Memphis, Tenn. — At 70, Hubie Brown is the NBA's oldest coach. So there were some doubts about whether he would be able to relate to his players in Memphis.
Could he handle a pack of brash young millionaires? Would he be out of step with a team that has an average age of 25?
"For somebody to think you could not relate -- that story is naive," Brown said. "It's not about your age; it's about the substance of the sport and what you're teaching."
It looks like the Grizzlies are paying attention. Memphis was off to the best start in franchise history at 17-17, heading into a West Coast road trip this week.
It's by far the latest in the season the franchise has been at .500. Last season at this point, the Grizzlies were 11-23.
"Hubie Brown has turned this team around," said center Lorenzen Wright, at 29, the team's second-oldest player. "Hubie gets us organized and tells us how to win."
Brown joined the Grizzlies in November 2002 after a 16-year break from coaching. He led the Atlanta Hawks and the New York Knicks in the 1970s and 1980s.
He hasn't changed his uncompromising style. There's still no touchy-feely ego management, and Brown has no hesitation about getting in a player's face.
"When you have such a young group of kids, they don't understand what it takes to be in the playoffs, because they haven't been to the playoffs," Brown said.
Brown, who has a master's degree in education, said he has no trouble communicating with younger players because he sees himself as a teacher as much as a coach.
"Teaching has not changed," he said. "What it comes down to is demanding the organization, the discipline."
His players also respect his knowledge of the game.
"There's nothing out there on the court that he hasn't seen, and he's got an answer for everything," said Pau Gasol, a 24-year-old who was the No. 3 pick in the 2001 draft.
When Bonzi Wells came to Memphis from Portland last month, he brought along a bad reputation. But Brown gave him a fresh start, demanding only hard work and unselfish play.
Wells is averaging 25 minutes and just under 15 points, second to Gasol's 17.5 points. Wells came off the bench Jan. 2 for 21 points and six assists to help the Grizzlies end a seven-game losing streak, their only extended slump of the season.
The same approach worked with point guard Jason Williams, who had a reputation for flashy but unpredictable play. He's now seventh in the NBA in assist-to-turnover ratio.