Former Liberty County High School basketball players Rion Brown, Jordan McRae and Lamar Richardson dropped by the Shuman Center on Thursday evening and spoke to a group of young basketball players. The trio touched on the importance of working hard and maintaining good grades in order to play at the college level.
Brown and McRae will enter their senior years at the University of Miami and the University of Tennessee, respectively. Richardson played two years at East Georgia College before he was recruited to North Georgia College and State University, where he started as a junior. He will enter his senior season at NGCSU.
The children learned about the college athletes’ experiences as recruits, playing for Amateur Athletic Union travel teams and making decisions about the sport.
Brown and McRae said they started playing basketball in seventh grade and didn’t have a clue about the game or what it took to make a college team. They agreed that playing for the South Georgia Kings and other AAU teams placed them on the scouting radar.
“You aren’t going to get Coach K from Duke University to come down here to little ol’ Hinesville,” McRae said. “It’s AAU that gets you out there … playing at different tournaments … traveling all over the place — that’s where they see you, and then they’ll start coming into town to see you.”
McRae and Brown said it’s important to decide at a young age whether playing college ball is worth the time and effort required.
“And if you want to do this, you have to decide to do this at a young age,” McRae said. “You can’t wait until you are 16 or 17 because there are kids out there working every day, getting bigger, better, stronger … and if you decide to do this, you aren’t going to have time for all the X-Box, Madden and games and stuff. If you have talent, the only thing that will set you apart from the rest is how hard you work.”
Richardson said he didn’t start playing basketball until his junior year of high school at an age that left him ineligible for AAU teams. While that hindered him a bit, he wanted the kids to know there still were opportunities to take advantage of.
“I had to start at a junior college and now I’m at a Division II school. My route was little different than these two,” he said, pointing to Brown and McRae. “But at the end of the day, I still had to work hard to get where I am at.”
“I went the junior-college route and got drafted in the 23rd pick of the NBA,” South Georgia Kings basketball coach Tico Brown said. “So just because you go the junior-college route doesn’t mean you can’t make it. A lot of the NBA players out there went the junior-college route.”
Tico Brown, who is Rion Brown’s father, organized Thursday’s meet-and-greet at the Shuman Center to make sure future players understand the importance of education, hard work and, to some degree, the sacrifices it takes to pursue a college degree and basketball career.
Tico Brown began his college career in 1975 at Emmanuel College in Franklin Springs before playing for the Georgia Institute of Technology from 1976-79, averaging 16 points per game over three seasons.
He was selected by the Utah Jazz in the second round — 23rd pick overall — of the 1979 NBA draft and spent 10 seasons in the Continental Basketball Association, earning two championship titles. He retired in 1988 as the league’s all-time leading scorer (8,538 points) and was voted to the All-Time CBA Team. He also played overseas in Switzerland, Venezuela and Belgium.
Rion Brown said folks like his dad and other AAU coaches taught him the fundamentals, but the desire to play and the work ethic must come from within.
“All the coaches stuck with me, and I was in the gym every day and I got a lot better,” he said. “I really had to work at it and it got me to where I am today. I can stand here and say it is not easy, but it is definitely possible. No matter who you are, you have a chance.”
McRae agreed. “What set us apart was we worked hard. We had our coaches, but we worked hard outside of that. We would come to the gym when it opened at 1 p.m. and our parents would pick us up when it closed at 10 p.m.,” he said.
Richardson said that once he realized basketball would allow him to get an education and carve out a career path, he worked feverishly to get better. Getting a late start didn’t stop him from setting a school record for most points in a career. He also earned All-Conference recognition from the Georgia College Athletic Association his sophomore year at East Georgia College. As a freshman, he led the team in scoring and ended the season third in the conference’s category.
At NGCSU, Richardson got an honorable mention for the 2012-13 Georgia Basketball Coaches Association NCAA Division II All-State Team. He finished third on the Saints team in scoring with 13.5 points per outing in 25 games played.
“Those times when you are feeling lazy and don’t feel like doing much, those are the times you really need to go practice the most because that is often the time when you gain the most from a practice or workout,” he said. “... While you are sleeping, you can bet that there is someone up and bouncing a basketball around to get better at their game.”
Tico Brown said hard work means studying and doing well in the classroom, too.
“When they were going through their recruiting process, the main question they were asked is, ‘Can you make it in the classroom?’” he said. “... You have to work hard at basketball, but you have to work just as hard in that classroom. They were just good basketball players until they got those grades and those test scores. Then, all of a sudden, they were college prospects.”
Last year was a standout season for McRae, who was named the Volunteers’ MVP. He increased his scoring from 8.6 points per game as a sophomore to a team-best 15.7 last season and also was named to the All-SEC first-team.
Brown helped lead the Miami Hurricanes to an ACC title and scored 21 points against Illinois to tie for fourth-best outing by a ’Cane in an NCAA tournament game.
Brown, McRae and Richardson all want to pursue NBA careers.