For Jamaal Brown, not only did he have to overcome these obstacles; he had to travel a long geographical way to do so.
The story of the 6-foot-7-inch, 235-pound starting center for the Cal State Fullerton men's basketball team began in Spartanburg, S. C. on Nov. 22, 1983.
As the son of a pastor, a young Brown not only developed his athletic skills, he also began cultivating the foundations of a religious influence that is still evident today.
"When I was younger, I had to go to church," Brown said. "As I got older, my dad would tell me that if I had the energy to party or go out on Saturday, I had to come to church Sunday. I still follow that today."
By the time Brown was in the eighth grade, he was already being asked to share his athletic talents with the world.
"I was asked by the football coach if I was going play football, but I wanted to play basketball," Brown said. "I knew then that I had to get my grades together."
At Spartanburg High School, Brown's athletic accomplishments accumulated.
He was awarded all-state honors in both basketball and track and field.
As a basketball standout, Brown totaled more than 1,000 points and helped the Vikings win their only state championship in the school's history.
However, it was track and field that Brown credits in helping develop a social network.
"Track was fun for me," Brown said. " I was able to hang out and meet many people."
As he prepared for college, Brown conceded that making something of himself was a huge motivation.
"I didn't want to be a statistic," Brown said. "Most of the guys that I grew up with at home are still there. I wanted to do something constructive. The death of my aunt in 2003 also motivated me to want do something with my life."
The next stop along Brown's journey would take him to Bowling Green and the campus of Western Kentucky, where in 2003 as a freshman, Brown helped the Hilltoppers compile a 24-9 record and a berth in the NCAA Tournament, something that Brown singles out as one of the best memories of his life.
"The NCAA Tournament experience is on a another level," Brown said. "Getting a police escort to the RCA dome and playing in front of 40,000 to 50,000 people was definitely one of the best experiences of my life."
Despite the nice Kentucky atmosphere and the proximity to his South Carolina home, Brown decided that he wanted a change.
So in 2003, he sent tapes to the CSUF basketball coaches and made the choice to transfer. Brown said that upon coming out to California, he discovered just how different things were compared to the South.
"I had to get used to the traffic and higher prices," Brown said. "There is also a lot more things to do here than in Kentucky, so I had to adjust."
After having to sit out the second half of his first season at CSUF due to transfer rules, Brown debuted for the Titans in December 2004 and in only his second game as a Titan, he scored 29 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in a victory over the University of Denver.
Brown went on to average 12.4 points and 7.6 rebounds a game for a Titan team that earned a National Invitation Tournament berth.
He recorded eight consecutive double-doubles, including in all three of the Titan postseason NIT games.
This season, despite nagging injuries to his back, feet, and nose, Brown has continued to cement his stature as one of the best players in the Big West conference, averaging 17 points and eight rebounds per game.
On Dec. 10, he scored a career-high 36 points in a narrow defeat to the University San Francisco.
Though the Titans have not experienced the same level of team success that last year's team did, Brown promises that the team is looking foward to the upcoming Big West Conference Tournament to show their mettle.
"I really don't care what people are saying about the team underachieving," Brown said. "Let people count us out. The tournament is what really counts and we're starting to get our minds right. Personally, I have four regular season games left here and I have to play all of them like it's my last."
Titans Head Coach Bob Burton said that Brown's mind has accentuated his physical talent, allowing him to become a premier player.
"Jamaal is one of the talented players in the league, a big man capable of playing on the perimeter and inside," Burton said. "Yet he is also one of the smartest kids I've ever coached. Once he makes his mind up, he can do anything. He is very responsible for the success we've had."
Brown, who describes his playing style similar to the inside-outside game of former NBA star Charles Barkley, said that he developed a cerebral approach from his dad.
"My dad played basketball and I learned a lot from him," Brown said. "I would also watch and follow older guys who knew how to play the game.
They taught me not only the fundamentals of the game, but that you can't always rely on athletic ability. You have to be ready to think."
A strong senior season has left the possibility open to Brown playing at the professional level, something that he knows will take a lot of work.
"I have to put forth a lot of effort," Brown said. "I love to play the game. Seven days a week, you'll find me playing. I'm always in the gym. If the NBA doesn't work out for me, then I'm looking forward to going overseas and playing internationally."
Burton also knows that it will take a lot of work for Brown to prepare himself for a professional career in basketball.
"He has the ability to do it," Burton said. "He is big, strong and smart.
He needs to continue to work and dedicate himself to get into physical shape."
Away from the basketball court, Brown enjoys playing Playstation and Chicago-style ballroom dancing.
His easy-going nature and Southern-style hospitality have made him well liked by his athletic peers.
"Jamaal is real a humorous and entertaining guy," said Titans baseball player Justin Turner.
Always thinking ahead, Brown has advice for the youth of tomorrow, who aim to follow in his successful footsteps.
"Get your grades right," Brown said. "When given an opportunity, you always have to make the most of it, because not everyone gets a chance to make it."
Brown says that coaching is also something that he sees in his future.
"I would love to get into coaching," said Brown, a communications major. "Guys who played usually make the best coaches. I want basketball to be a part of the rest of my life."
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