Long before starting an insurance company in Hinesville, Tico Brown lived another life as a scoring machine in the Continental Basketball Association.
"I like to tell people now that’s what kept me from getting a real job," said Brown, who played eight seasons in the league with the Anchorage Northern Kings, Detroit Spirits and Savannah Spirits from 1980 to ’88 and is the CBA’s career scoring leader with 8,538 points.
"It was a fun time."
Brown, 53, and his wife, Lisa, who helps run the family business, had a good time last Saturday when their son, Rion, rallied the University of Miami to a come-from-behind overtime victory against Virginia. With the Hurricanes trailing 55-50 with 30 seconds remaining in regulation, Brown, a 6-5, 188-pound freshman, scored his team’s final six points to force overtime.
First, he pulled up from about five feet beyond the three-point line and made a shot to cut the Canes’ deficit to two. Then, with 13 seconds left, Brown was fouled on a three-point attempt and made three free throws to tie the score at 56. His mother said she was "standing there shaking" and holding up the cross around her neck in the game’s most dramatic moments. Her husband? He said he was "calm and confident for it all because that’s what I expected."
"He did the same thing when he was in the 10th grade, so it was like déjà vu to me," Tico Brown said. "When he was little, we’d go out and clown around. That long three-pointer? That was a H-O-R-S-E shot for us. That’s the place I would stand and take a shot to beat him. So, I knew he was going to make it. The free throws; I had no doubts in my mind they were going in.
"Rion lives for those moments. He talks about them, dreams about them. Make it or miss it, he’s willing to live with the consequences. I played with a lot of guys that when it came down to the big shot, they didn’t want to get anywhere near it. Rion’s like me. He’s just got it naturally. I don’t know if I did anything to put it in him. But I used to tell him the thing that will separate you is your heart. You can’t teach kids that. They either have it or don’t."
Still in the hunt
The Hurricanes (14-9, 3-6 Atlantic Coast Conference) still have a pulse because of Brown. But their postseason hopes could fade fast if they are unable to end a 13-game ACC road losing streak Wednesday night at last-place Wake Forest (8-15, 1-7).
The Hurricanes, who still are trying to get sophomore center Reggie Johnson (stress reaction in right foot) back to full health, have never won at Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
"We know we really need this victory," said Rion Brown, who has averaged 6.7 points and 4.7 rebounds since Jan. 30, and his minutes have nearly doubled over his past three games.
"Wake Forest is on the bottom of the standings like us, and they want to get this victory just as bad as we do. But we have to have it. We have to play like a desperate team."
Brown, who picked UM over Alabama, Virginia and Georgia, was rated as the 15th-best shooting guard in the country by scout.com.
A member of the Worldwide Renegades in AAU action (the same program that produced UM teammate DeQuan Jones), Brown didn’t begin playing organized basketball until the seventh grade
"My older brother [Tico Brown II] played football at Old Dominion, and every chance I got, I wanted to play football, too," Brown said. "My dad used to take me to this park, we’d feed the ducks then go play hoops. Ten minutes later, I would be like, ‘Dad, let’s go play catch.’
"Finally, one day he told me that the only way he was going to let me keep playing football was if I gave basketball a real try."
Said the elder Tico Brown: "I knew he would fall in love with it."
Rion’s father, who also was 6-5 and 180 pounds during his playing days, said it didn’t take Rion long to then fall in love with the Hurricanes, too.
"Every time they came on, he wanted to watch them," Lisa Brown said. "He would watch Jack McClinton and tell his dad how much he liked his game. He told Jack that when he saw him last week."
UM coach Frank Haith said Brown can really help his team – especially with opponents focusing on Johnson and leading scorers Malcolm Grant and Durand Scott. Feb. 5 was the first time this season Haith drew up a late-game play specifically for someone other than his three leading scorers.
"I think Rion has a chance to be a special player," Haith said. "One of the things I love about Rion is he’s fearless. He’s got that style, that toughness about himself that he’s not afraid to make plays, and I like that about him."
Haith also likes Brown’s work ethic. After every practice, Brown said he won’t leave the gym until he makes an extra 100 jump shots. He said his goal is to make every shot he takes instinctual.
"When I made that three-pointer on Saturday, I didn’t even know where I was," Brown said. "It was like my body just took over and I made it."
Note: The Hurricanes went on to beat Wake Forest 74-73, earning their first win at Joel Coliseum and snapping the 13 game ACC road game losing streak on Wednesday night.
This story was printed with the permission of the Miami Herald.