March 3, 2002
By John Sudsbury, Tulane Media Relations
It is nothing but complimentary when coaches refer to players as blue-collar workhorses. What coach does not like a guy who battles in the trenches, dives on the floor, fights for offensive rebounds, takes charges - basically a player who does all the dirty work? It's not just coaches who appreciate the efforts of these competitors either. Fans and teammates love those "blue-collar" guys.
So when asked earlier this season if he liked his reputation as a blue-collar workhorse, what was Tulane University junior Brandon Brown's response?
"No, I do not. There is so much more that I do," Brown said. "I think I have a good overall game. It is not my fault that I work hard and that is all that people see. I have a nice J, I have some other moves, I think I play defense pretty well. People think I am just a garbage man, but colleges don't recruit garbage men, you need other skills along with that."
Not to worry, very few people are looking at the Green Wave's leading scorer and rebounder as a "garbage man" anymore. Brown is piling up big numbers this season. His development may be the most noticeable reason for Tulane's marked improvement in 2001-2002.
In a pre-game speech earlier this season, Tulane head coach Shawn Finney said, "If you really want something, you need to go out and get it. It will not just come to you. You must fight for it."
Finney could have used the 6-8, 230-pound Brown as a prime example.
"The main reason that Brandon Brown is a better player is because he wanted to be," Finney said. "He put in the necessary time in the weight room, he worked on conditioning, and he worked on his game. He has learned little things about basketball, how to use a drop-step, how to play defense properly, when to take certain shots. Everything about his game has improved and that is mainly due to the fact that he made the decision to improve."
After averaging a very respectable 11.8 points and 6.6 rebounds per game last year, Brown leads Tulane in scoring with 16.0 points per game this season. He also paces the club with 7.3 rebounds per game. But that's not all. A native of nearby Houma, La., Brown is among the best in the nation in field-goal percentage. He has connected on 11 three-pointers, after having just one in his first two years combined. His 15 blocked shots are four more than his career total entering this season. Somehow, after playing 33.6 minutes per game last season, he has increased his minutes to 34.5 per game (second in Conference USA), despite a full complement of scholarships for Finney this year.
"We have not intended for Brandon to play more minutes this year," Finney explained. "It has just happened. He does so many things on the court, we need him out there."
"When I am in the game, I go on adrenaline, I don't even know how many minutes I'm playing," Brown said. "I never want to come out of the game."
How improved is Brown from his sophomore season? Memphis coach John Calipari saw his Tigers destroy the Green Wave last year in a pair of games, winning by an average margin of 24.5 points. Brown tallied 16 points and eight rebounds in both games. This year, Tulane, picked last in Conference USA's National Division, again lost both meetings with first-place Memphis. However, this year the average margin was seven points. Brown's numbers in the two games? Fifty-four points, on 22-of-31 shooting, and 17 rebounds. Keep in mind that Memphis features first team all-conference big man Kelly Wise, seven-foot Earl Barron and burly juco transfer Chris Massie in the paint.
"Brandon's probably hoping he could play the Memphis Tigers three more times this season because he has our number," said Calipari. "He is a relentless player in the post and a relentless rebounder. He has made tremendous strides from last year."
Brown nearly single-handedly led Tulane to its first road victory against an ACC foe. On Dec. 21 at Georgia Tech, he lifted the Wave on his shoulders, scoring 27 points on 10-of-12 shooting, including a perfect 3-for-3 from three-point range. He also matched his career-high with 14 rebounds as Tulane knocked off the Yellow Jackets, 79-69.
Brown's jump into the upper-echelon of players in Conference USA should not be as much of a surprise as it has been. After all, he made a similar transformation last season.
Late in the 2000-2001 season, Tulane's undersized inside force was lauded by SportsNetwork reporter Keith D'Oria. "The swift maturation process of Brown has been a huge lift for the Green Wave frontcourt. Brown works on the offensive glass like Jimi Hendrix used to play the guitar - fast and furious. He has a nose for rebounds and leaps like he just sat on a pile of hot coals."
That maturation refers to his tremendous improvement between his freshman and sophomore campaigns. The rookie sat out the first semester for the Green Wave, then coached by Perry Clark. He played a total of 66 minutes, scoring 17 points with 14 rebounds. In his one game this year against Georgia Tech, Brown surpassed the totals of his entire freshman season.
"He is our most improved player," Linton Johnson said. "He came in [as a freshman] a little chunky guy with no footwork, but he worked hard and got better each year. When he got here we thought he would be a put-back type guy, get rebounds and put them back, but he has grown to be a go-to guy."
As a sophomore, Brown was thrown into the fire by first-year coach Finney and his staff.
"We did not have a lot of options last year," Finney said. "We hoped Brandon would respond the way he did, but we had no idea if he would or not."
Brown was second in Conference USA in offensive rebounding last year, and ranked 23rd in scoring, 12th in overall rebounding and ninth in field-goal percentage.
While Brown was described as "fast and furious" a year ago, the key to his improvement may be just the opposite, according to Green Wave assistant Jeff Reynolds.
"Brandon has slowed down his game," Reynolds said. "He is playing more under control and taking his time, gathering himself before rushing his play. He has more patience with his offensive moves. He has learned as an offensive player to take what the defense gives him."
Part of the workhorse reputation of Brown last year came from his offensive rebounding, which accounted for the bulk of his scoring. This year, Brown has scored on offensive rebounds, he has scored on 15-foot jump shots, he has been fed the ball on the break for hoops and he has added the three-point shot to his game.
"I play hard in practice, work hard in the summer and work hard in the weight room," Brown said. "Working on my post-up game and my jumper has enabled me to create more opportunities for myself."
Fans of the blue-collar Brandon Brown do not have to despair. He still does the dirty work. Against South Florida, playing on a sprained knee, he notched a 23-point effort with eight rebounds. But the most impressive stat may have been the three offensive charges he drew. This year, Brown has stood his ground 18 times and been rewarded with charging calls against the opponents.
"It's the little things to help us get the ball," Brown said about taking charges. "I'm in the trenches battling. I would do anything for my team to get the ball. I will sacrifice my body for this team to get the ball back."
A top candidate for all-conference honors this year, Brown is a true example of the rewards of hard work and dedication. Recently he became the first Tulane player to receive NABC All-District First Team honors since 1996. However, despite the new-found recognition, he has avoided letting it go to his head.
"We always knew he had it in him," junior teammate Nick Sinville said. "We know that anytime we need a bucket, we can go to him on the inside and it is almost a guaranteed bucket. But B. Brown is always B. Brown. He is going to mess with you whether he is having a bad year or a good year. He is always going to have some fun with you."
"I am so much better [at video games] that the other guys just stopped playing." Brown laughed. "We don't even play video games anymore, because they don't want to play anymore. I am better than the other guys at every game we have."
So, is Brown happy to be trading his "blue-collar workhorse" reputation for a rep as one of the top players in Conference USA?
"I wanted to show people that I am more than just a dive-on-the-floor kind of guy," he said. "I can put the ball in hole, shoot the jump shot, shoot the three and do the little things. I wanted to show everyone that I have talent, I'm not just a blue-collar workhorse."