Cal freshman Jaylen Brown breaks the mold of a five-star, NBA-bound talent; he's as much student as he is athlete

Cal freshman forward Jaylen Brown is a chess master, a voracious reader, a newly-minted Spanish speaker, Bill Walton's favorite, a student of basketball and of anthropology, a daring intellectual and, oh yeah, an NBA Lottery pick.

It’s almost 11 p.m. on Nov. 23, 2015. Cal has just finished demolishing Sam Houston State, 89-63. Haas Pavilion is empty, save for a few ink-stained wretches and custodians.

Pac-12 Freshman of the Year-to-be Jaylen Brown has put in a quality 28 minutes of work on the court: 6-of-10 shooting, 6-of-8 from the free throw line, 11 rebounds, 18 points, 4 assists to one turnover, and two steals.

But he won’t leave Haas Pavilion. Not until he's put in the time.

"It takes 10,000 hours to be an expert at something," he says in the early season. "If it takes 20,000 hours to be great, I'm gonna put in 30,000."

It's August 22, 2015. The place? Illawara, Australia. Brown and the Bears just finished their last game on a 10-day trip to Australia. Brown fouled out. Cal lost. It was the only defeat on the trip. It stung. Brown had taken over the game late, with mid-court swipes and jams, thunderous dunks and aggressive, physical play. He was hot, in more ways than one. The gym was sweltering, and he was mad. He'd let his team down when they needed him the most. Then, Cal's Director of Strategic Communications, Wes Mallette, went up to him, to ask him if he'd do a live on-camera interview for the Illawarra Hawks, the host team.

He swallowed whatever bile he had, climbed into the rafters to the broadcast position, and spoke calmly, thoughtfully, even eloquently, about the game, and about his and the team's future. He knew what he had to do, and he did it. No questions asked.

“These guys are pros, grown men,” Brown said. “It was great for us getting this experience. We didn’t come here to win games by 20 or 30 points. We came here to be tested.”

It’s December 1. Almost 10 p.m. Garbage bags flutter and gulp down the night’s refuse. Brown swallows some of his own. It was an all-too-close win over Seattle that night, 66-52. Brown went 3-of-13, with 11 points, seven rebounds, four fouls, no assists, two turnovers, and one steal.

No one is shagging for him. Jaylen Brown is putting up jumpers from everywhere inside the three-point arc. With every miss, he goes chasing. He doesn’t have a ball rack. He doesn’t have a team manager or a coach with him. There are just two Haas personnel gabbing on the sidelines, oblivious to what’s going on over their shoulders.

Brown is in the process of writing what will be a 23-page final paper for a graduate level course. He makes no excuses. He’ll be up even later hammering away at the keyboard.

This game was part of a stretch where Brown would go five games with at least four fouls, and two turnovers. During those six games, he had just one assist.

So, here he is. By himself. Putting in the hours.

"There's not many people who out-work him," says Brown's high school coach, Doug Lipscomb. "That's the top and the bottom line ... It's so rewarding that he's not trying to get to the first party, and be the last to leave the party. That's the way I look at it."

"Jaylen Brown is the first one there every day, and the last one to leave," says Brown's biggest fan (literally and figuratively) -- UCLA great and Pac-12 color commentator Bill Walton. "That sense of work ethic -- everybody works hard. Everybody who's any good, you have to assume that everybody [works hard], but it's the intelligent work, it's the inquisitive mind, it's seeking out Isiah Thomas, seeking out Shareef Abdur-Rahim, seeking out professors. The fact that he has immersed himself in the world of chess, which is the ultimate strategic analysis of forward thinking and gambling and gambling with a fallback position."

In the world of basketball, Brown is figuratively playing chess, while everyone else is playing checkers.

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"He's exactly the kind of young person that we want at Berkeley. He's a perfect Berkeley fit." -- Derek Van Rheenen

A chess whiz who still challenges assistant coaches, staffers, and the denizens of a local Bohemian café to matches, and the captain of his middle school chess team, Brown also was a member of Habitat for Humanity, at Wheeler High School in Marietta, Ga. He helped raise money by setting up a recycling program at his high school ( "It’s not as big in Georgia as it is in California – recycling, different bins to put them in, and things like that – and we used that money to help the school," he says). He was a member of Men and Women of Distinction, as well, while at Wheeler.

“It’s a club for girls and guys who represent Wheeler High School in the best way we could, we did things like run car washes and start fundraisers to raise money for the community, et cetera," he says. "We did things to put ourselves in place to be successful young men and women.”

He's a vegetarian, except when the team is on the road. He meditates, studies philosophy, believes in gun control and is a voracious reader. He prefers to eat alone at a campus cafe mostly frequented by graduate students and professors. When he's seen with teammate Ivan Rabb on campus, he's more comfortable holding the camera for eager students to get a photo with the 6-foot-11 forward, than be the subject of those photos, himself.

To read his twitter feed is to see quotes from Ghandi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He's a walking, talking inspirational-quote-of-the-day calendar.

“Jaylen is very thoughtful and reflective, in terms of what is the narrative of this gifted athlete, in a high profile sport, coming to a Division I school, arguably for basketball," says Derek Van Rheenen, director of Cal's Athletic Study Center, and the professor of that graduate-level course: Theoretical Foundations to the Cultural Studies of Sport in Education. One of Van Rheenen's assistants, who works with the football team, audited the class. You may know him: Tarik Glenn.

The narrative surrounding Brown -- a young, athletically talented black man, coming from the deep South, goes out to the West Coast to play college basketball for a year, and then go pro -- is a damaging one, and one that Brown took the initiative to understand and deconstruct, anthropologically and sociologically. That's why he sought out the course, the same one that required a 20-page synthesis paper as a final assignment -- the assignment for which he wrote 23 pages.

"Somehow, just the very nature of his ability presumes, stereotypically, that he wouldn't be intellectually gifted, that he doesn't have every bit as much academic and intellectual potential as he does athletic, that he wouldn't, himself, want to glean everything possible from a Berkeley education -- athletic, academic and cultural," Van Rheenen says. "What's wonderful about this young man is that he is being, in just living his life, he is deconstructing some of the stereotypes that some people have about what a Division I basketball player really values, because he values far more than just what happens on the court."

Brown's mother calls him The Old Man. He walks slowly, moves slowly and talks slowly, but it’s because he thinks about everything, and that tends to slow down the processor.

"He's a young man that takes it in," says Van Rheenen. "He's a very good listener. He's a good anthropologist in training. He sits back and he observes. He participates, but he observes, as well. He's cautious and careful, in terms of being sensitive -- culturally sensitive -- to others. He wants to learn things that he's not familiar with, and I think he's intentionally exposing himself at Berkeley to learn things that are unfamiliar and are strange to him, in an open way, in a very open and mindful way. I think, from my years and years of being a faculty member and directing the Athletic Study Center, he's exactly the kind of young person that we want at Berkeley. He's a perfect Berkeley fit."

Walton says that he's never met a 19-year old who is "so emotionally and intellectually mature."

"Jaylen Brown, when he got here, he didn't grow up with the Hispanic culture nearby," says Walton. "Today, five months after he got here, he's fluent in Spanish. He's taking Spanish courses, and I've heard him speak. I've thrown a few phrases out there. I'm from San Diego, so me hablo español muy malo. When I said that to him, bam, he just jumped right in."

Spanish isn't the only language barrier Brown's broken down; he's also found out a way to have a coherent conversation with Bill Walton, which, let's be honest, is almost as impressive as being named first-team All-Pac-12 and the conference's Freshman of the Year. 

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"It doesn't matter what it is, because he's willing to talk, willing to listen. He's not a guy who, everything about him is just basketball. There's more to him than that." -- Cuonzo Martin

It's 6 a.m. on a fall morning, in 2011 in Marietta, Ga. A 6-foot-6 shadow blocks the door to the Wheeler High School gymnasium. It's then-Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin there to scout Chuck Mitchell. There's no air conditioning. The lights are half-on, half-off. The varsity team roster hasn't even been posted yet. 

"Jaylen," Lipscomb tells Martin, "is the next kid up."

Brown visited the Volunteers twice in the summer, and that's when he and Martin started to bond. 

"He has the chance to have a very successful career in basketball, but he's also a guy you can talk to outside of basketball," Martin says. "It doesn't matter what it is, because he's willing to talk, willing to listen. He's not a guy who, everything about him is just basketball. There's more to him than that."

"He was competitive," Lipscomb told BearTerritory. "He wanted to get better. He has a drive, and most kids who are going to be professionals have that drive."

Lipscomb had known Brown since he was in the seventh or eighth grade, he remembers.

"He's his own individual," says Lipscomb. "Shareef Abdur-Rahim, he was very intellectual, as well, went to Cal. Kind of similar, in the way that they don't have to be boisterous. They're quiet people."

Quiet is an understatement for Brown.

Since he's been at Cal, he has granted not a single one-on-one interview. His family will not grant interviews. He doles out morsels of what lies beneath, but they're only tantalizing crumbs.

Before the season, he told an anecdote wherein he and his brother Quenton had to write an essay for their grandmother, Diane Varnado, before she would get them an Xbox 360 video game console.

"She made us tell her why we wanted it and what would be the benefit and we came up with some lame excuse like hand-eye coordination," he recalled.

He's given a glimpse into why he chose Berkeley, and how important education is for him and his family, including his mother, Mechalle, who has a Master's.

“It’s my identity. My family has a strong background of education," he said before the team's trip to Australia this summer. "My uncles, aunties, have PhD’s, et cetera, so my upbringing made it important to us – they made it known that it was important for us to get our education, and how important education is and how important knowledge is. I take that very seriously, and that’s basically who I am. I feel like, just asserting myself on that side of my life, I’ll go farther than just basketball.”

"His family has had a major impact," says Lipscomb. "They deserve all the credit. They structured him the correct way. He's well-grounded. He's never disrespectful. What else can you ask for?"

Brown is also guarded. There is a carefully constructed wall around Brown, one that's opened up only briefly, and infrequently.

But these are only glimpses. 'Carefully constructed' is perhaps the perfect label for Brown. Nearly every sentence he speaks in public is thoughtful, and thoroughly considered, measured to give just enough tantalizing morsels of the man inside, but with an aphorism here, a disarming quip there -- a flavorful dash of authenticity that only hints at the complexity beneath.

He's given his teammates more than just glimpses, during Cal's Real Talk sessions.

"He's always speaking, in every setting," Martin says. "Sometimes, you don't see a lot of certain guys, because they don't reveal a lot to the public."

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"There are a lot of people around Jaylen who want him to be successful, in a holistic way. Everybody's interested in supporting and investing in him, for life, and all that that entails." -- Derek Van Rheenen

"I love the guy," Walton says. "He epitomizes what it means to chase your dream, and build your life, and for him to come from Atlanta, all the way to San Francisco, to make that leap of faith, to see in Cuonzo Martin, to see in the University of California, Berkeley, in the conference itself and Larry Scott, to see what we have going out here, it's a huge risk and a huge gamble for him. He could have gone anywhere in the country. Anywhere. He comes out here. There's been other great players, but to see a young man at 19 to have his level of intellect, the level of poise, and perspective, and relativity, and to already understand the importance of a curious mind, willing to take a chance, willing to explore, willing to experiment ... I'm super lucky in that I live in the world of start-ups. I love the start-up world, and that's what athletes are. You start with nothing, and they've got to make it happen every day."

During the home stretch of his recruitment, he was all but silent, save for in-person interviews. His unofficial visit out to Berkeley, he says, wasn't a secret, but he managed to get in and out of the Bay Area without a whisper, until days later. He speaks with the media only as part of a group or tandem of players. As much as he's opened up, at times, particularly before the Pac-12 Tournament, there is still a wall he's erected around himself. It's a wall those around him are almost afraid to pierce. It's one of the main reasons he's such a fascinating subject.

"I wouldn't say they keep to themselves," Lipscomb says of Brown and his family. "Some things they think that are private should be private. Everybody doesn't have to give you the synopsis of their whole life and what they're going to do tomorrow. I respect them fully for that. I love his family They're very good people. They're very trustworthy and honest people."

What impelled him to join groups like Habitat for Humanity and Men and Women of Distinction?

“I’m not sure," he says. "My mom always encouraged me to join a lot of extracurricular activities, keep me occupied, so maybe my mother’s the reason I was into a lot of that stuff, and a lot of that cultural capital I got from Wheeler High School, I give credit to my mother, because that’s where credit is due.”

His mother and his family were one of the main reasons he kept quiet while the fervor around him mounted, headed into the home recruiting stretch.

“It was a very important process for me, so I just wanted to acknowledge my family’s privacy, and my privacy, keeping it between us, and not really sharing with the media what I was thinking," he says of his recruitment. "I just wanted to confer with my mom and myself and my family, before I conferred with anybody else, because I really didn’t know where I wanted to go. There was nothing behind it. They were looking for a story -- where I wanted to go, or where I was going to go – that wasn’t there, because I never said anything, or never meant to say anything, that led them on to believe I was going somewhere else. People made stories of their own, and it took on a life of its own.”

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"What he's already learned at Berkeley will be very helpful for him in his navigation of his athletic career, beyond college, and I firmly believe that both of them were and are genuinely interested in the educational experience that Berkeley has to offer." -- Derek Van Rheenen

When Brown ultimately made his decision to commit to Cal, there were a lot of questions surrounding the involvement of Abdur-Rahim. On that topic, Brown is more than willing to set the record straight.

“He went to my high school, so he comes back," Brown says. "He comes back to the games, talks to a lot of the younger guys coming up. Some of the things he experienced at a high level, some things he did to make it out, decisions he was faced with, just trying to prep us for life, basically. He was a mentor to all the kids coming up in the program. He’s got a lot of younger brothers and sisters that are still there, or just graduated, so he comes around, checks on them and checks on the program.”

Abdur-Rahim's little brother is Brown's best friend, but Brown never talked to Abdur-Rahim once about Cal. In fact, until his senior year, he didn't even know that Abdur-Rahim was a Golden Bear.

"I hadn’t talked to him until my senior year or junior year," Brown says. "He just showed up and talked to the kids, in general. That was about it."

Since Brown's been at Berkeley, though, the relationship has blossomed.

"I text him every now and then, and he checks up on me," Brown says. "He never really talks about basketball. Just asks how I’m doing mentally, emotionally, how’s school, et cetera. Those are the types of conversations I really admire and I like to have, because everything that goes on outside of basketball helps with basketball, as well.”

Like Abdur-Rahim, Brown has got plenty going on off the court, as well.

"Both of these young men were very thoughtful about the decisions of where they wanted to go to school," says Van Rheenen. "They were quite conscious of that decision, and I think, made the decision based on more than basketball. I think that they truly wanted to get the most out of an education that they could, even if that meant, as is the case with Shareef, that it would come in the formal sense of education, later, after he had a very successful NBA career. I'd like to believe that, what he learned, even in that first year, actually helped him, in his own navigation of the NBA, in the same sense that I hope Jaylen, whenever he decides he will go and play at the next level, that what he's already learned at Berkeley will be very helpful for him in his navigation of his athletic career, beyond college, and I firmly believe that both of them were and are genuinely interested in the educational experience that Berkeley has to offer."

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"It was a pretty intense class, with a 20-page final, that ended up being 23 or 24 pages. Very intense class -- Theoretical Studies. I really learned a lot in that class. The stuff I learned in that class, I'll probably take with me for the rest of my life ... The information that was in the requirements for the class, I thought, 'This is the kind of information I'm trying to get a hold of.'" -- Jaylen Brown

During Summer Bridge, Brown took a course in the School of Education -- one of the undergraduate classes that the graduate school offers -- and loved it. He was so interested that, in July, he went to Van Rheenen, who taught a once-a-week, three-hour graduate seminar of 10-20 students about the role of sport in education, meeting Mondays at 9 a.m.

"Since they don't have an education major, I thought I'd just start off with a graduate level education course," says Brown. 

He thought he'd "start out" with a course being taken by students going for their Master's.

Grad courses are tough to get into for any undergraduate student at Cal, much less a freshman. Brown was told 'no' five times by Van Rheenen.

"I told him, 'No, it's not going to happen,'" Van Rheenen says. "I teach an undergraduate course, too, and I said it's too bad that I'm not teaching one of my undergraduate courses, because I'd love to have you in that class. I had seen him in Summer Bridge. I didn't teach him, but I had seen him, and I had also talked to him in the recruiting process. I already knew that this young man had a lot to offer, and seemed really genuine about his education, and taking every opportunity that he had. It wasn't like he was a stranger to me. I had seen how he had really liked the Education course he had taken during Summer Bridge. I told him I'd taken undergrads in the graduate course, but I'd never taken a freshman before. I said, 'It's not really appropriate for you.'"

Brown talked to other professors, and other graduate students. He came back to Van Rheenen and said, "They said it's really important that I take your class."

Van Rheenen was flattered, but the answer was still no.

"He just kept hounding me, and said, 'I don't understand this. What I was told, when I wanted to come to Berkeley, was that I could make the most out of this education, and this is what I want to do, so why can't I do it?'" Van Rheenen recalls. "It was a good question."

At that point, Van Rheenen -- who had had juniors and seniors, but never a freshman -- said that the class would be overwhelming. It would be too hard. He countered: "I'll do all the work. I guarantee, I'll do all the work."

If Van Rheenen felt that Brown wasn't holding up his end, Brown said, "Tell me, and I'll step it up."

Brown was more than motivated. Van Rheenen said if Brown got approval from physics professor, faculty athletic representative and Dean of the Letters and Science -- Bob Jacobsen -- he'd be in.

"I thought, 'It's over. He's not going to go and hunt down this faculty member, who is a professor of physics,'" Van Rheenen confesses. He underestimated Brown. A week later, Brown came back. "Done," he said. "I got the approval."

He was there the first day of class.

How did he do?

"Let us just say that he did as well as every other student, and every other student did very well," Van Rheenen says.

The final grade in that class came down to a paper -- that 23-page paper he wrote during the middle of the season.

"He'd never written a paper like that before," Van Rheenen says. "It was a synthesis of the course, through his own narrative. He wrote another paper in the class, which was a normal, shorter paper for an undergraduate -- a six-to-eight page paper -- which required a thesis and supporting it with course reading. This is a personal narrative that draws on all of the social theory and some very complex cultural discussions that we had. He did a great job."

The class isn't just for athletes; far from it. Yes, there are former athletes -- Hameed Suleiman, a former Cal track athlete -- is in the class, but there are also non-athletes, like a young man Patrick Johnston, finishing up his PhD, who just so happens to be African-American, but not an athlete at all.

"He brings a very different perspective -- 'So, you think that just because I'm an African-American male on this campus, I'm playing a sport?' No," Van Rheenen says. "There are multiple perspectives in the room -- male, female, good athletes, not athletes at all."

Brown would belong at Cal whether or not he played basketball. That's not something easily said about many -- or even most -- Division I athletes. It's something that was said about Abdur-Rahim, who came back to Cal to finish his degree in 2012, and is getting his MBA from USC, after a 12-year career in the NBA.

"They're similar, but they're very different, as well," Lipscomb says of Brown and Abdur-Rahim. "They're their own people, and they don't have to be told what to do, to get motivated."

The similarities between Abdur-Rahim and Brown aren't lost on Van Rheenen, a former Cal and Major League Soccer player.

Abdur-Rahim is younger than Van Rheenen, and took a class, as a freshman, that Van Rheenen taught as a graduate student, with Tony Smith, a former Cal football player and then Superintendent of Oakland Schools, and now the Education Czar of Illinois. The course was the pilot course of a class Van Rheenen still teaches for undergrads -- Education 75AC. 

"I've often compared Jaylen to Shareef," Van Rheenen says. "They're very similar. Shareef was very mature, very mature as a freshman. He was very thoughtful as a freshman. He struggled mightily to decide whether he was going to go to the NBA after his freshman year. The story about Shareef, he had obviously a great career -- short-lived, at Berkeley, but a great career in the NBA -- he came back and finished his degree through our degree completion program. He knocked away at that for several years, always with the intention that he was going to get his degree from Berkeley. I believe that is exactly what is going to happen with Jaylen, whether he leaves this year, whether he stays another year. In my mind, I'm not worried, because I believe Jaylen will finish his degree at Berkeley."

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"He loves the game, and he loves to study former players, and the way they played the game. He knows how to play the game, himself. He knows what he has to do to help the team be successful." -- Doug Lipscomb, Wheeler High School

Brown has had some foul trouble en route to being a first-team All-Pac-12 forward. In 22 of his 31 games, he's had at least three personal fouls. He's fouled out four times.

"It's just growing as a player," he says. "College basketball's an adjustment. It's different from high school, of course. I've had to adapt. When you start getting tired of getting offensive fouls and charges, it wakes you up: Maybe I should stop and shoot a floater, or something."

With the Pac-12's emphasis on the hand check, and freedom of movement, it's hard for Brown, at 6-foot-7, 225 pounds, to play nice. He's a bruising tight end, not a waif of a guard. He's a throwback, and it shows by the players he models himself after.

"I watch a lot of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird," Brown says. "I really like Larry's game. A lot of players I try to mimic -- Isiah Thomas, Scottie Pippen -- a lot of players that I watch and kind of take from -- Dominique Wilkins -- those are just some of the few that come off the top. Those are the players I grew up admiring, and still, to this day, watch film of."

There's that wall again. See it? It's hard to notice if you're not looking, but it's there. Walton says that Brown -- through family connections -- reached out to Detroit Pistons great Isiah Thomas, but even when he mentions the former Bad Boy in conversation, he doesn't let that slip. Tantilizing morsels, but no main course.

Wilkins last played in the NBA in 1999, Jordan 2003 (after retiring after the 1998 season), Pippen in 2008, Thomas 1994 and Bird 1992. Johnson last plead in 1996 -- before Brown was even born (Oct. 24, 1996) and has been known more in Brown's lifetime as a businessman than a point guard. 

"You can get anything on YouTube," Brown says.

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"He loves the game, and he loves to study former players, and the way they played the game," Lipscomb says. "He knows how to play the game, himself. He knows what he has to do to help the team be successful."

Brown admits he would have been more at home in an era dominated by the likes of Thomas and Bird and Jordan, of brash, physical, almost bullying play that dared you to have the audacity to flop or accept a ticky-tack foul. Sometimes, Brown says, he wishes he could go back and play in that era.

"The physicality of the game, it's a lot less physical than it was back in the '80s and '90s, which makes you admire players who played and were successful back then, because people were allowed to put their hands on you," Brown says. "Now, you can't touch a defender with your hands. You've got to use your footwork, use your defensive skill set, and it makes it much harder for a defensive player, and much easier for an offensive player. It makes you wonder how Michael Jordan would have played in this era -- How good would he really be? I love that era. I do."

Brown has learned -- he's completely changed parts of his game over the course of the season -- to adapt to the way the college game is called. But he's still physical. He's still a force.

It's an attitude over which Walton gushes.

"To see this 19-year old guy have it come together and, the way he's learned to attack, in a very short period of time, put that in the perspective of a business," Walton says. "These guys who start companies -- the Bay Area, California, the whole Conference of Champions -- that's what we're about: Starting up, having the dream, make your dream your job, make your job your life. It changes every single day, and that's the great thing about basketball, and the fact that Cuonzo has been the stable block to keep it all together, to provide the structure, and the culture and the foundation, to insist on the sacrifice and discipline."

Brown grins when reflecting on the first time he met the Biggest Deadhead in the World.

"When he introduced himself, he said, 'My name is Bill Walton,' like I didn't know who he was," Brown says. "I thought that was neat. I smiled."

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“I think the thing that hasn’t changed about him is his level of humility. I think he’s done a great job, and obviously, you have to give his mom a lot of credit for how she raised him and put him in position to be successful." -- Cuonzo Martin

It's no surprise that Walton and Brown are simpatico. They both march to their own beat. Walton's sounds more like a Jerry Garcia guitar riff. Brown's is notably quieter. He sits and listens, more than he talks.

"He can be vocal, and he can pay attention to what you're telling him, and just do what you ask him to do," Lipscomb says. "There's not going to be a whole lot of conversation with him, about, 'Why do I need to do A? Why do I need to do B?'"

Before tipoff every time Walton is in town to call a Cal game, the two chat. Even growing up in Georgia, Brown knew of the great Bruins teams of decades past, and Walton. He rattles off the names: Reggie Miller, Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook, Jrue Holiday, Jordan Farmar and Kareem Abdul-Jabar.

"Every time I talk to Bill, it's a tremendous experience," Brown says, without a hint of irony. "We just talk about life. It can be anywhere from what did we eat, to why we chose to wear the things that we chose to wear. The conversation is endless with Bill Walton. Great person to talk to. A friend, a mentor of mind, and I love to see him before a game."

And, yes, he mentions the Grateful Dead. Brown, though, has yet to listen to the band.

"He gives me a lot of advice before games," Brown says, saying nothing of Walton's music recommendations. "A lot of it, I just keep between me and him, but he gives me a lot of advice. I consider him a mentor. He's a commentator, and he does his job, but before the game, when I talk to him, he always gives me a motivational speech to prepare me for the game, and I treasure it."

On the air, Walton calls Brown the best player in the league. He hasn't said anything like that to Brown.

"I've never heard that come out of his mouth," Brown says with a hint of edge. He's not the best. Not yet.

“I think the thing that hasn’t changed about him is his level of humility," says Martin. "I think he’s done a great job, and obviously, you have to give his mom a lot of credit for how she raised him and put him in position to be successful. I think that part is great.”

"What drives him," Lipscomb says, "is to be the best that he can be, but at the same time, also to show people that he's not selfish, because I see him being the player that doesn't mind making the extra pass. I saw him the other night make a bounce pass to one of his teammates on a drive, where the kid had no problem in catching a long bounce pass, a perfect pass. It shows unselfishness -- I'm going to make my extra effort to get this pass to my teammate."

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"He is, to me, an excellent Berkeley fit. He's everything that we value at Berkeley, and is the exact type of young person we want to come here, because they are such sponges for gaining and learning everything they can, and they also bring to the campus a tremendous perspective that makes this place what it is." -- Derek Van Rheenen

There are 3.8 seconds left until halftime. It's Senior Night, and Cal is on a 16-4 run at the end of the first half against USC. Brown takes the in-bound pass and sprints the length of the floor, going up for a lay-in and landing right in front of Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr, the father of Bears senior graduate transfer Nick Kerr. The sold-out crowd at Haas Pavilion erupts. The NBA-champion head coach extends his arms -- and his smile -- wide. 

Brown would go on to score 18 points on the night to co-lead the team with fellow freshman Ivan Rabb. Cal defeats the Trojans, 87-65, putting the finishing touches on an undefeated 18-0 home season, marking the first time since the 1959-60 national championship team that the Bears went unbeaten at home.

"That was an amazing play; he's a track star, I guess," said senior point guard Tyrone Wallace. "I thought that was a great play. Coach let me take the ball out, I knew we were going to give it to Jaylen and let him use his speed."

Lipscomb wasn't surprised in the least. He'd seen those veins filled with ice water, before, but it wasn't a tomahawk dunk or a two-handed throw-down jam.

"When he hit the game-winning free throws, we were down one, and he hit the game-winning free throws, with very little time on the clock in the state championship game, I said, 'This guy is special,'" Lipscomb says. "That defines his high school career. We called the play to get it to him, and let him get to the cup, and he got fouled. Our program is the only team that Ben Simmons had a high school loss to, in the City of Palms."

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The clock is still counting down. There are only so many games left until the season is over, and Brown has to make a decision. Perhaps he already has, despite his protestations to the contrary. 

Brown's mother calls him Old Man. He speaks at what could best be described as a leisurely pace, and he's not in any hurry when he's not on the basketball court. He likes to take things in, he says. That's no consolation to those stuck behind him on a narrow sidewalk, trying to get to class.

“What is it called? Berkeley time? That’s clutch," he laughs.

As his play against USC showed, Brown can get a move on when he wants to. But does he? Should he?

"I would choose UC Berkeley 10 times over," Brown said on the Pac-12 Networks, when he was announced as the conference's Freshman of the Year. "The first class I took, I knew the reason I came to Berkeley."

Berkeley is, Brown says, very different from his home of Marietta, Ga. But it's good different. It's a new world, a world he'd never imagined.

More than likely, by this time next year, Brown be in yet another completely different world. He won’t speak to such things, to the NBA and to leaving college early, but that is where this Old Man is headed. On to bigger and better things, as so many one-and-done players are. But, that's not the end of the story. It's just the beginning. 

"He is a most impressive individual," Walton says, "and he's just getting started."


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