AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — Larry Brown didn't have much time to enjoy his first NBA title.

After coaching the Detroit Pistons to a surprising victory over the Los Angeles Lakers, Brown focused all his energy on getting the U.S. basketball team ready for the Olympics.

Much to his dismay, the Americans came home with just a bronze medal.

"As much fun as I had winning the championship, I feel just as terrible that we didn't win gold," Brown said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I feel miserable about it. I still haven't gotten over Athens — and I don't think I ever will."

But the Pistons might help their Hall of Fame coach get over his misery.

After leading nine teams over 31 seasons, Brown found basketball heaven last year in his first season with the Pistons — a collection of talented players willing to listen, learn and play hard.

"We talked every day on the phone during the Olympics and toward the end, Larry said he had a much fuller appreciation for our team and the way we played the game last season," said Joe Dumars, Detroit's president of basketball operations. "When he got back, he spoke to each guy and told them how much he appreciated them."

As a member of the Pistons and a member of America's sixth-place team at the 2002 world championships, Ben Wallace understands why Brown was so thankful to come back to Detroit.

"When you see the game played in a certain way like we did for him last year, it's tough to go through what he had to in the Olympics," Wallace said. "By the end of last season, we were doing exactly what he wanted us to do as a true team. Then, he had to start all over and do it without a lot of practice with a bunch of guys that are used to being stars, not role players."

Complicating matters, many of the best players in the NBA decided they didn't want to play in Athens, and that left the U.S. scrambling to put a group together.

LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, coming off spectacular rookie seasons, clashed with Brown because they came off the bench — barely sometimes. The U.S. squad lacked a true point guard and pure outside shooters, and was unable to effectively use center Tim Duncan.

"I was seriously thinking about retiring after we won the championship — if we won the gold — because I couldn't think of a better way to go out," said Brown, who turned 64 in September. "But when I thought about that dressing room and what winning the championship meant to all those guys, I wanted to be with them some more."

The Pistons are glad to have Brown back, even if it means going through his tedious three-hour practices.

Brown has been tough on the Pistons during training camp — just as he was last year, when he was breaking them in on his "play the right way" system. If a play or drill is not run his way, it's done again. And again.

If a point guard, such as NBA Finals MVP Chauncey Billups, is shooting when Brown thinks he should be passing, he'll hear about it.

"You've got to accept that if you accept Larry," Billups said. "He's a perfectionist and he demands a lot, but there's a method to the madness. It's always for a good reason. Every time, it's for the benefit of the team.

"You can't even question it. You can't even look twice at him because you know what he says carries a lot of weight. If it wasn't for us buying into that, we're not the champions."

That's just what Dumars wanted to hear when he made the bold move of firing Rick Carlisle, following two successful seasons, and hiring Brown last year.

"We absolutely have the right kind of coach as a championship team because Larry Brown will not allow his team to become complacent," Dumars said. "The fact that he's a hard-driving stickler for details will give us a chance."

The Pistons said it took them a few months to figure out what Brown wanted last season. As time went on, they didn't hear him rant and rave or see him roll his eyes — as much.

"It's going to help us a lot to have that learning curve out of the way," Wallace said. "The starters went through all of that last year, so the new guys can learn not just from the coaches, but the players, too."

Detroit's starting lineup returns this season, but for the first time in Brown's storied career he will be coaching the defending NBA champions. He knows it will be a challenge.

"I like this feeling," Brown said. "I'm looking forward to validating what we did."

He's also looking forward to having his wife, Shelly, and their two young children with him in suburban Detroit after they stayed back in Philadelphia last season.

"After practice last year, I'd go home and watch a movie, or I'd work out and that was tough," Brown said. "Now, I can pick my kids up from school and hang out with them and Shelly. It's pretty cool."