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Conference phenom Brandon Brown leads UMW basketball

UMW News Bureau

Brandon BrownEditor's note: Brandon Brown was selected as the Frontier Conference Player of the Year.

As the University of Montana Western men’s basketball team seeks to head for the Frontier Conference championship game and the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) national tournament for the second year in a row, a humble but determined leader is forging the way.

Junior guard Brandon Brown has emerged into the Frontier Conference as something of a phenomenon, and while he would rather focus on his team’s success, the accomplishments of the 5’10” guard cannot be ignored.

An explosive player on both ends of the court, Brown has garnered much attention in his two years for the Montana Western Bulldogs. Last year, his first year playing for the Bulldogs, Brown helped lead Montana Western to the Frontier Conference championship and the NAIA tournament in Kansas City, Mo.

Playing off the bench in 2009, Brown averaged 10.23 points per game (PPG). He dished out an average of 2.34 assists per game, which was the team high and good for 38th in total assists (123) for the NAIA Division 1. He also ranked 36th in total steals for Division 1 with 56.

In March 2010, the Bulldogs narrowly lost the conference championship to Westminster College in Salt Lake City, Utah. They went on to advance to the second round in the national tournament in Kansas City before losing 78-81 against Southern Nazarene University. Although a championship eluded Brown and the Bulldogs, the successful 2009-2010 season set the tone for this season.

“Last season was exhilarating,” Brown says. “For me to get on a team that had five seniors and be a part of that, on a team that wasn’t expected to do that well, was incredible. That’s something everybody wants to do — go to the national tournament.”

After graduating five seniors from last season’s team the Bulldogs were not expected to compete at the same level as last year. Those predictions also turned out to be false; the Bulldogs currently boast a 22-8 record for the season and are once again in contention for the Frontier Conference championship. With a decisive win against the University of Great Falls on Wednesday, March 2, the Bulldogs now advance to the semifinals to face Montana State University-Northern in Havre, Mont. on Saturday, March 5 at 7 p.m.

As he has done all season, Brandon Brown is leading the Bulldog charge.

Brown tops the Frontier Conference in scoring with 19.828 PPG. He is ranked sixth for total scoring in the NAIA Division 1 with 575 season points, shooting 52 percent from the field (29th in Division 1). An unselfish player, Brown ranks 13th in Division 1 in total assists with 145. He is 47th in total steals for Division 1 with 50. His 2010 season also includes two double-doubles.

A Tacoma, Wash. native, Brown has played basketball for as long as he can remember. It was at Wilson High School where his passion for the game became concrete.

“I think it was my junior year when I realized this is something that I really want to do, to put all my time and effort into,” Brown remembers.

Brown enrolled at Highline Junior College in Des Moines, Wash. in 2007. Two years later his friend, former Highline teammate and current teammate on the Bulldogs, Cody Thueringer, contacted Brown.

Brown recalls, “Cody said, ‘We need a point guard. Do you know what you’re doing yet?’”

Brown apparently did know what he was doing; he visited the Dillon, Mont. campus in 2009 and wasted no time impressing head coach Steve Keller.

“I watched him play for 15 minutes and I knew I wanted him,” Keller says of his first encounter with Brown.

While Brown has undeniable natural ability, Keller says it is his hard work that makes him the stellar player he is.

“His work ethic is second to none,” Keller adds. “He’s very athletic, very smart, he has goals and he works hard to achieve them.”

Soon after his visit Brown decided to attend Montana Western. He describes the transition from urban Washington to rural Montana as drastic, but he also says it was an exciting new beginning.

“It was such a drastic change that I didn’t have an option except to be open to the whole thing and take it as an opportunity,” he says. “The community support has been great, though.”

brandon brown dunkingNow a junior at Montana Western, Brown is balancing the demands of a student athlete and the pressure and hype of being considered by many to be the best player in the conference. A Dean’s List student, Brown is pursuing a business administration degree in the hopes of breaking into the marketing world. All this work takes a cool head, discipline, determination and hard work. Coach Keller says Brown has these qualities in spades.

“He’s your all-American kid,” Keller boasts of his star player. “He’s an academic all-conference student athlete. He’s humble, a team player, and very coachable. He’s got respect for everything and everybody. He probably doesn’t want me to say this, but he’s the guy you want your daughter to date. You will not find a better kid.”

Brown’s off-season training is often as busy, if not more so, than it is during the season. He spends his summers training back home in Tacoma. He typically heads to the gym four days per week for morning drills, pick-up games, and eventually more drills. Brown says it is in the off season that he challenges himself to grow physically and mentally as a player. Come game time, he says consistency is key.

This season has certainly shown he can be depended upon for consistency. As likely to pull up for a quick three-pointer as he is to split the lane for a dunk on post players nearly a foot taller than him, or more often than not dish the ball to a teammate for an assist, Brown is extremely hard to defend. He is also a tenacious defender capable of both steals and blocks.

Though biased, coach Keller is convinced Brown is the best in the Frontier Conference.

“I really believe he could start for the Grizzlies or the Bobcats,” Keller says. “I tell him, ‘You’re too good to be here,’ but he says he loves it here. We are just so fortunate to have him here. He’s a true leader and that rubs off on other players.”

This season the Bulldog squad have proved they can play as a cohesive team, displaying chemistry, patience and drive. They have been nearly undefeated at home, posting a blistering 14-1 record for games played on their court.

“Everybody truly wants to win,” Brown says of his teammates. “I feel like we’ve been able to fight through some of the tough games we’ve had this year because we all want to win so bad. Nobody is content with just being OK.”

When asked what inspires his personal excellence on the court, Brown has a simple answer. “

I’m just a competitor,” he explains. “Basketball is another opportunity for me to get on the floor and win. It’s internal drive. I want to be the best, honestly. It’s a lot of work you have to put in, but hopefully one day it will pay off.”

While he has longterm goals of graduating and eventually playing basketball professionally overseas, Brown says he is wholly focused on the conference championship and getting back to Kansas City. When baited to talk about being a team and conference leader, Brandon Brown does not buy into the hype.

“It’s a good feeling to be respected as one of the better players in the conference,” he explains. “Unfortunately, we’re not the best team in the conference so my priority is making our team the best. Selfishness can be destructive to a team. It’s about winning before personal gratification. That’s something my dad instilled in me. I try not to let it cloud my head. I realize what I’m doing in the league, but I want people to know I wouldn’t be able to be doing what I’m doing without the team. My teammates are as big a part of my success as I am.”

And as far as a philosophy going into the homestretch of the season?

“Take it one game at a time,” Brown immediately replies. “Execute and be on point at every opportunity. Play every game like it might be your last.”

Editor's note: The Bulldogs lost to MSU-Northern 60-72. The Bulldogs will find out on Wednesday if they are invited to the national NAIA tournament.

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