ST. BONAVENTURE – Long before the pool, Linton Brown arrived at his decision in the weight room.
The coveted shooting guard was working out with teammates on his junior college campus when one of them, flipping through the channels of a nearby television for a basketball game to watch, landed on the CBS broadcast of the Atlantic 10 championship between St. Bonaventure and VCU.
Brown, in between sets, became engrossed by the team in brown and white.
He took note of its methodical ball movement, beheld its talent and unselfishness. He was impressed by the passionate following this small school from rural Western New York seemed to have.
He heeded the words of the game’s commentators from that Selection Sunday afternoon: “They were just saying how (at Bona), it’s just basketball,” Brown recalled. “That’s all they talk about is basketball; that’s the main focus over there.”
And, in those moments, the Wellington, Fla., native knew: If Bona ever came calling, he’d gladly answer.
“As soon as I saw them play that day, I was like, ‘yeah, that would be a great school,’” Brown said in a phone interview Wednesday. “I always heard about the A-10 conference, and they beat VCU – VCU’s a great school, too. I saw that, I saw the players on the team, and I said, ‘if they ever offered me, I’d go there. That’s a great opportunity.’”
SEVEN WEEKS after his initial vision, Brown made the idea of playing for the Bonnies a reality. And 49 days after considering the prospect privately, he made his commitment in grand public fashion, choosing Bona during a livestream announcement with a local ESPN affiliate in front of the family swimming pool.
Brown had plenty of potential landing spots.
The 6-foot-5 shooting guard had just come off a superb sophomore year at Indian River State College (Fla.), averaging a team-best 18.4 points and shooting 48 percent (73-of-151) from 3-point range while leading the Pioneers to a 20-4 record, the Southern Conference title and their first trip to the NJCAA Tournament. He was widely considered one of the best shooters in the junior college ranks.
Ultimately, he chose to fulfill the prophecy he’d set for himself back on March 14.
Because he, like most Mark Schmidt-recruited players these days, values one thing above all else: simply playing basketball.
“The (current players) were just telling me how school was,” said Brown, who chose Bona among a dozen-plus Division I offers – and over Southern Mississippi and New Mexico specifically, “how the students and community interact with the team. They said they feel like celebrities every time they walk down the street.
“And basketball-wise, (you always hear) that the school’s in the middle of nowhere. There’s no distractions. It’s just basketball, and that’s something I was really looking for in a school.”
BROWN, who logged three-plus 30-point games last season, exudes confidence.
That much was made clear during his anticipated D-I announcement, where he enthusiastically revealed a “Here for the Bonnies” t-shirt.
And though it’s his obvious strength, he’s not just a shooter, he maintained. Brown has demonstrated an ability to attack the basket. He’s a willing rebounder. He can create for himself on those rare occasions his shot’s not falling.
And, he made it clear, he’s a team-first guy.
The Florida College System Activities Association Region 8 Player of the Year is joining a defending A-10 champion Bona team that welcomes back its entire starting backcourt (and all five starters), including all-conference guards Kyle Lofton and Jaren Holmes. He understands he may not start right away.
But rather than steer clear of those circumstances, he’s combined that confidence and selflessness to embrace them.
“When I first had my Zoom call with Coach Schmidt, he was just telling me, I’m gonna come and just play my own game, I’m going to come in and score,” said Brown, who will have two more years of eligibility beyond next season. “That’s really my game; scoring … putting numbers up.
“The (returning players), he told me that they were really good, but that none of them can do the same things I can do. None of them can score at (the same) efficient level or shoot like me; but they’re all really good, they all play-make for each other, so that will really benefit my game, and playing with other great players.”
FROM THE moment he committed, the hype has been evident …
Just as it was for the celebrated trio that he’ll be joining – Lofton, Dominick Welch and Osun Osunniyi.
Brown, like the latter two specifically, was a highly-prized prospect. He’s considered in rare air among collegiate shooters. Most impressively, just days after signing with Bona, he was one of 10 players to be named an NJCAA Division I First Team All-American.
Brown, perhaps the crown jewel in a touted Bona recruiting class that includes a pair of ACC transfers, understands that expectations will be high for him … perhaps unfairly so. But it’s a pressure he’s welcomed since high school, when he first held a handful of D-I offers before having to first go the juco route due to his grades.
“Since I’ve been a senior in high school, I’ve really had that (hype) thing,” he said. “My hometown, when I was going juco, they always told me, ‘you gotta go out there and do good, go out there and kill,’ so I always had that fire. I want to do better than everybody’s expectations; if they say I’m gonna come in and average 10, I wanna come in and average 15.
“I’m gonna try to do more than what people expect.”
In 2016, Brown still viewed himself as a football player. He didn’t start truly taking basketball seriously until his freshman year of high school, when he noticed that more and more hoops players from his school were getting recruited.
Five years later, he’s achieved two goals – becoming a dominant juco player and securing a D-I scholarship. No. 3 on the list: Proving himself at the A-10 level while helping Bona get back to the NCAA Tournament.
“I’m so excited, you don’t even understand,” Brown said. “I stay up until like 2 o’clock in the morning watching St. Bonaventure games. I’m ready to get started. And like my grandfather has said, if I’ve come this far in the last five years, imagine what I might be capable of in the next five.”
(J.P. Butler, Bradford Publishing Company group sports editor, can be reached at email@example.com)