YPSILANTI, Mich. (EMUEagles.com) – In a heartwarming celebration Saturday, Nov. 18, Eastern Michigan University paid tribute to the legacy of former Men’s Basketball Head Coach Ben Braun by officially naming the court inside the George Gervin GameAbove Center as “Ben Braun Court.” The ceremony took place prior to the men’s basketball game against Cleveland State University, which the Eagles defeated, 69-62.
Braun’s coaching tenure at EMU spanned 11 seasons, during which he accumulated an impressive list of achievements, including 185 victories, three Mid-American Conference (MAC) Regular Season Championships, three MAC Tournament titles, and three NCAA Tournament selections. His success was further underscored by three MAC Coach of the Year awards and a remarkable 106-35 home record.
To fundraise for this significant honor, EMU launched a campaign in February 2023, spearheaded by EMU Vice President/Director of Athletics Scott Wetherbee and the Department of Athletics. The campaign not only met, but exceeded its goal, with more than 50 donors contributing over $250,000.
“Ben has made an incredible impact and contribution to Eastern basketball and the University,” said Wetherbee. “This is a fitting tribute to one of the all-time great coaches and people to be associated with EMU. Furthermore, I cannot thank enough the EMU Board of Regents, Emeritus Regent Roy Wilbanks, and the donors who stepped forward to make this court naming possible.”
Braun, who retired from coaching in 2014 with a career total of 615 victories, ranked 61st in the NCAA’s list of all-time winningest Division I men’s basketball coaches. Under his leadership, eight teams advanced to the NCAA Tournament, four to the NIT, and one to the CBI.
“I am greatly honored for the recognition of having my name on the basketball court at Eastern Michigan University,” said Braun. “It still seems surreal to me. There are many student-athletes, coaches, fans, and alumni who were instrumental to our program and its development through the years and all greatly deserve credit for the success we shared. I’m very blessed to have been the head basketball coach and a proud member of the Ypsilanti community during my tenure at EMU. I hope we can continue building the athletic tradition we have established not only in basketball but in all sports at Eastern Michigan University.”
The court dedication was marked by an early arrival of fans who witnessed the unveiling ceremony before the game against Cleveland State. To further celebrate the occasion, EMU turned back the clock, highlighting the 1990s era of EMU and EMU Basketball, along with 1990s culture.
“I was so excited when I saw my good friend Ben Braun was having the court at Eastern Michigan named after him,” University of Kentucky Head Men’s Basketball Coach John Calipari said. “He coached at several other places, but he made his mark at Eastern Michigan. Ben impacted that university, that basketball program and those young people like nobody else could. He’s still one of the nicest, most humble, kind people to this day. He’s incredibly deserving of this honor and I’m appreciative of the university for recognizing him this way.”
Braun accepted the position of associate head coach at Eastern Michigan prior to the start of the 1985-86 season, but midway through the year, on Jan. 15, 1986, he was elevated to interim head coach. Success came quickly; within two years, he had the Eagles in the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history.
In his 10+ seasons as EMU head coach, he led Eastern to arguably its most successful decade, finishing as the winningest head coach in program history with a 185-132 record. During his tenure, he was named MAC Coach of the Year three times (1987-88, 1990-91, 1995-96), directed the men’s basketball team to multiple Mid-American Conference Regular Season and MAC Tournament Championships (1987-88, 1990-91, 1995-96), and led EMU to three NCAA postseason tournament appearances (1987-88, 1990-91, 1995-96), including a ‘Sweet 16’ appearance in 1990-91.
Braun’s teams earned 10 wins against “Power Five” and other premier opponents – including Duke, Penn State, Mississippi State, Wisconsin, Michigan State, Rutgers, Colorado, Washington State, and Texas Tech – while dominating traditional rivals Western Michigan, Central Michigan, and Toledo with a record of 50-19. Subsequent to beating Duke Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski, one of the greatest coaches in basketball history said, “I’ve been impressed with Ben for a long time. He has such high personal standards as a coach…and a special appreciation for the game of basketball. His teams are not only fundamentally sound, but they are smart.” From a legendary coach, there is no higher praise in basketball.
Braun ranks 12th in league history with a .572 winning percentage (174-130) and 15th in conference-only winning percentage at 103-79 (.556). The only coach in EMU postseason history to win an NCAA Tournament game, he finished his tenure 3-3 in NCAA Tournament games.
Prior to taking over in Ypsilanti, Braun coached at Siena Heights College for eight years and took the NAIA school to a 148-103 record and five postseason tournaments.
After leaving Eastern, Braun led the University of California Golden Bears, establishing the school record for the most postseason appearances and postseason victories. He also coached at Rice University and currently does commentary on ESPN, PAC-12 Network, and NBC Sports.
All told, Braun coached 24 players who were drafted or went on to play in the NBA. Among this list includes six former EMU players Grant Long, Charles Thomas, Carl Thomas, Marcus Kennedy, Earl Boykins, and Derrick Dial.
Furthermore, Braun is on a short list of NCAA coaches who have had a large number of former assistants and players advance professionally to become head coaches. The list of active head coaches to play or work for Braun include Missouri’s Dennis Gates, Portland’s Shantay Legans, Duquesne’s Keith Dambrot, UC Santa Barbara’s Joe Pasternack, Idaho’s Alex Pribble, Cal State San Bernardino’s Gus Argenal, City College of San Francisco’s Justin Labagh, Geogia Tech’s Damon Stoudamire, Cleary’s Carl Thomas, and Eastern Michigan’s Stan Heath.
In 1996, he was inducted into the Michigan Jewish Sports Foundation Hall of Fame, followed by Siena Heights University’s Hall of Fame in 1999, and EMU’s E-Club Hall of Fame in 2005. Additionally, Braun was also chosen as the head coach of the United States team at the Maccabiah Games in Israel in 1989 and brought home a silver medal.