Cache County product set to play his final home game
By Linda Hamilton Deseret News sports writer
LOGAN —— Tony Brown isn't sure how he will feel Saturday night when he is introduced for what is probably his last time as a player in the Smith Spectrum before the final home game of a four-year career that includes an incredible 91 wins.
The winningest basketballer in Utah State history —— who can influence respectful young teammates with the flick of an eyebrow but can completely mask injury or illness from his coaches because he doesn't want to miss a game —— doesn't know if the emotion of the night will get to him. "It's going to be a great night. There should be quite a few people there," Brown says. He won't guess at the rest of what the night has in store for him. His coach, Stew Morrill, will be just as stoic on the outside as Brown, who needs 17 more points to reach 1,500 for his career and who's been part of Morrill's every victory at USU. Inside? "It's too difficult to talk about," he says. "It's always emotional with kids you could keep for 20 years. I could keep him till I'm done coaching," Morrill says. His solution is to always make Senior Night a "celebration rather than a funeral" and hold the emotions for later.
Assistant coach Randy Rahe says, "We are going to miss him so badly. Coach always says he can't imagine coming to practice and not having Tony Brown around." He may not have to. The coaching wannabe could still be with the team next season. Morrill and Rahe say Brown's talents should bring him chances to play somewhere professionally. But if he doesn't find the right offer, he may become a student assistant. That's already been discussed. He'll still have classes to take before he gets a degree in physical education, and apprenticing with Morrill would be most agreeable to both parties.
Brown is already an honorary coach. "He's just been so good with this team," Morrill says. "He's been very patient with our new guys yet, and when he's told them something, they just suck it up. His mannerisms are so good, and he tells it to them in the right way." Last fall, one new player told Morrill, "When Tony raises an eyebrow, you know you messed up." "He doesn't say a lot," adds Rahe, "but when he does say something, they listen. They all have told me they watch him. He makes the game so easy for us." "He's so unassuming. You just love coaching kids like him because he has such an understanding," Morrill says. Oh, and Brown can play.
The 6-foot-3 guard from nearby Hyrum is third in the NCAA with a .496 3-point percentage, No. 1 on Aggie and No. 4 on Big West career lists for made and taken threes and could become USU's No. 4 career assist man Saturday night, needing four more to surpass Jay Goodman's 364. He is fifth in Big West scoring at 15.9, about four points better than his first three seasons, but he's also almost doubled his assists to stand second in the conference at 4.75. "If we get in a tough situation, we want the ball in Tony's hands, and he'll make something happen," says Rahe. Brown draws two defenders even on the perimeter and either passes or drives out. The penetration ability has been a big improvement in his game, Rahe says. Brown's steady improvement in all phases comes from hard work and extraordinary understanding. His defense improved most, and much of that has come mentally. Morrill said several years ago that Brown "couldn't guard a chair." Now, he's fourth in the BWC in steals at 1.71 a game, and he's the designated double-teamer when post help is needed because coaches are confident he can cover his man, too. "That's just Coach's way of putting it," Brown says of Morrill's chair statement.
Neither criticism nor compliment bothers him. The only thing that flusters Brown, says Rahe, is losing. "I'm not so sure it says anything directly to me," Brown says of 91 wins. "It says a lot toward our team. It's a great accomplishment more for the team." Of reaching 1,500 points, he says, "I guess I should if I've been here four years. I'd rather have team victories." Brown has tremendous toughness, belied by what Rahe calls those "Charlie Brown" looks, all fresh-faced and freckled, and that mild, almost-shy demeanor. "If he's hurt or sick, he will not tell us," Rahe says. "He's a tough, tough cookie. He never complains." A couple days before playing Irvine, Brown finally admitted illness —— and doctors thought for awhile that it was appendicitis. He scored 25 points. Rahe calls Brown a "throwback" to when "athlete" meant someone who could do every sport well.
Brown spent childhood being "your average kid," he says, playing basketball, baseball and the like. He's a golfer, tennis player, water skier, outdoors-lover. With Tony and four brothers and two sisters, something sporting was always going on at the home of Craig and Gayla Brown. It's a "sports lifestyle." Tony married Dana after his freshman year, partly because she shares his love of sports. In his USU bio, Brown lists her as the best athlete he's played against, but he admits she wrote that part —— an honor she earned by putting her own schooling on hold to support them.