Determined Brown the epitome of perseveranceBy Mark Soltau January 17, 2013, 7:42 pm
Andy Brown has always lived in the present. How else do you rebound from three ACL surgeries on the same knee and still become a starter for the Stanford basketball team?
Naturally, there are times he reflects on what could have been. The 6-foot-7, 215-pound Cardinal senior was a standout at basketball powerhouse Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, California, where he played in three state championship games, winning two. Then he injured his left knee halfway through his senior year.
“I would have been the only player in history to play in four state title games,” said Brown.
All-state as a junior, Brown was recruited heavily by Arizona, Michigan, San Diego, Stanford, and Utah. He was leaning toward Tucson until head coach Lute Olsen retired, then thought Stanford was the best fit. Little did Brown know how much he would be tested physically and mentally.
On his first day of practice with the Cardinal in 2009, he tore the same ACL again. Brown redshirted and worked diligently with the Stanford medical and training staff to rehabilitate the knee, then tore his ACL again just prior to the 2010–11 season. He redshirted again, and decided to give basketball one more shot.
“I definitely do wonder where I’d be at now,” said Brown. “It’s tough. This would be my last year. It’s pretty crazy.”
Instead, he’s a senior with another year of eligibility remaining. He has already completed a degree in communication and is working on his master’s, which he hopes to finish next winter after the basketball season.
Prior to the first ACL tear, Brown had never been seriously injured.
“I broke my thumb freshman year going into high school and sat out two weeks,” he said. “Had a couple sprained ankles. This is the only legitimate injury I’ve ever had. Too bad it cost me three years of playing basketball.”
Brown’s high school coach, Gary McKnight, said he was destined for stardom in college.
“He’s gotta go down as one of my all-time great kids,” said McKnight, who has guided Mater Dei to 21 CIF crowns during his 31 years as head coach. “He had a real heart. Not only was he an outstanding player, hit clutch shots, and was the All-American kid, but the way he treated people and how he did things. He would sincerely come in every day and say, ‘How you feeling today, coach?’ And he meant it. You don’t see that in kids very often today.”
McKnight will never forget Brown’s performance in the state title game against Archbishop Mitty of San Jose in 2008. He scored 13 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter to lift the Monarchs to victory.
“He was the type of guy that if the game was close, he was going to take the 3 and knock it down,” McKnight said. “He’s a glue guy. He’s a guy that just makes your team better.”
After the two knee injuries at Stanford, Brown was just hoping to see the court again. His balance and shot changed, and he couldn’t help but wonder if his knee would hold up. He played in nine games last year, and averaged one point and one rebound per game.
Although the numbers aren’t impressive, just getting back on the floor was a huge accomplishment.
“I was with him when he tore his ACL for the third time,” said junior guard Aaron Bright, a co-captain. “Obviously, he was just devastated. He never changed. He’s always been hanging out with the guys, always has a smile on his face. And that’s tough. I don’t know if I could have done it three times and still wanted to play basketball.”
Brown credits his parents, Steve and Laurie, for his determination and perseverance. His father played football at Arizona State, and his mother was a three-time All-American in volleyball at Cal-State Fullerton.
“They’ve always been tough on me in everything,” Brown said. “Academics and athletics. Just trying to make me the best person I could be. I thank them for that because it’s definitely helped me on and off the court.”
Brown continued to improve in the off-season and regained some of his balance and shooting touch. He wasn’t sure what to expect this season, but has played his way into the starting lineup at small forward, averaging seven points and three rebounds heading into Saturday afternoon’s home game against Cal.
“Honestly, at the beginning of the year, my confidence wasn’t too high at all,” Brown said. “I’m still kind of getting used to playing basketball again. I was making a lot of mistakes, trying to do too much.”
The turning point came after a pre-season scrimmage against St. Mary’s.
“The next day in practice, it just clicked for me,” he said. “Ever since then, everything felt like it did in high school. I’m just happy it finally happened because my confidence was down a lot. I knew how good I was, but that was three years ago. My body felt way different.”
Brown might be a step slower, but he has good anticipation, court awareness, and is usually in the right place. He ranks second on the team in steals and fourth in assists.
“I give a lot of credit to my coaches,” said Brown. “I kind of feel like I have an old man’s game now, where I’m not the fastest guy in the world and I can’t jump the highest, but I can see plays happening before they do.”
Johnny Dawkins, Stanford’s Anne and Tony Joseph Director of Men’s Basketball, and McKnight agree, that Brown has a high basketball I.Q. Admittedly, he acquired some of his court savvy watching from the bench when he was hurt. McKnight thinks he’s a natural to coach after college.
“I took him to Hawaii with me last summer and he helped me coach some of my younger teams,” McKnight said. “He just did a great job. Every summer, Andy sits down with my team and talks to them about what to expect and how to prepare yourself. He lets them know: Don’t cheat yourself.”
Brown’s advice is paying off. Mater Dei was 18-0 starting out the week.
Bright said Brown’s comeback has inspired the team.
“He’s worked his ass off to get where he’s at and he deserves it,” said Bright. “When he contributes, not just through his actions, but what he says on the court, he really gets our attention because we all know what he’s been through and we all have the utmost respect for him.”
Not that Brown is immune to teasing.
“He’s really high maintenance and knows everybody,” Bright laughed. “There’s not a girl on this campus that doesn’t know Andy Brown. I don’t get it.”
Added McKnight, “He’s a people person. Just a very classy kid. He’s a delight to be around.”
The funny thing is that basketball wasn’t even his favorite sport growing up. Brown loved baseball and could throw a ball 80 miles per hour when he was 13. He quit in eighth grade because the pace was too slow, but misses the game.
“Every once in a while, I got to throw the baseball around with Drew Shiller (former Stanford guard and current radio analyst),” he said. “Even after he graduated, we’d probably go to the field twice a week.”
Now, Brown is trying to get comfortable in his starting role and help the struggling Cardinal overcome a rough start. He scored a career-high 17 points earlier in the season against Seattle, and matched that total at USC on January 3.
“I think the biggest thing is all I knew was how I had played when I was 18,” said Brown. “I was trying to compare myself to that the whole time, and when I’m not doing those things I could do before, it was frustrating.
“My shot is still not anywhere near where I was in high school—I think I shot 58 percent my senior year from 3—but it’s definitely improving. It feels good when I let go of the ball. If I keep playing hard, I think everything is going to be fine.”