Fans in the Christmas spirit had nothing to do with the sea of green apparel that flooded Savannah State University’s Tiger Arena on Thursday night. Those clad in one of the University of Miami’s signature colors were present to support former Liberty County basketball standout Rion Brown as his Hurricanes took on SSU’s Tigers.
Brown, a 6-foot-6 senior guard for Miami, relished the opportunity to play in front of hometown fans, former coaches, teachers, teammates and family, including his father, former NBA player Tico Brown.
“For any coach, it’s always good to see your former players, and I’m no different,” Liberty County Panthers basketball head coach Willie Graham said. “To see Rion leading his team through what, for them, must be a down year so far was great. For me, it’s always rewarding to see one of mine succeeding not only on the court but in life, and Rion seems to have accomplished both.”
ACC power Miami has played Savannah State three times since 2003. Miami coach Jim Larranaga said that scheduling the game in Savannah was something the Hurricanes wanted to do for Brown since he has been so important to the program.
Larranaga helped turn around the program and was named the 2013 AP Coach of the Year. Miami won the ACC regular-season title and the tournament title. The ’Canes advanced to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament.
In his senior season, Brown is the go-to guy for Miami, averaging 13.3 points per game.
“I remember when I found out that we were going to be able to get this game a year ago. I called everyone and told them we were going to be playing in Savannah,” Brown said. “It’s been great being able to come home. A lot of people have wanted to see me play, and it’s hard to make the drive to Miami.”
Brown didn’t disappoint his fans. He hit his first three-point shot at the 7:37 mark as Liberty County fans waved signs and applauded. In the second half, Brown found an opening from the corner and later drove to the baseline and rocked the rim with a two-handed dunk. He also dunked a put-back off of a missed shot.
Brown’s 13 points fell just behind teammate Domonique Kirk’s 15 points. Brown also had five assists and two steals.
“Rion and Tennessee’s Jordan McRae grew up playing AAU with us. We have had some great talent over the years. I love being able to see these young men develop,” South Georgia Kings basketball team director Jesse Fleming said.
Brown went up against a former high-school foe, Jeremiah Hill, who was a standout for Richmond Hill and now plays for SSU. Hill had 14 points, including four 3-pointers.
“I was able to do what I wanted to do on the floor tonight. I didn’t want to press too much or do too much just because there were a lot of people there, Play within myself and the team concept. It’s still a team game,” Brown said.
Larranga said Brown has been a great leader for Miami — on and off the court — and an ambassador for the program.
“We need to develop a connection with each other. We need to share the ball better with each other. We need to play more consistent basketball. In the first half against Savannah State, we got the ball to different players, and you notice in the second half we had too many turnovers because we didn’t play enough team basketball,” Larranga said.
Miami, 6-5 overall and 0-1 in ACC play, is getting ready to go full-steam ahead into its ACC schedule.
“It was great to be able come home and play tonight,” Brown said, “and it definitely gives me confidence going in conference play.”