Brown More than Just a Dunker
Jan. 24, 2006
By Jon Terry, Bucknell Athletic Communications
The topic of a popular water-cooler debate among Bucknell basketball fans is the best dunk of junior forward Donald Brown's career. The leading contenders:
1. His left-handed follow jam off a missed shot against American at Sojka Pavilion during his freshman year.
Brown, a reserve forward and a vital piece of Bucknell's championship puzzle, has been dunking since the age of seven ... albeit with a Nerf ball and a small garbage can in his Long Island bedroom.
A native of Central Islip, N.Y., Brown participated in organized basketball for the first time as an 11-year-old, ditching the toy ball to compete in a local rec league, where he was one of the top players.
Self-described as "kind of short and pudgy" entering St. John the Baptist High School, Brown played on the freshman team as a ninth-grader before making the varsity as a sophomore. That's when he began to grow into his now-familiar tall, lean body, and his game began to take shape. He averaged 19 points, nine rebounds and four assists as a senior and was an All-Long Island selection.
From short and pudgy to tall and skinny, Brown's coaches and parents encouraged him to take a postgraduate year to solidify his status as a potential Division I recruit. He attended St. Thomas More Prep in Connecticut, where he maintained his usual good grades, worked hard in the weight room and helped lead the traditionally strong basketball team to a 24-6 record in 2002-03 by averaging 10 points and seven rebounds per game.
Many college suitors came calling, among them Boston University, Vermont and Rutgers, but his coach at St. Thomas More was persistent in steering Brown toward Bucknell, which was also seriously recruiting him.
That coach was Jere Quinn, whose son Matt was a junior at Bucknell at the time and would become a four-year letterman, and Quinn felt strongly that Bucknell would be a perfect fit for him both academically and on the basketball court.
"All coach talked about was Bucknell, Bucknell, Bucknell," recalls Brown. "I told him `hold on, let me see what some of these other schools have to offer.' But ultimately he was right, and I'm glad he was."
Brown arrived in Lewisburg in the fall of 2003 as a member of Bucknell's first scholarship class. He played in every game as a freshman, including eight starts, and averaged 6.7 points and 3.6 rebounds per game. In one memorable performance at Lehigh in only his second career Patriot League game, Brown set a school record by making all 10 field-goal attempts en route to a 22-point night.
Along with fellow freshmen Chris McNaughton, John Clark and Abe Badmus, Brown was a central figure in a youth movement that season, as coach Pat Flannery turned to the future after the Bison got off to a slow start.
"It was really exciting," says Brown of that changing of the guard. "You come in as a freshman and you don't really expect to play much, even though that's your goal. To see three freshmen starting and sometimes four freshmen on the floor at once, that was real encouraging for our future. Even though things looked bleak sometimes that year, we knew that if we kept working hard things could turn around quickly."
Brown has since settled into an important "sixth-man" role, where he is usually the first frontcourt player to come in off the bench. He is an excellent rebounder at both ends of the floor, a much-improved defender and his quickness and athleticism makes him a serious matchup problem for opponents at the power forward position.
Last season, Brown averaged about 15 minutes per game, and while his scoring average dropped a bit (to 3.4 ppg) as Kevin Bettencourt, Charles Lee and Chris McNaughton emerged as one of the league's premier scoring trios, he was a key cog, especially in the postseason when he played his best basketball. He scored six points against both Kansas and Wisconsin in the NCAA Tournament while shooting 60 percent from the field. His slashing layup midway through the second half against Wisconsin gave the Bison a one-point lead, before the Badgers squelched Bucknell's Sweet Sixteen dreams.
"Looking back, I think I did a good job stepping up in the postseason, because in my own opinion I fell off a bit in the middle of the year," says Brown, who was admittedly bothered by tendonitis in his knees last season. "I'm never satisfied as a player, but looking back at it now from a team standpoint it was a great year."
Just before the start of the postseason he received a pep talk from his father, Donald Sr., a periodic occurrence throughout his career.
"He always tells me to be aggressive, because if I'm not aggressive I'm just hurting the team," says the younger Brown, who remembers the days when his father coached him in the Long Island youth leagues, although he recalls that, "my dad only seemed to yell at me."
The latest father-son chat came before Bucknell's Patriot League opener at Navy. Brown then went out and scored a season-high 12 points and grabbed seven rebounds to lead the Bison to a 74-52 victory.
"He's always going to be my biggest critic, but I know that it's because he wants me to do well," says Brown of his father, who, like many Bison parents, is a regular at home and away games.
The 6'6" Brown has had a number of big games off the bench this season, helping Bucknell to a 10-3 start, its best in more than 20 years. He had eight big points in a road win at Niagara, seven points and 10 rebounds against Haverford and nine points and six boards in a win over Boston University at the Cable Car Classic, in addition to the strong showing at Navy.
"We are a lot more mature than last year," Brown says. "We are playing much better on the road, which is a sign of that maturity."
Off the floor Brown spends time with his Gateway roommates Rob Thomas, Holland Mack and Chris McNaughton, and his upstairs neighbors Kevin Bettencourt, Charles Lee, Andrew Morrison and Tarik Viaer-McClymont. Video games provide a popular stress relief, and the group watches lots of football and basketball together.
"It's funny because when we watch basketball now we all analyze the plays, we don't watch as fans anymore," Brown says. "Coach Flannery has it in our minds so much about backside action and play away from the ball, and we look for those things. A dunk doesn't mean anything to us anymore."
Brown is also a solid student, majoring in sociology. While he harbors hope to continue his basketball career after graduation, he is working hard toward a career either as a social worker or sports agent.
"There have been a lot of so-called `bad' kids that I've worked with in camps, and I've been able to talk with them and hang out with them," says Brown, who has worked at youth camps since high school. "I get a lot of pleasure out of maybe making a difference in a kid's life and the choices that he makes."
For now, Brown will focus his attention on helping the Bison through a grueling Patriot League schedule, toward the ultimate goal of repeating as conference champs and earning another NCAA Tournament berth.
And just for the record, in that "best dunk" debate, Brown himself votes for choice No. 1, the rebound jam against American in 2004.
"If I had to pick one, I would say that was the best," says Brown with his trademark wry grin. "I surprised myself on that one."
So ends one sports argument, unless of course Brown provides us with more choices in the next year and a half.