Taliek Brown joked about the possibility, never thinking it would actually happen.
Then, Iona’s name flashed across the television screen, paired with Connecticut.
The matchup was a reality.
The assistant coach for 13th seeded Iona will be seeing his old school in the NCAA Tournament, mere months after leaving his job there.
“It is an exciting feeling. It’s like the student against the teacher now,” Brown told The Post in a phone interview as the Gaels prepared for their West Region opening-round game against No. 4 UConn in Albany late Friday afternoon. “Those guys over there, that staff, brought me into college basketball, got me into coaching. It’s going to be a great war, because they know I’m coming and I know they’re coming.
“It is hard to believe [we’re playing them]. But regardless of everything we just have to be prepared and ready to go.”
It is one of many storylines in this fascinating matchup.
A Queens native and McDonald’s All-American out of St. John’s Prep, Brown won a national championship at the Big East school in 2004 and was a four-year starter at point guard under legendary coach Jim Calhoun.
The former Huskies captain is the only player in school history to score at least 1,000 points (1,039) and hand out at least 700 assists (722).
He is the all-time assists leader for the Huskies.
The school also gave him his start in coaching.
After a lengthy professional career overseas that took Brown to Turkey, Macedonia, Greece, Venezuela and Mexico, he returned home to New York City.
He launched a non-profit organization, Team Footprintz, and began training young boys and girls basketball players.
Then came his break.
Childhood friend and Connecticut assistant coach Kimani Young talked him up to Dan Hurley, who hired the former Huskies star as the director of player development.
He spent three years there, helping the Huskies reach consecutive NCAA Tournaments.
After last season, Young told him it was time for him to take the next step.
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Little did Brown know that Young had suggested him to Rick Pitino as someone deserving of an opportunity.
Iona had an opening on staff after Casey Stanley left for Arkansas State.
“I came in for an interview and Coach gave me a shot,” the 40-year-old Brown said. “I must have wowed him. It’s been nothing but great for me.”
He knew the demanding Pitino’s reputation as someone who expected his assistant coaches to go the extra mile.
It was more than he could imagine.
In the lead-up to the MAAC Tournament, Pitino and his staff routinely put in 12-14 hour days.
There are early mornings and late nights.
“Basically you got to love the game,” Brown said. “Anybody that’s around him, on the team, on the staff, you have to love what you’re doing, because he’s going to get everything out of you. … I heard stories, but I didn’t know it was going to be this much. I see why he’s a Hall of Fame coach.”
He’s fit in just fine, though.
After Iona’s dominant victory over Marist to win the MAAC Tournament’s automatic bid to the Big Dance, Pitino singled out Brown for his work ethic.
“Taliek must have watched 24 hours of film on Marist. Taliek is a new coach and he did a phenomenal job with a speech this afternoon, as well as the scouting report,” Pitino said at the time. “He just said, ‘This is a life-changing experience. To get to the NCAA Tournament, it’s a life-changing experience, because then you get to see how far you can go. Grasp this life-changing experience.’ … He’s a great role model for my guys and that’s why I hired him. They love him.”
He’s been to the NCAA Tournament before obviously as a player, and even as a coach.
Still, this is different. Brown will be facing his old school, the place he enjoyed some of the finest moments of his playing career and gave him his start as a coach.
It will be different to see the Huskies as the enemy.
But it won’t change his job: Prepare Iona to pull the upset. “Just to be playing against them and trying to get this ‘W,’ it’s like a must win for me,” Brown said. “I want to win badly. … I’m trying to put the batteries in these guys back to get this W. I’m locked in.”