By Joseph Santoliquito
PHILADELHIA, PA (CBS) — Before anyone dribbled a ball or began forming layup lines, Aaron Brown was sweating. And not the dotted forehead perspiration variety.
No, his intensity was so great, the former Penn Wood High star would narrow his eyes like someone stole something from him and was coated in a drenching sweat before games. It wasn’t a good idea to get in his way then.
It’s an even greater risk now that Brown has blossomed into a 6-foot-5, 220-pound wrecking machine who looks more like an NFL tight end than a college basketball junior guard.
St. Joe’s has something to look forward to this season. That’s the return of one of the more gifted high school basketball players in Southeastern Pennsylvania. What’s more, the Hawks are getting someone about to explode.
It’s been two years since Brown played. After receiving a bad knock at West Virginia, Brown opted to come home and transferred to St. Joe’s. It’s a win-win for Brown and Phil Martelli’s Hawks, who open their season Friday night at the Hagan Arena at 7 p.m. against Fairleigh Dickinson.
St. Joe’s is getting a valuable asset that’s going make them a formidable team this season. Brown is getting the chance to play, which is all he’s wanted after watching the last two years—one at West Virginia and sitting out the transfer year last season at St. Joe’s.
It’s been a long, arduous journey for Brown. But he’s home again—and happy.
Anyone who knows Brown is fully aware he’s the last player who you would ever question his determination and commitment. Yet that’s what happened at West Virginia.
In the Mountaineers’ blue-and-white game last year, Brown’s team was up by 20 points. In the waning seconds, a teammate had a breakaway dunk with Brown trailing. What’s confusing is Brown was yanked and accused of not hustling. He never played again for Bob Huggins’ Mountaineers.
Brown received an unfair tag.
“That’s exactly what happened, I got pulled and chewed out from there and that was it, I never played again,” Brown said. “One of the finer points of my game is how hard I compete. That hurt for someone to say that about me. I always play with an edge and I don’t forget things. I’m not clueless to what went down. I still have a burn in my belly over that. I always had that.
“My development, it happened. I was getting better at West Virginia. I put muscle on and got faster and stronger. I’m here at St. Joe’s and happy. I love Coach Phil and this team. I’m wearing No. 2 again and everyone who sees me will get a 100-percent effort from me, like they always have. I think I learned not to take the little things for granted. I love playing basketball. It’s been a huge part of my life. I’m able to do that again at St. Joe’s and believe me, they’re going to get the best of me. Once you’re in a position where you have something taken away from you, and there’s nothing you can do about it, it hurts.”
There were many nights Brown would go back to his dorm room and question himself. The thoughts would rumble through his head as to what he was doing wrong, what could he do to get out of Huggins’ doghouse.
Sometimes, Brown would leave his car at the arena and walk across campus to clear his head.
“I’ve never sat, it’s never happened to me before and it was so new that I went to Coach Huggins’ office numerous times and he would tell me to just keep playing hard and compete at practice,” Brown said. “So that’s what I would do. I would keep competing at practice and kept playing hard. [Assistant] coach Erik Martin was in my corner and he always told me, ‘AB, I know what you can do and just keep playing hard. Do it for yourself.’”
Brown said the decision to come to St. Joe’s involved being home and being involved in a trusting program.
“I knew Coach Phil and the great situation here,” Brown said. “I can’t wait to get on the court. I have a lot of burnt up fire in me. I’m 22 and ready to play. I’ve had two years taken away from me and I plan on making up for that playing two years here.”
Martelli couldn’t be more pleased than to land Brown. He went after Brown hard when he was a senior at Penn Wood and is well aware of his ability. In the short time Brown has been with the Hawks, he’s surfaced as one of the more vocal leaders on the team. Watching the Hawks practice you notice Brown calling out switches, making his presence known.
“Anytime you get a Philadelphia kid is good,” Martelli said. “We tried hard the first time, and he had bigger eyes, to be honest with you, and made a decision that I think now that falls in Aaron’s niche. This is a smaller school. Aaron is with family here. He has family surrounding him. The transfer sit out is very daunting and you’re talking about someone who is a star and is 22 years old. He’s played basketball every day since he’s been eight.”
Martelli said he was very impressed by how selfless Brown was last year when the Hawks won the Atlantic 10 championship. There he was rolling around with his teammates celebrating. Brown sat, but he helped the Hawks win the A-10 in subtle ways by talking up teammates and practicing hard every day. To Martelli, it spoke volumes about who Aaron Brown is.
“We’re young, so I expect Aaron to take all of that vent-up energy and apply it positively,” Martelli said. “He can get in his own way, because he wants to do too much. But my thing with him is this is a pie, and you can have as much as is good for you. I’m not going to put a ceiling on it, but you have to know what’s good for you. I’m looking for a player and a teammate and someone experienced. Aaron is all of those things. Aaron is going to have to be another voice. But in terms of a basketball player, I have one thing in my mind after people see us play, they walk away saying about Aaron Brown, ‘That guy is a player.’”
That seems a matter of time. Beginning Friday night.
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