(courtesy Kyan Brown)

Through The Fire: North Dakota State advances to NCAA tournament after coach loses house to fire

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Suzanne Brown has a back-up plan.

She knows that there is a window in her bedroom, one right above the crate where the family’s french bulldog Penny had been sleeping. She’s on the first floor of the rambler the Browns bought six months ago. If she can’t army crawl her way under the thick, black smoke that has taken up residence in her home, or if the fire that she hears burning away in the kitchen grows too big, she has an escape route. She’s wearing boots; it is, after all, a cold February night in North Dakota. If it comes to it, she’ll just kick out the window.

Because her two daughters are standing in the driveway.

She’s not going to let this be the last time they see their mom.

But she knows what the fire is going to do. She knew it as soon as she unloaded a fire extinguisher on the flames, watching a spot next to the stove go out as the flames kept climbing. Up past the backsplash, through the cabinets, to the ceiling. This will change everything. Even if the firefighters make it in time to save the house, everything in it is a lost cause. Their clothes, their beds, their blankets, the flat-screen TVs they had just hung in their newly-finished basement.

All ruined.

Suzanne Brown knows this is going to turn her family’s life upside-down, and she’ll be damned if she is going to let that happen while her kids mourn Penny.

So off she goes, into her burning home, under the smoke and past the burning insulation falling from the ceiling, to get to that crate and free that yappy little pup from her tomb.


Khloe Brown with pup Penny (courtesy Kyan Brown)

No one is quite sure how the fire started.

What they do know is that it began in the kitchen; at the stove, to be exact. At around 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, February 21st, Suzanne was cooking dinner for the family when the power in the neighborhood went out. Kyan Brown, Suzanne’s husband and an assistant coach on the North Dakota State men’s basketball team, had just arrived back in Fargo after two days on the road recruiting. He went straight to his practice, which ended at 6 p.m., and then was en route to watch his 12-year old son Caleb’s practice. Suzanne met him there after they lost power, and she stayed until she got the call that the power was back on in the neighborhood.

So she headed home with their daughters, Khloe and Sophie.

Not 15 minutes later, Kyan got the call.

“She was hysterical,” he said. “I couldn’t make out if she was laughing or crying. I couldn’t hear words.” It reminded him, he said, of the scene from Anchorman when Ron Burgundy was in the phone booth, trapped in a glass case of emotion. He left the gym, where he heard the words that changed everything: “The house is burning to the ground.”

Kyan lined up a ride home for his son and sped home, passing people on two-lane roads, hoping that he’d pull into his driveway and find out Suzanne was exaggerating.

“I got eight or nine blocks away and I could smell the smoke,” he said. “Holy sh-t, that’s not good.”

Their street was completely blocked by fire engines. Kyan stopped, left his car in the middle of the road and took off running. What he found when he got to his driveway was that the fire department had done their job. They put the fire out before it spread beyond the kitchen. They put it out before it compromised the integrity of the structure.

(courtesy Kyan Brown)

The house will survive.

But nothing inside the house did. None of their furniture. None of the drywall. They will hopefully be able to salvage some of the windows and some of their clothes, but not much more than that. The morning after the fire, when the family walked into the house with their insurance agent to assess the damage, the first thing she said was, “Your wife really ran back in here?” Soot stained the top three feet of sheetrock for the entirety of the main floor of the house. The insulation covering kitchen and living room made it look like the house had received a dusting of snow overnight.

Smokey (courtesy Kyan Brown)

The repairs — which, thankfully, will be covered by insurance — are not going to be cheap, they’re not going to be quick and they’re not going to be easy.

The working theory is that the fire started with the stove, that it either malfunctioned when the power came back on or that it was not properly turned off when the house lost power, but the truth is that doesn’t really matter to the Brown family.

What matters is no one got hurt.

What matters is that all seven members of the family made it out OK.

When Suzanne first arrived at the house that night, she opened the door and the family’s massive and aptly-named mastiff Smokey came sprinting out of the house, but unbeknownst to her, when she went in to save Penny, Smokey, ever the protector, followed her in. He eventually made his way into the basement, where he was taken out in his crate by the firefighters.

It wasn’t until that moment that Suzanne knew her family was intact, that whatever hardships they had in front of them they would endure together.

“We’re OK,” Khloe, who is wise beyond her 14 years, said, consoling her mom. “We’re all going to be OK. We have everything we need right here.”


(courtesy Kyan Brown)

This isn’t a story about a team rallying around a member of the program. It’s not a story about someone overcoming adversity to achieve their dreams.

This is about a community coming together to take care of one of their own. It is a story about a family trying to find a way back to normalcy when their existence is anything but.

The life of a college basketball coach is never going to be simple. For six months out of the year, they see their co-workers more than their families, a dynamic that is exacerbated once February and March come around. There are games to scout, players to recruit, practices to plan, flights to catch.

Put another way, scrambling to keep a household with three kids that have jam-packed schedules running smoothly is the norm for Suzanne.

“The hardest part,” she said, “was feeling displaced. At the end of all the crazy, we always have home. That’s our safe place. The hardest part is knowing that at the end of the day, you’re not going home. You’re going to sit in a hotel.”

It’s more than just the comfort of your own couch or the privacy of your own living room.

It’s impossible to fathom just how much stuff you need to keep life running smoothly on a day-to-day basis, and Suzanne was facing the impossible task of trying to replace all of that without a home. She didn’t want her kids to fall behind in class so they were back in school the Monday after the fire, but they needed clothes — shirts, pants, underwear, socks — to wear.

Take Khloe, for example. Her safe space is on the volleyball court. That’s where things are familiar. That’s where she can find normalcy, by going to practice during the week and traveling to games on the weekend. She wasn’t going to stop playing volleyball, but her gym bag with all of her volleyball gear — from a ball and shoes and a jersey to things as simple athletic socks, spandex and sports bras — was sitting on the kitchen table just feet from the fire. Hell, she needed a new gym bag to keep it all in.

Even Kyan needed help. The Bison played that Saturday, and he needed a suit. At 6-foot-8, 260 pounds, he can’t exactly buy off the rack.

“You don’t think about all the things you need,” Suzanne said, “until you don’t have them.”

Head coach Dave Richman helped him out with that. He made a call to Halberstadt’s in Fargo and got Kyan lined up for a suit the next day. The NDSU women’s volleyball program hooked Khloe up with the gear she needed. Caleb’s teammates made sure he had what he needed and always had a ride to and from games. A GoFundMe for the family has raised nearly $10,000 to date. When Suzanne was moving into the house this week, Richman’s wife loaded up their minivan with two loads of stuff — all the things that you need to make a house a home. Cleaning supplies, toilet paper, all the way down to the simplest things in life, like a bottle of ketchup for the fridge.

“My wife, the coaches’ wives, they’ve been doing laundry and soaking clothes, going over and over and over again, to try and get the smoke out of them,” Richman said.

Even the players did their part to help out. Junior forward Deng Geu asked Kyan what his favorite restaurant is to take someone on a date, and then he and junior guard Chris Quayle surprised Kyan and Suzanne with a gift card for dinner, a night out on the guys.

For Kyan, the impact and amount of what they lost didn’t hit him until someone offered to help him move.

“There’s nothing to move,” he said.

There were some things that the family was able to salvage. Sophie’s old stuffed animals aren’t exactly in mint condition, but Suzanne was able to keep them. A blanket she had made out of all of Caleb’s old t-shirts survived, although it may not be clean enough to be anything other than a memento that’s kept out of sight. Kyan’s father passed away six years ago and the dresser he passed down survived, although it’s no longer functional.

The saying goes ‘things can be replaced, people can’t.’

But that’s not entirely accurate.

A hard drive can be replaced.

The thousands of pictures on that hard drive that documented college sweethearts becoming parents three times over?

Those can’t.


(Loren Townsley/Argus Leader via AP)

March Madness has come to take on an entirely new meaning for the Brown family this year.

They spent nearly three weeks living out of a hotel room. Mom, dad, three kids and two dogs tasked with navigating the unrelenting schedule of a sports family without any semblance of personal space.

But that, mercifully, came to an end this week, as the Browns were finally able to move into their rental home on Tuesday. They will be there for the foreseeable future, and while it isn’t their home, it is a home.

That’s a start.

Suzanne did most of the heavy-lifting herself; Tuesday night just so happened to be the night of the Summit League tournament title game. NDSU, the No. 4 seed, knocked off Omaha to earn the program’s second trip to the NCAA tournament under Richman.

It was the first time in 20 years in college basketball as a player and a coach that Kyan earned a trip to the NCAA tournament.

“I had been in this game once as a player and three times before as a coach,” he said. “Never broken through. She’s been with me the whole time.”

She was not with him on Tuesday night, and it wasn’t just because of the move. “I had already taken some days off work,” Suzanne said. “I wanted to save the rest of my days off for the NCAA tournament. I just had a feeling we were going to win this.”

When the final buzzer sounded, as everyone’s family started making their way down to the court, deputy athletic director Todd Phelps noticed that Kyan was the only guy that wasn’t hugging his wife, or his kids, or his mom.

So Phelps did the only thing he could do.

He FaceTimed Suzanne.

“She was crying,” Kyan said. “I was crying.”

“It’s something I’ll never forget.”

Louisville challenges NCAA over recruiting allegations

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville has refuted NCAA allegations against its men’s basketball program in the wake of a federal corruption scandal, requesting that the highest-level violation be reclassified.

The university also is challenging that former coach Rick Pitino failed to promote an atmosphere of compliance in his program.

Louisville filed a 104-page response last week to the Notice Of Allegations sent to the school in May. The document stated that college sports’ governing body seeks to ignore wire fraud convictions against several people involved in the scheme – including a former Adidas executive – by suggesting they were representing its athletic interests. Louisville’s contract with the apparel maker was a standard sponsorship agreement rather than a promotional deal, the response added.

“This argument is as novel as it is wrong,” the school wrote in its response. “Even if an institution has some responsibility for the conduct of its suppliers, that responsibility plainly does not extend to acts of fraud perpetrated against the institution itself.”

Louisville also seeks to have several second-tier violations reclassified even lower. The NCAA has until Nov. 15 to respond with the school responding 15 days after before a decision is made whether the case will proceed through the traditional Committee on Infractions or Independent Accountability Review Process (IARP).

The NCAA’s Notice of Allegations states that Louisville committed a Level I violation, considered the most severe, with an improper recruiting offer and extra benefits along with several lesser violations. Those lesser violations also include Pitino failing to promote an atmosphere of compliance.

The NCAA notice completed a two-year investigation following a federal corruption probe of college basketball announced in September 2017. Louisville acknowledged its involvement in the federal investigation related to the recruitment of former player Brian Bowen II. Pitino, who’s now coaching Iona, was not named in the federal complaint and has consistently denied authorizing or having knowledge of a payment to a recruit’s family.

Louisville has previously indicated it would accept responsibility for violations it committed but would contest allegations it believed were not supported by facts. The school also noted corrective measures taken in the scandal’s immediate aftermath, such as suspending and then firing Pitino and athletic director Tom Jurich.

Louisville also dismissed the NCAA’s contention that former Adidas executive James Gatto and amateur league director Merl Code represented the school while funneling illegal payments to recruits at several schools.

“The enforcement staff’s remaining allegations lack factual support and overread the relevant Bylaws,” the response stated, “and rest on the erroneous contention that the conspirators were representatives of the University’s athletics interests.

“For these reasons and others set forth, the panel should reject the enforcement staff’s dramatically overbroad theory, and classify this case as involving a Level II-Mitigated violation.”

Bubbles brewing with season on horizon

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
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INDIANAPOLIS — With the coronavirus pandemic already forcing changes for college basketball, a bubble may be brewing in Indianapolis.

Indiana Sports Corp. released a 16-page proposal Friday that calls for turning the city convention center’s exhibition halls and meeting rooms into basketball courts and locker rooms. There would be expansive safety measures and daily COVID-19 testing.

The all-inclusive price starts at $90,000 per team and would cover 20 hotel rooms per traveling party, testing, daily food vouchers ranging from $30-$50 and the cost of game officials. Sports Corp. President Ryan Vaughn said the price depends on what offerings teams or leagues choose.

“The interest has been high,” Vaughn said. “I think as conferences figure out what conference and non-conference schedules are going to look like, we’re we’re a very good option for folks. I would tell you we’ve had conversations with the power six conferences, mid-majors, it’s really kind of all over the Division I spectrum.”

Small wonder: The NCAA this week announced teams could start ramping up workouts Monday, with preseason practices set to begin Oct. 14. Season openers, however, were pushed back to Nov. 25 amid wide-ranging uncertainty about campus safety and team travel in the pandemic.

There is already scrambling going on and some of the marquee early-season tournaments have already been impacted.

The Maui Invitational will be moved from Hawaii to Asheville, North Carolina, with dates still to be determined and organizers clear that everyone involved “will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.” The Batttle 4 Atlantis has been canceled. The Cancun Challenge will be held in Melbourne, Florida, not Mexico.

More changes almost certainly will be coming, including what to do with the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.

“I think we’re past the guesswork on whether we play 20 conference games or more than that,” Purdue coach Matt Painter said Friday. “We’re trying to get everybody set like in terms of MTEs (multi-team events), figuring out when to play the ACC-Big Ten challenge.”

Painter, who was part of the NCAA committee that recommended how to start the season, noted part of the uncertainty stems from differing protocols imposed by campus, city and state officials.

In Indianapolis, Vaughn believes the convention center, nearby hotels, restaurants and downtown businesses, many within walking distance of the venue, could safely accommodate up to 24 teams. The 745,000-square foot facility would feature six basketball courts and two competition courts.

Anyone entering the convention center would undergo saliva-based rapid response testing, which would be sent to a third-party lab for results. Others venues could be added, too, potentially with more fans, if the case numbers decline.

If there is a taker, the event also could serve as a dry run for the 2021 Final Four, also slated for Indy.

“It’s not going to hurt,” Vaughn said. “I can tell you all the planning we’re doing right now is the same for a Final Four that’s been scheduled here for any other year. But it would be nice to have this experience under our belt to see if it can be done.”

Maui Invitational moving to North Carolina during pandemic

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ASHEVILLE, N.C. — The Maui Invitational is moving to the mainland during the coronavirus pandemic.

One of the premier preseason tournaments on the college basketball schedule, the Maui Invitational will be played at the Harrah’s Cherokee Center in downtown Asheville, North Carolina.

Dates for the tournament announced Friday have yet to be finalized. The NCAA announced Wednesday that the college basketball season will begin Nov. 25.

This year’s Maui Invitational field includes Alabama, Davidson, Indiana, North Carolina, Providence, Stanford, Texas and UNLV.

All teams, staff, officials, and personnel will be in a bubble environment that limits their movement and interaction outside the venue.

Burton eligible at Texas Tech after 2 seasons at Wichita State

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports
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LUBBOCK, Texas — Junior guard Jamarius Burton has been granted a waiver from the NCAA that makes him eligible to play this season for Texas Tech after starting 52 games the past two seasons for Wichita State.

Texas Tech coach Chris Beard announced the waiver Thursday, which came five months after Burton signed with the Big 12 team.

Burton has two seasons of eligibility remaining, as well as a redshirt season he could utilize. He averaged 10.3 points and 3.4 assists per game as a sophomore at Wichita State, where he played 67 games overall.

Burton is from Charlotte. He helped lead Independence High School to a 31-1 record and the North Carolina Class 4A state championship as a senior there.

NCAA season set to open day before Thanksgiving

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The NCAA men’s and women’s basketball season will begin on Nov. 25, the day before Thanksgiving.

The Division I Council voted Wednesday to push the start date back from the originally scheduled Nov. 10 as one of several precautions against the spread of coronavirus.

The later start date coincides with the decision most schools made to send students home from Thanksgiving until January out of concern about a potential late-fall and early-winter flareup of COVID-19. Closed campuses could serve as a quasi bubble for players and provide a window for non-conference games.

The maximum number of regular-season games has been reduced from 31 to 27. The minimum number of games for consideration for the NCAA Tournament was cut from 25 to 13.

Teams can start preseason practices Oct. 14 but will be allowed to work out 12 hours per week beginning Monday.

No scrimmages against other teams or exhibitions are allowed.

In other action, the council voted to extend the recruiting dead period for all sports through Dec. 31. In-person recruiting is not allowed during a dead period, though phone calls and other correspondence are allowed.

The men’s and women’s basketball oversight committees had jointly recommended a start date of Nov. 21, which would have allowed for games to be played on the weekend before Thanksgiving. The council opted not to do that to avoid a conflict with regular-season football games.

The council is scheduled to meet again Oct. 13-14 and could delay the start date and change other pieces of the basketball framework if circumstances surrounding the virus warrant.