College basketball fans and media sat up and took notice a few weeks ago when Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski offered a scholarship to Las Vegas point guard Troy Brown, Jr.. Why? Was it because Duke has already been deeply involved in recruiting a point guard for the 2016 class, where the position is definitely a priority? Was it because the kid is 6'6" tall, and would be (with the exception of do-it-all Grant Hill) the tallest to play point guard under Coach K? Was it because Coach K offered Brown after meeting him just once on campus?
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No, it's because Troy Brown, Jr., at the time of the offer, had not yet turned fifteen years old, and had not yet begun his sophomore year in high school.
In interviewing Troy and his father at length this week, it was very obvious right away that Brown, Class of 2017, is an extraordinary young man from a terrific family. He was born and raised in Las Vegas, where he attends Centennial High School and runs with the UnderArmour-sponsored Las Vegas Prospects AAU team. He comes from an athletic family, as one of his older sisters, Jada, plays basketball at Kansas (his other sister attends UNLV) and both his parents played varsity sports at Texas A&I (now Texas A&M); his dad played basketball and his mom volleyball. Mr. Brown is a Supervising Probation Officer with the Clark County Probation Department - a department he's worked in for thirty years. Troy's mom is in Child Development and Protective Services, and has been with the county for 29 years. The couple has been married for 27 years. If that's not a solid, stable family, I don't know what is.
Troy, Jr. picked up basketball very early. According to his father, he was just a natural, dunking on mini-hoops and taking flying leaps to the plastic baskets beginning at age two.
As his son grew up, he made sure Troy, Jr. was a well-rounded athlete, and the young fella excelled at soccer, football, and track. One reason why Troy Sr. suggested he play these other sports was to develop his agility and the ability to move his feet quickly and nimbly.
Despite his skill in soccer in particular, young Troy always gravitated back towards basketball, and has worked hard at it without needing to be pushed by his parents. Though Troy credits his father for teaching him the game, if anyone pushed him, it was his sister Jada - at least until Troy got big enough and good enough to take her to the hoop, which happened at age 11 or 12.
Troy played his early ball at YMCA and other similar leagues, and played with the Las Vegas Rebels youth team. Then, approximately two years ago, he got connected with the Las Vegas Prospects and Coach Anthony Brown, playing 15U. Both Troy Browns remain happy with Coach Anthony Brown and the program. But they are no less happy at Centennial High with Coach Todd Allen.
The Brown's priorities are clearly in order, and their reflections on Troy's coaches speak to that. Says Troy Brown, Sr., "Coach Allen is a good man, and he sets a good example for the young people. To him, winning isn't the most important thing. Education and raising young men right is the most important thing. I don't believe in jumping around between teams. The idea is to work through adversity and learn to overcome obstacles."
Coach Brown and his staff set the same type of example: "With Coach Brown and the Prospects, they have five coaches with Masters degrees. They're educators, teachers, good men who are very good examples. It's good for your son, when he's on a road trip, to look over and see his coach writing a paper to get his PhD. It's the character development and becoming a good citizen - those are the things that parents should be doing and should be focused on. Sports only goes so far. Education lasts a lifetime. The scary thing is seeing parents banking on their kids, because we know very few end up making it in a big way."
With the respect that his father obviously has for education and educators, it should come as no surprise that Troy, Jr. is an excellent student. He stated that were he to get any "C's" he would not be permitted to play basketball. C's are not an issue. Troy boasts a 3.9 GPA, with his favorite classes being AP English and Honors Chemistry.
Troy really started to come to the attention of top college programs about a year ago, when he played in an UnderArmour Top 40 camp, along with Chase Jeter and Ray Smith (a very fine player himself, committed to Arizona). At that camp, the UNLV coaching staff saw Troy play and offered him a scholarship that week. After that, many other coaches started paying much closer attention, as did the media, and he was off and running.
This past summer was a busy one for Troy. He attended the LeBron James Skills Academy, the Steph Curry Select Camp, the Nike Elite 100, Chris Paul's camp, and the Las Vegas Fab 48 tournament. In most of these he played in the 15U division, but he did get to play up into the 17U division in some of the showcase games, in particular at the Fab 48.
Playing against older, more mature players did not intimidate Troy.
"It's just basketball. They're more mature, but at the end of the day it's about who can get the job done. It's good to learn from them, and to see what they've done and how they carry themselves. It showed me that I have a long ways to go. . . But I did hold my own on the court. I was able to play my game, and do it at a high level."
Getting the kind of attention he garnered from his outstanding play might have swelled the heads of other young players. But not Brown. "Yes, I got a lot of attention, and there's a lot going on. But playing up just motivated me to work harder and play better. The attention is nice, but my family keeps me on track and keeps me humble."
Young players with a game like Troy's are unusual indeed. He is 6'6" and 190 pounds, and his doctor said he thinks he may have another inch in him. Troy describes himself as a point guard, "but with my height and ability to move around the court, I can play multiple positions. I can play the 1, 2, or 3, and defensively I can guard anyone one through four. I think I'm very versatile, and am happy to do whatever the coach needs." While some coaches have suggested he may be more of a 2-guard, Troy says that "because of my basketball IQ and my ability to dominate smaller guys, and my ability to get teammates involved, I consider myself a One. . . But I also have a versatile game. I like to get in there and rebound so I can then push it up the court and cause mismatches. I can cause mismatches at both ends with my height and my skill set." With his old-school style, he has been compared to tall point guards like Penny Hardaway and even Magic Johnson, which of course Troy takes as a huge compliment. "It's a big compliment to me, for anyone to say that I play like the greats."
While Troy's length is an obvious advantage in many respects, he is still athletic for his position and handles the ball well, and has very good court vision. But he's only a rising sophomore, and acknowledges that he has many areas upon which to improve. "I need to work on my overall strength, work on my left hand, and my jumpshot. In particular, my three-point shooting." Defensively, he'll be focusing on improving his reaction time, and playing against smaller guards.
The Duke offer came as a surprise to Troy. He was at Duke on an unofficial visit in August with his coach after completing the Chris Paul camp. He did the usual, toured the campus, saw Krzyzewskiville, saw the facilities, walked around with some of the assistants, hearing about the school, the culture, and what it's like to be a Duke basketball player. He didn't get to hang out with any of the current players, because none of them were on campus. They were about to leave, but were told that Coach K wanted to see them. Troy and Coach K talked for about an hour and a half in the office, after which the offer was made.
"I was very surprised. He watched me play at the LeBron camp. Me and DeAndre (Ayton, the #1 player in the 2017 class, a big guy out of San Diego) were on the same team and we played well. Coach K was applauding my game on the sidelines with Coach Capel. That was the first time I had seen them watching me play. But they later told me that actually they had seen me other times when I had played well too."
Another reason Brown was surprised by the offer was because he is so young. "I appreciate it and I'm grateful that he offered me, with me being so young. Most colleges won't offer a player this young. It really motivates me to keep working hard."
The staff hasn't been pressing him hard since the offer was made. In fact, the person who is in Troy's ear the most about coming to Duke is, not surprisingly, Chase Jeter. The two have been friends since they were about seven years old, not only playing ball on the Las Vegas Rebels, but sleeping over at each other's houses and other childhood bonding experiences. Their ballplaying days together date back to 3rd Grade Nationals in Orlando, at age 7.
Troy describes Chase as "like a big brother to me," and Troy's dad describes them as "best friends." So while Jeter talks to Brown a lot about Duke, it's not actually in any kind of aggressive way. "He'd want me to go there, but he'd also support me wherever I decide is best for me."
Troy has already bagged a number of other offers besides Duke's. Hometown UNLV was the first to offer, but UCLA, Arizona, Arizona State, and USC have also gotten in early. Undoubtedly, many more will follow. Troy is nowhere close to making any kind of decision, but says that it's possible he could commit somewhere by his junior year.
There's no doubt that the young man is a terrific basketball talent. But what impresses the most is the type of quality young man he is. His parents clearly have their heads on straight and understand what's important in raising a child the right way. Said Troy Brown, Sr., "With the position he's in already, I've taught him that with that position come responsibilities. I teach him to give back to other kids, attend other little kids' games and practice, look out for them, and give something back. And on the court, play the game the right way. Don't worry about your stats. The only thing you can control is how hard you play. The flow of the game may dictate your numbers. But you can have a great effort every night, and that's what you should concentrate on."
Mr. Brown has been intent on teaching life lessons to his son, not just basketball lessons. He frequently had Troy play up into higher age groups and divisions, because he didn't want him dominating kids his own age, and didn't want him garnering too much attention too early. When he and Chase Jeter played in those 3rd Grade Nationals together, they got destroyed. (the star guard of the winning team was Derryck Thornton) But that was okay. It taught young Troy what he needed to improve upon, and how hard he was going to have to work if he wanted to get serious about basketball.
Troy Brown, Sr. seems to have a very wise perspective on the recruiting and college selection processes to come. "Being good in 9th or 10th grade isn't as important as 11th or 12th grade. I think about development, as that will determine where he has the opportunity to go to school. So we try to stay in the moment. There are so many great institutions out there. And so much can change. For now, we're just focused on the next workout."
But Mr. Brown left no doubt that he and his son are impressed by what Duke has to offer, describing it as "an incredible institution." Not only are they ecstatic for Chase Jeter, but "for any kid who has the opportunity to go to Duke. You think about education. Mike Krzyzewski is one of the most respected of all coaches at any level. Troy goes on an unofficial visit and you see him standing next to Mike Krzyzewski, well who wouldn't be excited about that? You can't go wrong going to Duke."
And while he's young, and it's early, it sounds like Duke can't go wrong with Troy Brown, Jr. either.