Brown steps it up, is 'force' for Poets Boys basketball: Dunbar star is leaving the streets behind and at his coach's behest focusing on becoming a better player.

January 15, 1998|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

Off the court and even sometimes in practice, Dunbar's Jamal Brown "can be a jokester, happy-go-lucky kid," said coach Lynn Badham. "Someone who likes to keep the atmosphere light and lively."

Game day, however, brings out the beast in Brown, who has "tremendous abilities," said Badham, along with a killer instinct -- often highlighted by his ferocious slam dunks or nasty shot-blocking -- that can be seriously offensive.

"Jamal's doing it all this year. He's really shown some dedication toward improvement. And considering he hasn't played a lot of high school ball, I believe he's only just scratched the surface," said Badham, who took last year's Poets to the Class 3A state title game as a first-year coach.

"Last year, I think Jamal lacked a little focus, was easily distracted," Badham said. "This year, he's more a leader by example and someone who will step up and get some of the others to do the right thing in practice."

Brown, a sinewy 6-foot-6, 197-pound center with great leaping ability, averages 21.4 points and an area-best 15.6 rebounds. He also averages four dunks and four assists a game. He demonstrates surprising discipline for a player whose first organized experience on the court came only four years ago in the Fred B. Leidig recreation leagues. Despite averaging about six blocks and four steals per outing, Brown rarely gets into foul trouble.

"Being a team captain [with teammate Dontez Dean], I guess people have started looking to me as an example. So I try to play hard, practice hard, and if someone's having a bad time give them a pat on the back," Brown said.

"I try to make you feel a part of the game, even if you're on the bench. Coach is always telling us that we can't fall asleep on any teams. We need everybody. That's always what we talk about before the game in our huddle."

Brown, a past student at both Southwestern and Douglass, played a couple of recreation seasons with Mount Royal and Robert C. Marshall, along with a year of JV ball. But both he and his game lacked direction.

"I wasn't a bad child, but I just spent a lot of time caught up in the streets," said Brown, who repeated ninth grade before his mother, Sandra Lemon, encouraged him to transfer to Dunbar.

"She told me, 'There's no scouts outside, so you better take it to school,' " recalled Brown. "Coach Badham got me on track, told me I had to work hard and leave the streets alone. I owe a lot to him. If it wasn't for him, I'd wind up being one of those street legends you hear about, my talent gone to waste."

Brown has helped Dunbar (10-2), ranked No. 1 in the Baltimore area since the season's outset, to become an even larger target after the Poets beat two nationally-ranked teams on the way to a runner-up finish in the Slam Dunk To The Beach Tournament in Delaware in late December.

"Jamal had a fantastic tournament down there," Badham said. "He made the All-Tournament team, the only one of our players to do that."

Brown recalls specifically the victory over Dominguez, the Compton, Calif., team ranked No. 3 nationally, during which he had to rise to the occasion against a much taller opponent.

"Their small forward, Tayshawn Prince, was 6-9, and here I am our center at 6-6. But we came in knowing no one came to see us or expected us to do much," Brown said. "But we got some clutch shots from [guard] Arnold Bowie, Tim Lyles, Dontez Dean. No one gave up, and we just came together as a team."

Brown followed up that effort by earning Most Valuable Player honors in last weekend's Mayor's Basketball Academy Tournament.

Brown shined brightest in a come-from-behind 64-62 victory over Franklin Learning Center of New York. Brown, complemented by Dean (15 points, 10 rebounds) and Arnold Bowie (14 points), scored a team-high 24 points and grabbed the game's final defensive rebound -- his ninth -- with five seconds left.

Now, with the pressure building game by game, Brown said he's "ready to step it up."

"I feel a lot of it now, because around here in Baltimore, we're expected to win, and a loss would be a big letdown," Brown said. "But we're not trying to go that route. Everyone's got to step up, every game. And so far, we've done that. So far, so good."

Pub Date: 1/15/98

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