DENVER — When I called former Nuggets coach Larry Brown about a Broncos draft pick, who knew what he’d say? Not me. I wasn’t sure if Coach Brown would even remember Courtland Sutton.
Coach Brown’s been coaching since the '60s. (And yes, he told me that he hopes to coach again.) How many players is that? 300? 400? And here’s a guy — Courtland Sutton — who played one basketball season at SMU and made one shot (a 3-pointer!) after earning a roster spot in an open tryout.
If you’re Larry Brown, you remember David Thompson, Danny Manning, Allen Iverson.
You don’t remember Courtland Sutton.
Larry Brown remembered Courtland Sutton. He remembered Sutton's first practice. He remembered a hustle rebound in a practice drill. He remembered everything about Courtland Sutton, the basketball player.
“When I saw you wanted to talk about Courtland it got my attention,” Brown said. “I’ll talk all day about Courtland. Special, special guy. His leadership, his personality. Just thrilled for him to go to the Broncos.”
The Broncos drafted Sutton, a 6-foot-3, 218-pound wide receiver out of Southern Methodist, with the 40th overall pick. So he’s supposed to be really good, the heir to Demaryius Thomas’ throne, all that and a bowl of Tex-Mex salsa.
We’ll see. But what Coach Brown remembered most about Sutton is why the Broncos' 2018 draft class is the draft class that’s going to put the franchise back on a respectable track. Here, let Brown tell it, since he’s the only guy with rings from the NCAA (Kansas) and NBA (Detroit): “I was hoping Dallas would get him. Then I saw Denver picked him up. First Denver got (Bradley) Chubb and then Courtland. Good for them. I’m just so happy he’s in that environment. It’s a winning environment.”
Before I could butt in and mess up Coach Brown’s scouting report on Sutton, he offered one up: “I keep reading he’s 6-3. I don’t think he’s 6-3. For us (on the basketball court) he played bigger than that. We used him under the basket. I honestly thought if he would have come to us his freshman year and stayed with us (Sutton played hoops after his freshman football season at SMU) he would’ve been a regular player for us. He made our practices better every day. And he’s an unbelievable kid. (Ex-SMU forward) Ben Moore is with the Pacers. And Courtland held his own every day. He just became family. He has that type of personality you want to work with. It’s contagious.”
That’s what I’m talking about with Courtland Sutton. About a month ago, back on March 20, I wrote what the Broncos needed most in this draft. It wasn’t a talent thing. It wasn’t a quarterback thing (although we’re going to have a juicy Bradley Chubb vs. Josh Rosen debate for as long as football's around.) It wasn’t even a positional thing — running back, linebacker, O-Line, whatever — that John Elway was obligated to find and loop in. And not just find, but find in droves.
It was character, personality, leadership — silly things your JV coach said were important and actually became important when 5-11 happened. The Broncos needed rookies who don’t think they’ve made it yet. Well, you tell me if that’s what Elway was looking for at the top of this 2018 draft:
First round, DE Bradley Chubb, N.C. State team captain: Wore a suit and tie to every pre-draft interview. “I mean business,” he said. His people — Aaron (dad, drafted by the Patriots in 1989), Stacy (mom, runs marathons), Brandon (brother, plays for the Lions) — are first-team All-Family. “We want them to be great men first,” dad said. Chubb might not be Von 2.0. But he won’t fail.
Second round, WR Courtland Sutton, SMU team captain: Did I mention he finds fishing spots by looking for blue on a map? Dude after my own heart.
Third round, RB Royce Freeman, Oregon team captain: Two years ago he wrote this in the “Players Tribune”: “You know what gets me the most juiced? When guys who usually don’t get playing time go out there and make plays.” “Rolls” could’ve left UO after his junior year. He returned to college (to a coaching change!) and set every rushing record at pinball Oregon. This is your Week 1 running back vs. Seattle.
Third round, DB Isaac Yiadom, Boston College “Jay McGillis Award” winner: Justin Simmons, the full-of-faith Broncos safety, also won that award at BC. It’s for “team dedication, leadership and competitive spirit.”
The next two picks — Iowa linebacker Josey Jewell and Penn State wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton — combined for five captainships in college.
Can these guys play? Can’t say for sure. They haven’t played yet. Is this the kind of rookie class that can reroute a Broncos locker room that got fat and happy after Super Bowl 50? You bet. And that’s all I asked for.
“It’s a special group,” Elway said.
Back to Courtland Sutton. He's my favorite pick. I asked him about playing basketball for Larry Brown.
“He would help me understand, 'How do I get to the level that I wanted to get in college football?' And also how to understand how I can become the best teammate I can be,” Sutton said. “I learned a lot about my servant leadership from his coaching style and what he expected from his players.”
We got off on a tangent, Coach Brown and I, and it led to him talking about his ties to the Broncos. As the Nuggets coach from 1974-79 he had season tickets at Mile High. He was tight with Orange Crusher Lyle Alzado thanks to their Long Island connection. “I’m a big Elway fan,” Brown said.
He’s a bigger Courtland Sutton fan.
That makes two of us.
Coach Brown said he had two Kansas football players on the 1987-88 squad that won the NCAA title. (And Manning, which is nice.) It was then-football coach June Jones who told Brown to take the SMU job.
“Then I take the job and he tells me, ‘I’ll take five of my football players and we’ll kick your basketball team’s ass!’” Coach Brown said. “Well, that didn’t make me feel very good. ... And June’s the one who told me to take the job!”
Turns out, one of those guys was Courtland Sutton. Friday, he wore shined brown dress shoes and a blue tie to his first day of work at Dove Valley. The guys seated next to him — Freeman and Yiadom — rocked suits fit for a job interview, not a photo shoot.
“I keep reading, everywhere I go, if you don’t have a good locker room in the NBA or in college, it’s going to be an issue,” Coach Brown said. “I can’t imagine a better teammate than this guy. Courtland is a guy you want. He's a teammate.”
That’s all I wanted in the Broncos’ 2018 draft. That’s what the Broncos drafted.