I’m sitting in Viva Java with SirValiant Brown discussing the mysteries of fame when a freshman named Mary runs up to the table.
She is practically hyperventilating as she pulls out her ID holder, revealing a Hatchet clipping of Brown tucked safely away. She asks him if he will sign it for her.
Thank you so much, says Mary. You can’t believe what this means to me.
And Mary’s not done yet. She pulls out a Metro card with 60 cents fare still left and writes her phone number on it.
But this is no booty call in the offing. Mary wouldn’t presume.
Could you call this number and leave a message? My friends will never believe it.
Welcome to the world of SirValiant Brown, superstar.
Sometimes, one gets caught up in the fact that it’s only GW. It’s only the Colonials. Sure, Val’s good, but who really cares outside of Foggy Bottom?
Well, how about Jay-Z, who met Brown at the Oscar de la Hoya fight at Madison Square Garden after the Fordham game Feb. 26?
Hey, you’re that freshman who’s leading the nation in scoring, aren’t you? he asked.
Or how about Temple fanatic Bill Cosby, who made a point at the Atlantic 10 Tournament to tell Val, You’re doing a pretty good job this year, huh? What happened when you played us?
Or Will Smith. Or the Phoenix Suns. Or all those people from around the country who have sent Val letters and autograph requests. Or just Mary.
And every time I find someone I like
Gotta worry about it it’s really me
That they see .
Deep inside I wish that you could see
That I’m just plain, old Mary .
I’m just Mary, just Mary, just Mary
– Deep Inside by Mary J. Blige
This is the song Val says describes what life has become for him. Sure, he loves the attention. He loves meeting people, famous or not. He doesn’t mind the women that throw themselves at him. And even though it sometimes seems like he would climb through the Smith Center air ducts to avoid a reporter, he likes that alright, too.
But when it comes to finding true loyalty and true friendship, he is cautious. He is cautious to the point where he doesn’t even try. Outside of the basketball team, he has made little effort at a GW social life. In fact, he goes home to the Virginia suburbs almost every night. It’s only there that the friendships he holds run deeper than the leather on a basketball.
It’s hard to make friends, `cause you don’t know if they’re trying to be your friend because you play ball. My real friends are back home.
So who is this Val Brown? This SirValiant Martin Brown, born Dec. 21, 1980 in Washington, D.C.? Is he just the sensational baller who took Foggy Bottom by storm, averaging 24.6 points per game (second in the nation) and 738 points total (a GW record) en route to being named Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year and GW’s Most Valuable Player? Does he have time for another life when he’s done leaving messages on strangers’ answering machines?
If you try to find what fuels him, what defines him, what explains it all, you need not say a word. Just look at him.
On his right arm is his name – SirValiant. The name his father the King Arthur fan gave him. The name that bonds him with his little brother, SirLancelot. To Val, there is nothing more important than his family. The family that gave him that curious name.
The name he ignored for years. The name no one calls him. But the name he knows makes him special. Because first of all, he is a businessman. He wants to major in business. He knows how to market himself. He knows he has the look. He wants to be an actor or a model. That is, after he takes care of his other arm.
That arm says NBA. It is his dream. It is everything. It is what he grew up wanting.
It’s good pressure, he says of his tattoo. It’s my dream. Even if I don’t make it, what’s wrong with putting it on your arm?
He started playing ball when he was eight, living in the Hampton Court Apartments with lifelong friend Keith Bogans. He still talks all the time to Bogans (who is a freshman at the University of Kentucky) and another D.C. Assault teammate from his AAU team, DerMarr Johnson. D.J. just left the University of Cincinnati to play in the NBA. It probably won’t be all that long until another Assaulter, North Carolina’s Joe Forte, follows suit, like Temple’s Mark Karcher already did.
All that talent on one AAU team. All those top-tier schools. And Val came to GW.
Some people rate recruits by the schools they go to. So don’t blame Dick Vitale if he didn’t quite see this coming. Who knew Val would turn down UCLA, Kentucky, Kansas, Duke and UNC to play for Tom Penders? Well, you would have if you knew something about the road he’s taken.
First of all, he hates to travel. If he could play every game at home, he would. He started high school at Robert E. Lee in Springfield, Va. Then, his junior year, it was time to go to one of the many basketball factories in America. He chose Mt. Zion in North Carolina. It lasted about two weeks. He played that basketball season back in D.C. at Notre Dame Academy. Then, it was back to Lee, where he sat out basketball his first semester of his senior year when his parents told him it was time to focus on academics. And so, the journey of Val Brown meant that a player who would be Honorable Mention All-American in 2000 was only Honorable Mention all-city in 1999.
So, the nomadic Brown came to GW hyped, but unrenowned.
To some who remembered his AAU days, they were expecting more of a passer, a disher. Perhaps a more complete player than he seemed to be this year.
But that’s the haters talking.
People don’t realize I’m a good defender, a good passer, he says. In this system, you just gotta shoot till your arm falls off.
And so forgive some if they don’t think Val is quite ready for the NBA. But he does.
People ask, `Why didn’t you (declare for the draft)?’ I didn’t want to do it. I’m my own, man. The money can wait. I’m trying to win a national championship.
So, it’s important to remember that even though Val isn’t much of a college basketball fan (he does watch the NBA – his team is the 76ers, surprise, suprise), he wants to win. He wants to win at GW. Although he’s not really a record kind of guy, he’s setting plenty of those, too. If he stays even three years, he would probably be GW’s all-time leading scorer. But goals such as that are hardly going to keep him here. Even the lack of a national championship will probably do little to halt his ambitions. (Heck, he can’t even spend the night – why four years?)
But he does think that getting his degree is important. It’s something he will do, even if it gets delayed at some point. And if you think he hates to travel for basketball, it’s even worse when you figure in school.
I didn’t think it was like this in college. You miss a lot of class because of basketball.
And as for that, he knows he needs to improve there, too. He dismisses criticism of his field goal percentage (I don’t really care about percentages, I just want to win). He thinks he sufficiently improved on that over the course of the year, but he knows he has to figure out a way to succeed when a whole team is trying to stop him. Perhaps progress will come this summer. He’s playing in a league in Philadelphia, and he also plans to suit up as a member of the U.S.A. Junior National Team.
I need to improve on reading the court better. I don’t like when my team just stands around watching me. That gets on my nerves. I need to crash the boards, keep my dribble lower, get stronger, faster, smarter. I have a lot of stuff to work on.
One thing he doesn’t have to worry about this summer, or ever, is the media. He claims to not read or watch anything.
That’ll mess up your game, he says.
Heck, he doesn’t even read The Hatchet. In fact, it’s a tenet of his philosophy to not worry about what others think about him. It’s something he’s learned to do because so many do think about him.
As the interview winds down, I say, Wel
l, I’ll let you go, Val. I know he’s itching to get home. It’s almost 8 p.m. But he says he wants to talk a little bit more. As we talk about the repetition of giving interviews, I ask him what he wants to be asked.
And then Val proceeds to interview himself.
What do you and the team do on road trips? he says, giving a pause. Well, on road trips we hang out, play cards, get something to eat .
What do you do after home games? Pause. Well .
Why do you hang out with thugs? Pause. They’re my good friends. It’s hard to make friends. My friends were there when there was nothing. Sometimes I don’t always agree with what they’re doing, but I’m never gonna turn my back on them.
One tends to believe him. It’s the choice so many basketball players have to make. If the NBA truly beckons, will his friends jeopardize that future? It almost happened once. The night of Midnight Madness back in October, Val threw a party at his dorm room.
People started drinking, smoking. People outside were fighting, acting stupid. It all came back on me.
Although Val denies any wrongdoing, they’ve got to put the blame on somebody, so he will at some point have to serve some community service to satisfy the University’s punishment. Since then, he’s not afraid to tell his friends to chill out a little bit.
Which would put them right where he is. Chilled. Cool. An observer. Although sometimes he gets so excited during a game Penders has to tell him to go to sleep, his natural demeanor is laid back. His playfulness in his conversation even reveals a dry wit.
Although he likes to have fun (I’m a rowdy type of player – I talk big trash) he is dedicated and serious about what he does. You don’t get to the NBA by not playing with a broken ass (Penders’ phrase) as Val did for a month this season.
His work ethic is how he got to where he is. It’s the only way to attain the confidence that Val exudes.
I just work hard. I work so hard on the court . I think I’m a good leader because I work hard at both ends. If I work hard, that makes other guys work hard.
But in the end, like any superstar, he is an enigma.
Sometimes he is the man who spouts trash talk like, I’m hot sauce, I ain’t gravy.
But if you pay attention, you just might catch a moment of humility.
I want to be in the shadow. Right now I can’t be in the shadow, he says.
SirValiant Brown, superstar?
Nah, he’s just Val.