Posted Jun 24, 2014 1:04 AM
One of Green Bay coach Brian Wardle's assistants leaned over to him during the Phoenix's game against Fairfield last December and told him that, with 10 minutes to play, center Alec Brown already had 34 points. Suffice it to say Wardle was taken aback.
"I was like, 'wow.' " Wardle said. "I had no idea he was racking up the points that quickly [Brown finished with 40]. It was a very quiet 40 when you were watching it live, because the points were spaced out. Guys that can play at the next level can make it look easy. That's what Alec can do."
Whether the 7-foot-1 Brown is chosen in the NBA Draft on Thursday night remains to be seen, but he has proven Wardle's theory about making a next-level skill look easy numerous times since his season and career ended last March with a loss to Belmont in the NIT. Brown has worked out for 11 NBA teams -- "I think I've been shooting it pretty well in those workouts," understated Brown -- and then there was the NBA Combine last month, during which, on the first day, he shot a combined 50 of 68 from the floor (.735), including 18 of 25 from 3 (.720) and 21 of 25 from 15 feet (.840).
Before the Combine, Brown sought out Wardle's advice. His coach had but five words: "Just do what you do."
Wardle laughed at the recollection of that simple piece of coaching.
"I think all guys who have that opportunity are excited," Wardle said. "But the biggest thing I wanted to convey to Alec was to stay within yourself. You were invited to the Combine for a reason. You have a special ability -- you're 7-1 and you can really shoot the basketball. So go show them what you do really, really well."
Shooting is something Brown's always done well, ever since the native Minnesotan -- he's from the same small town after which actress Winona Ryder, also born in Minnesota, is named -- decided in the third grade to bypass hockey for basketball.
"I tried hockey," Brown said. "I could skate a little bit, and it was fun. But it was too cold. My brother and dad played basketball. I'm pretty sure I made the right decision."
It took Brown a while to grow into his body. He sprouted from 6-foot-5 to 6-foot-10 after his sophomore season. Fortunately for him, he retained his ability to make midrange jumpers, and as he grew, so did he increase his range to well past the 3-point line.
"I was a late bloomer," Brown said. "I didn't start playing varsity until my junior year. But I'd play in camps against guys who are in the NBA now, and even though I didn't play my best, it was good enough to convince me that maybe I could do this some day."
Brown had the physical attributes. What he lacked in strength, he made up for with agility and length. At Green Bay, he was a starter from the beginning, and he improved every year. Last season, he was a first-team All-Horizon League player after leading the league in blocked shots and finishing in the top five in 3-point percentage. There aren't many players in college basketball that can do that.
Brown wound up with 309 career blocks, the school and league record (tied with Youngstown State's Damian Eargle), and he shot better than 42 percent from 3 his last two seasons. Another career highlight was his 15-point, 10-rebound, 10-block triple-double last November.
Brown has spent the spring working under the direction of Brandon Payne of Accelerate Basketball. His primary mission was to make the strength of his game even better.
"It hasn't been about adding anything," Brown said. "Most of my work has been improving my shooting. First, I had to adjust to the NBA 3-point line. Once I did that, I kept working. I've still worked on other skills and on getting stronger, but I've been getting a lot of shots up."
The hard work has been evident on Brown's NBA workout tour. Wardle's not surprised by that. He's seen Brown's work ethic, and the results, the last four years.
"I haven't seen too many guys that shot it as pure as Alec," Wardle said. "My theory about shooting is that there are volume shooters and pure shooters. Doug McDermott: Pure shooter. Alec Brown is a 7-1 pure shooter. If you give him two, or three, or four shots, he's going to make two or three or four. He doesn't need 10 shots to get going.
"Those kind of guys are few and far between — especially at 7 feet."
Chris Dortch is the editor of the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook.
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