Friday, June 17, 2011
Posted: 11 a.m.
By Jabari Young
Howard Brown still remembers his junior season at Villanova as if it happened yesterday. It was a year filled with frustration, joyous moments and important life lessons that he still utilizes to this day.
Lets recap one moment.
It was Browns third season playing for the Wildcats, a team that was going through a rebuilding year after losing the likes of Tim Thomas, Jason Lawson, Alvin Williams and Kerry Kittles, who left in 1996. Then head coach, Steve Lappas, told Brown earlier in the season that he would be called on to not only start, but to become a leader of the team.
Even Brown was surprised. Here he was, a junior, who started only 12 games in his sophomore year while averaging 5.8 points, to being labeled a team leader. Brown was the player who would be called upon to step up when Lappas needed someone. He had no idea that he would be asked to take such a role. In fact, he didnt know if he would even play.
I actually had a talk the season before with Coach Lappas, who told me that I would have to work for my time in my junior year, the now 33-year-old Brown said.
But Lappas trusted him. And through Brown started a little rough, as his former teammate John Celestand recalls, he would come through when the Wildcats needed him most, like in the 1998 Big East Tournament.
The No. 7 Wildcats battled No. 10 Pittsburgh in a thrilling double-overtime game, and it was Brown that made sure triple overtime would not see the light of day. He nailed a three-pointer at the buzzer to give the Wildcats a 96-93 victory, advancing them to the second round.
That place exploded, Brown said of Madison Square Garden, the site of the game.
I see the picture every now and then, when I think about it, of just me smiling.My teammates were all around me. Some of the things that Coach Lap said about me in that locker room made me feel special.
It made me feel like, Yeah, this is what all your hard work is about. I felt like a really strong piece of that team.
Celestand saw firsthand the impact that season, and that game, had on Brown.
It was weird because he started playing so well and became the leader of the team, and I started to struggle and I was benched, Celestand remembered.
When Brown was struggling I told him to keep his head up and stick with it, and then when I was strugglinghe did the same thing for me. And we both helped each other.
It was that bond that helped the two assist the Wildcats to victory on that buzzer beater.
We kind of worked together on that last shot, said Celestand, who stole the ball from Pittsburghs Vonteego Cummings, allowing Brown to hit the game-winner.
It was a great shot, and I was happy for Howie because I knew how hard he had worked and how much he had went through that year emotionally.That shot was huge for him.
Asked to relate that moment to his life today, Brown, who was named the Wildcats MVP in 1998, answered, It was a whole lot that went into that year. Fighting through adversity and never giving up.
Thats me. Thats how I approach things. Remembering that experience right there gave me the courageto never give up. I dont care what the situation is.
Never giving up is what Brown is all about. He never gave up playing basketball, though he wasnt selected to play in the NBA. He still never gives up hope that the NBA is near. And most of all, he never gave up on, or forgot about, his hometown in Pottstown, Pa. where he will hold his 11th Annual Skoolz Classic Charity event this weekend. The event benefits his Live the Dream Foundation, an organization dedicated to helping provide mentoring and opportunity for youth to achieve.
Its this foundation that keeps Brown going nowadaysto give back and watch the youth have an opportunity to see their dreams and goals realized.
To be visionary, Brown said, you have to have a vision. Were making them take a look and think about what they want to do. Not just basketball, football or athletics, anything it is.
Once those dreams are brought to the forefront, Live the Dream Foundation helps partner those aspirations with real life experiences.
The path to creating this foundation actually hit Brown early on, at about age 16, he said.
It was at age 16 when the opportunity arose for Brown to visit Italy and learn a different style of basketball with his Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) youth basketball team. There was one problem, though: the trip was about 2,000.
We didnt have a few thousand dollars just sitting around ready to go, Brown recalled.
Brown spoke with his father and came up with a plan to ask for help. The same way Brown insists that youth apart of his Live the Dream Foundation ask for help realizing their dreams today, Brown had to do it then. His request for help was granted, as he raised the money and took the trip. He recalled what he learned about that experience, asking for help to realize his dream.
It taught me how to approach business people, approach people I didnt know about supporting me, said Brown. They did it. They helped me have that experience at a young age.
The help Brown received at age 16 is the help hes trying to give young people today.
That event summarizes what his foundation is all abouthelping kids live their dreams early. Giving them the know-how, the how-to, the tools needed to succeed in whatever it is they want to be or do. If kids want to enter the business world one day, the foundation will set up a outline to help connect him or her to the those in that realm in efforts to teach and show how to go about succeeding in that field.
That right there, Brown said, empowering people to go after what they want, and seek help to do it, it all comes back to that.
Remembering the childhood experience of traveling to Italy in an effort to learn more about the game of basketball, Brown is now returning the favor.
He will be sponsoring the Skoolz USA Select Team, which will be traveling to London. The team, filled with All-American high school players in the area, will represent the United States in international competition.
Brown chose Community College of Philadelphia Coach Robert Dondi DeShields to coach the team. The CCP coach referenced Browns desire to give back to the youth with nothing but praise.
I champion that mans cause, DeShields said. What Howard is doing is amazing. Just to uplift, empower, and enrich a community, and to now join hands with the city of Philadelphia, this thing is only going to get better.
DeShields has seen his fair share of youth come through CCP and not succeed because of a lack of help, which is why he feels so strong about Browns foundation.
Everybody is not going to make it to the NBA, DeShields said. But hey, we can get some good doctors and lawyers out of this, some good accountants.
Celestand, who will be making his second straight appearance at this weekends festivities, concurred.
When you come from a place like Pottstown, I dont think its a rich place, its not a poor place, its right in the middle . showing you can come back, start a foundation, get sponsorship from businesses, and put together an event, thats huge.
It isnt just the youth that his foundation is inspiring, either. Celestand said Browns foundation inspired him to start his own mentorship foundation in New Jersey where he resides.
I saw what Howard was doing and thought this would be good, Celestand said.
Brown still plays professional basketball overseas. Last season he played for the Spanish League team CB Lobe Huesca, appearing in 21 games and averaging 7.5 points per game. He said he feels good and doesnt know when hell stop playing, but he is preparing for another season abroad.
There was a time, though, when Browns name was at the top of the high school basketball, not overseas, but in this area.
Brown was the next big name to explode during that time in 1995. Then, all of a sudden a guy named Kobe Bryant came out of nowhere and took over the scene as Brown was preparing to head to Villanova.
Those were the days for Brown, a special time in his life.
I didnt really understand the magnitude of being Player of the Year in the state, Brown recalled. I really didnt look at it. But know that I look back, it was monumental to be considered one of those elite players.
Asked about those days where he would do battle with Bryant, Brown laughed. I always came out victorious, he said humorously. We played tournaments in Norristown. A bunch of times in the Sonny Hill League, and that was when he was coming up. He was nowhere near the player he is right now, but you can tell he was special.I would win a bunch of times, but one time he did come back. He ran the floor that time.
Yes, those were the days.
The soon to be 34-year old Brown (he turns 34 on July 21) described his journey so far as blessed. From being one of the areas hottest high school stars, to playing, and graduating (B.A. in Business Administration) from Villanova University, to playing professionally overseas, and now sharing his resources and experiences with youth.
It appears Brown is blessed. But he also could be labeled a blessing himself, too.
In a time where help seems hard to find, Howard Brown is living proof that help is still available.
E-mail Jabari Young at firstname.lastname@example.org