Keeping it all in the family

Basketball: UMBC women's player Jessie Brown has used her work ethic to follow in the athletic footsteps of her father, Tom Brown.


January 10, 2002|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

Like father, like daughter.

The pedigree is evident as UMBC junior point guard Jessie Brown flits about the court, seemingly everywhere at once, with her love of the game glaring.

Like her father, Tom, a former pro football and baseball player, she impresses as someone who was born to play sports. And like him, perhaps later in life she will pass along her knowledge to her children.

In every conversation about Jessie Brown, two phrases dominate: "work ethic" and "hates to lose."

"There are probably more talented players. The game is geared toward taller and more athletic people," Retrievers coach Jennifer Bednarek said. "But her work ethic is better than any player I've known. She's very competitive and that carries her a long way."

An All-Northeast Conference second-team selection last season, Brown set a school record with 168 assists. She was a preseason all-league first-team choice, and with leading scorer Shalayna Johnson sidelined by injury, Brown took on an added offensive burden.

Bednarek said she believes the 5-foot-6 Brown could have played in the nation's elite programs, but none of the recruiters knew about her three years ago.

"She wouldn't play lots of minutes at Connecticut or Tennessee, but she'd play," she said.

Brown prepped at James M. Bennett High School in Salisbury, amassing 1,400 points and more than 400 assists. She once had a triple double (28 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds) against rival Snow Hill.

But colleges sent no letters, much to the chagrin of her father.

"I always felt college coaches were going to see you, but being on the Shore, Jessie didn't participate in any AAU programs where they can go see 100 players at a time," Tom Brown said. "She didn't get one letter."

So, dad reached into his eminent past. A two-sport standout at the University of Maryland in the early '60s who was drafted by both the Washington Senators and the Green Bay Packers, Brown called Terrapins broadcaster Johnny Holliday to get Maryland coach Chris Weller to take a look.

Weller liked what she saw, but "they had signed Vickie Brick and they told me, we can't have two of you," Jessie Brown said.

Fortunately, two events conspired to land her at part of the Maryland system and in a lead role.

UMBC assistant Megan Gebbia had played against Jessie's high school coach, Amy Fenzel, who sent a tape. Gebbia visited during the state tournament.

And during Jessie's freshman year, UMBC's starting point guard, Jamie Lange, then NEC Rookie of the Year, transferred to William and Mary. Jessie had already worked her way into the lineup, starting the final 10 games, but now her path to the spotlight was cleared.

Despite having played two sports at the highest level, Tom Brown, 61, was never a pushy parent.

His patience is re-affirmed practically every day in the Tom Brown Rookie League, a year-round youth sports program he has operated for kids 12 and under for approximately 30 years in Salisbury.

"He's the type that if you ask him, he'll talk to you," Jessie said. "I grew up in the rookie league playing baseball and basketball all day long. He never yelled. It was always encouragement."

"To me, the most important thing is that everybody plays as many minutes as they can," Tom said. "There are no all-stars, no trophies and the parents know no one hollers at their children."

Jessie's mother, Nancy, who was a high school athlete in Virginia, handles the financial end of the sports camp.

It is Jessie's desire to enter the same field. That makes her an exception, according to Bednarek. "Not many young people want to teach and coach."

Jessie is a sports recreation major "who loves working at home in the summertime," said her father.

"It'll be tough to live up to what he [Tom] has done working with little kids," Jessie said. "He takes those that aren't necessarily the best, maybe some that don't even go to Little League and lets them play. That's the kind he's touched the most."

Though his daughter knows little of his exploits, Tom Brown has a full resume. He played on the only Maryland team to beat Penn State and that had seven players drafted by the pros.

His daughter does know that after 1 1/2 years as an outfielder-first baseman in baseball, Tom opted to play for the legendary Vince Lombardi and that when they did "burpers [a form of quick pushups], some of the guys would stay down, but he would keep going. The last count was 90."

As a safety with the Packers, he played with Willie Wood and Herb Adderly and was on the first two Super Bowl champions.

No matter where the Retrievers women's team is playing, Tom Brown is there, always rooting for his daughter.

UMBC (4-8) had a tough pre-league schedule that included trips to West Virginia, Georgetown and Maryland, a factor which could serve the team well in NEC games. That has also helped in Jessie Brown's development. She leads the team in minutes (34.5 average), points (12) and assists (3.6), and is second in steals with 24.

"Jessie was fortunate to play with boys rather than girls at a young age," her father said. "She's gifted with great eye-hand coordination and her work ethic is probably in the top 5 percent in the country."

Said Bednarek: "We expect a lot of her because she is the leader. You tend to push those people harder," hoping their work ethic will rub off on teammates.

"Sometimes, I think he thinks we push her too hard. He really looks out for his daughter."

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