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Ann Arbor — It wasn't quite a return to coach the Pistons, but Larry Brown was back in Michigan, coaching Southern Methodist against Michigan.

Brown, in his third season with the Mustangs, emerged with a 62-51 win on Saturday in what Brown called a "huge step" for his emerging program.

But coming back to the area where he won an NBA title coaching the Pistons in 2004 was special for Brown, 74, even if he's more than a decade removed from that feat. He has a great appreciation for both the Detroit area and for Michigan basketball.

"I love this place. I used to come up here when Tommy (Amaker) was here. The state of Michigan is unbelievable," Brown said. "Fab Five, they were remarkable. I know coach (Steve) Fisher and I'm proud of all the coaches.

"I love coming back here. There's basketball culture in this state, especially in the city of Detroit. This is wonderful for me, personally."

Brown had back-to-back 54-28 records in his two seasons and got the Pistons to the NBA Finals in 2005.

But in his latest coaching stint, he has SMU at 8-3 and is grateful to Michigan coach John Beilein for the home-and-home contract, which will take the Wolverines to Texas next season.

"I thanked Coach after the game for even scheduling us, because a lot of programs wouldn't do that," Brown said. "I didn't think he had to do that. It meant the world to our team and to our school just to have Michigan do this. I told him how much I appreciated that."

In their long careers the two coaches hadn't faced each other, but Brown, who hadn't coached in college in 25 years before taking the SMU job, has plenty of respect for his colleague.

"Coach told me before the game he thought we were a quality team that could be successful in the Big Ten," Brown said. "I didn't know if he was trying to set me up or not. That made me feel good.

"For us to play a Big Ten team away from home, a program like this with a coach that I think is one of the most underrated ones in the country, it's pretty neat."

Beilein has admired Brown, who has a similar style and demeanor.

"I've watched him from afar because I'm not as connected in NBA circles. I love he's always done things the right way," Beilein said. "He's a student of the game and I hope I have been as well. I love the way he's taken this team. They have a chance to be good. Larry and his staff are doing a great job."

Though the Mustangs dealt Michigan a fourth straight loss, Brown said Beilein would be able to turn things around.

"I just know what that man does and what he's capable of doing and the character of the kids he has," Brown said. "They'll be fine."

Rod.Beard@detroitnews.com

Twitter.com/detnewsRodBeard

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