EVANSVILLE, Ind -- Alvin Brown never thought he would make the varsity basketball team at his high school.
Two years of junior varsity, he thought, and that was it. He had never played basketball before high school and he wouldn‘t play after it.
He remembers watching the varsity team at his school play and thinking: “I’ll never be this good. I’ll just play two years of JV and I’ll be done with this because there’s no way I’ll be able to match these guys.”Funny how that changed.
Fast forward to Wednesday night and there was Brown, a 6-foot-10 defensive monster, dominating a game in the quarterfinals of the NCAA DII national quarterfinals. His eight blocks tied a national quarterfinal single-game record. He also scored 11 points and had six rebounds in S.C. Aiken’s 85-70 victory against Chico State.
“I just came out with all the intensity I could,” Brown said humbly. “I was real excited for the game.”
In the first three minutes of the game, Brown had a tip-in rebound for a basket. He posted up in the paint for a turn-around shot and a basket. And he had the first of his blocks, swatting the ball out of bounds as the crowd at Ford Center ooohed in delight.
That is exactly the type of play that USC Aiken coach Vince Alexander has seen from Brown since he transferred to Aiken from Division I's James Madison in 2010. His 143 blocks are No. 1 in the nation.
“He’s the best shot blocker I’ve ever seen or coached,” Alexander said. “He’s amazing. His timing is absolutely amazing.”
It is an ability Brown always had. He didn’t understand basketball when he was a kid growing up in Fort Washington, Md., near Washington D.C. He didn’t watch it on television. He tried basketball in fourth grade but quickly gave it up because he just didn’t understand it.
But he knew how to block a shot.
“It comes naturally,” Brown said. “Ever since I remember, I used to play playground basketball a little bit. Anything like that, just blocking shots has been my biggest contribution on any level I’ve ever played on.”
It was the same way when he finally listened to his friends and tried out for the high school JV team.
“My biggest stat was shot-blocking,” he said. “I would average two points, six blocks on JV. Shot blocking is pretty much my one natural talent when it comes to basketball.”
Over time, that changed. He did play varsity basketball at Friendship Collegiate Academy in Washington. Of course, he led his team in blocked shots, but he also averaged 12 points a game.
At USC Aiken, he has become much more than a big guy to avoid in the paint. He can post up. He can rebound. And he can hit a jump shot from anywhere within the perimeter.
“He was always a shot blocker,” Alexander said. “He wasn’t a very skilled offensive player, but now he’s added that to his package. And it’s helped him a lot because he can score around the basket.”
“He’s always been very athletic. Just dunk everything and block shots. That’s what he was before. Now we can actually get him the ball with his back to the basket.”
And he still dunks and blocks shots.
He is a big reason why the Pacers have won 15 consecutive games and are in the quarterfinals for the second year in a row. But there are others.
USC Aiken’s starting lineup consists of all seniors, including Ronald Zimmerman, whose 141 3-pointers ranks No. 2 in the nation, and guard DeVontae Wright, who was named the Southeast Region MVP and Peach Belt Conference tournament MVP.
The Pacers haven’t lost since the first day of February. It was a loss they used as motivation for the rest of the season.
“It humbled us again at the right time. That was a big loss for us, but it helped put us on the streak we’re on now,” Brown said. “We haven’t looked back since. We’ve been playing every game like every game matters.”
Brown has excelled in the Pacers’ close family system, but that is just a part of the growth that Alexander not only hopes for in his player but actually demands of them.
“He’s like all my players,” Alexander said. “We want them to come though this program, we want them to leave this program as good fathers, good husbands, productive citizens in their community. …
“If you can’t come in and buy into what we’re doing and what we’re teaching you, then you won’t be there. He [Brown] has bought in real well. He’s going to be a good father and I guarantee you he’ll be a good husband. He’ll be a productive citizen. He’s a great kid.”