It’s 4:30 Thursday afternoon. Official basketball practice ended some time ago. The players are hitting the showers, the managers are collecting equipment and head coach Tom Penders is on his way to a meeting. But the court is not empty. The sound of a solitary ball bouncing still lingers, interrupted by frequent swishes of the net.
It’s SirValiant Brown drilling free throws as administrative assistant Jimmy McGovern calls out his percentages.
Val’s only five-for-seven, McGovern says.
Val screams out in playful frustration, grabs the ball back and, with an always-present smile across his face, sinks the next 10 free throws.
Val then moves from the free-throw line to the three-point line and begins sinking shots faster than McGovern can feed him the rebounds. While he continues to shoot, the leftover coaches and managers still packing up look at him with grins that seem to say, typical Val.
These are grins that indicate this is not a rare scene. These are grins that show respect for the fact that last season’s second-leading scorer in the nation regularly stays on the court after practice drilling shots while laughing and joking around.
Doesn’t he know in a few short weeks all eyes will be on him? Of course he does. And he knows they will be waiting and watching to see if he can maintain the high level of play he displayed his freshman season. They will be wondering if he can be a leading scorer or the Atlantic 10 Player of the Year or, more importantly, a leader on a tournament-bound basketball team.
How can he be laughing and joking with McGovern as he shoots, never losing that trademark SirValiant smile, with all these pressures looming over his head? Simple, he says.
I don’t feel any pressure because I love the game, Brown says.
But last season wasn’t all smiles for Brown and the team. The Colonials were injury-ridden, and someone had to pick up the slack from the absence of Patrick Ngongba and Mike King. So Brown became the workhorse and team’s leading scorer (24.6 points per game), sacrificing his shooting percentage to put up a few more shots to get points on the scoreboard.
Val had to shoot too much last year, Penders said. Not because he wanted to, but because if we were down 15 we were going to give it to him, our leading scorer.
Brown even had to play injured. He played with a broken tailbone, which limited his speed and agility. But this season promises big changes in Brown’s game and the team’s performance. One simple way the ever-charismatic Brown proposes to improve play this season is to have fun and make it fun for the team.
Last year we were just playing and we didn’t have any fun, Brown said.With the return of Ngongba and King and the addition of four new players, the Colonials don’t have to pin all their hopes on Brown’s shooting hand.
If Val sprains his ankle, we are better prepared to handle that this year, Penders says. We have more depth and more guys that can step up so there is less pressure on him.
Less pressure on Brown to carry the team means more time for him to tune the finer points of his game. This means Brown can focus on taking better shots and improving his shooting percentage. Brown can also relax his game, and Penders is looking to work with him to cut down his turnovers (81 last year) and increase his assist totals, which totaled only 64 last season.
Penders says he is also looking forward to giving Brown some valuable experience at the point guard position. With less of an offensive burden this year, Brown can also look forward to working on his defense – an aspect of his game he considers his best. Brown is also looking forward to becoming a smarter player.
I have a year’s experience under my belt, Brown says. I can look at tapes and find out what I did wrong. That’s something I couldn’t do as a freshman.
Brown says he enters the season focused on nothing but the success of the team.
Personal awards can wait, those are things that you pick up later, Brown says. The team always come first and we have a better team this year.
While the coaching staff, fans and the rest of the team might worry about shooting percentages and injuries, one thing they won’t have to worry about is Val Brown’s love for the game.
He has intangibles like confidence and competitiveness that you just can’t teach a kid, Penders says. I never worry about how hard he’s gonna play. I’ve never had a kid that’s played harder than Val Brown.