wouldn’t return the next season. Virginia Tech reached the NCAA tournament the following spring, ensuring Greenberg would be an ideal candidate at a school less than a half-hour from Blacksburg.

The Highlanders had enjoyed one winning season in the previous six. So Greenberg set to work, improving last season and then adding junior college big man Art Parakhouski to solidify this year’s team.

The general manager in Greenberg made an appearance, too. He held swingman Chris McEachin out for the first semester to have the sophomore concentrate on his academics and dismissed senior guard Martell McDuffy from the team in early January.

The moves worked. Radford went unbeaten on the road in the Big South, then won the conference tournament for the first time since 1998 - the clincher a 108-94 defeat of VMI on March 7.

“It was emotional for me, knowing him,” Dunphy said. “I know what it meant to Brad to get back into college coaching and get an opportunity and get into the field of 65. It was a remarkable achievement, knowing what it was he’s gone through.”

The feat becomes even sweeter tomorrow, when the Highlanders attempt to become the first No. 16 seed to win an NCAA tournament game. Maybe it happens. Chances are it doesn’t.

But living a lifelong dream at 55 sure beats toiling at a high school.

“I’ve told people not to wake me up,” Greenberg said. “I’ve been around the block and done a lot, but you don’t get that same feeling doing a lot of things in basketball. If you’re a head coach at a school and the players are walking a little bit taller than four months ago, that’s pretty neat.”

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