Type John Brown’s name into an Internet search and prepare to be dazzled.
There are no-look alley-oops and dunks off inbounds passes. He’s set up shop in SportsCenter’s list of highlights, and gone viral seven or eight times.
But those Youtube replays and being “that guy” mean only so much to Brown.
The 6-foot-8 forward and former star at Arlington Country Day is on a mission to bring something to High Point that has never been done before — a berth in the NCAA tournament for the school located not far from Greensboro, N.C.
The Panthers (16-13) won their first outright Big South Conference title last weekend and the automatic berth to the National Invitation Tournament that accompanies it. No disrespect to the NIT, but that’s not what Brown, who was named the conference player of the year on Monday, and the Panthers want.
He’s bigger than that. So big that High Point coach Scott Cherry calls Brown “a once-in-a-lifetime talent at this level” and a potential factor at the next level.
He wants to be the player leading High Point to its first NCAA berth. The Panthers will face either Liberty or Winthrop on Friday in the conference quarterfinals. The semifinals and final follow on Saturday and Sunday.
“It’s very exciting,” said Brown, who is averaging 19.6 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. “Guys are very excited to know they have done something great for this school and for themselves. If not [the NCAA tournament] this year, then some time in my career. We’re a program on the rise.”
How has Brown, 22, helped lead a program not known for basketball and brought it national recognition in just two seasons at the school? Sure, the alley-oops and no-look dunks and being a regular on SportsCenter certainly help, but Brown says it’s something else that drives High Point.
“Hard work and keeping the faith,” he said.
That work ethic and belief have kept him going for years.
When Brown learned at the end of his senior year at ACD that his grades were going to prevent him from graduating and going to college in 2010, he shrugged it off and put all his effort into schoolwork. Brown graduated in 2011 from prep school Oldsmar Christian in Pinellas County. When he got to High Point in 2011 weighing 165 pounds, Brown hit the weight room. That’s where Brown spent a good portion of his redshirt season with the Panthers, getting stronger. He’s now close to 210 pounds.
But why High Point, a school whose most notable basketball alum is Tubby Smith? And why basketball? That was the farthest thing from Brown’s mind when he first got involved in sports in high school. He played quarterback on the football team at First Coast as a freshman and sophomore, although Brown uses the word “play” loosely.
“I’d get in when we were winning by 40,” he said.
Brown grew 3 inches between his sophomore and beginning of his junior year (from 6 foot 3 to 6-6) and then transferred to Jackson. That’s where Brown’s path shifted.
Then-Tigers coach Creswell Foy noticed Brown in the gym and suggested that he give basketball a try. He played one season at Jackson and then transferred to Arlington Country Day.
In between seasons, Brown was playing at a tournament in Clearwater. He happened to be at the same event competing against future High Point player Travis Elliott and caught the attention of the Panthers staff who were there.
“[Former High Point assistant] Mike Balado, he’s the one that saw him and came to me and said, we’re a small school, we can do this and do that, really watch over him,” said ACD coach Rex Morgan. “They really liked him. Then Balado goes to FIU and now he’s at Louisville. Assistants are going to move, but High Point worked and worked and worked [to get him].”
Academics tripped Brown up from graduating from ACD. He said the NCAA wouldn’t accept his credits from the school, so he spent the 2010-11 school year at Oldsmar Christian, focusing on nothing but schoolwork. When his grades came up, bigger schools came calling. But Brown wanted no part of the schools who backed off when he had academic issues, and signed with High Point.
“I always respected John that he made a commitment and honored it,” Morgan said.
Brown was an instant fit at High Point.
He averaged 16.4 ppg and 6.1 rpg as a redshirt freshman in 2012-13. He was the Big South Freshman of the Year, despite breaking his foot at the end of the season. Brown said that positives were nice, but he wanted to improve. So he went looking for what he could improve on.
“I’d go on the Internet and I read people saying I can’t pass,” Brown said. “So I worked on getting better at passing. That definitely fueled me.”
Brown’s totals increased across the board. He went from 0.7 assists per game last year to 2 assists this season. His blocks per game increased (1.2 to 1.7). Brown’s scoring and rebounding went up.
“A guy I played with at North Carolina, George Lynch, John reminds me a lot of him,” Cherry said. “He played every single play like it was his last one. John just has this will to just outwork people. ... It is very difficult to guard him.”
Justin Barney: (904) 359-4248