Brown's transition: from first to forlorn

Top NBA draft choice faces reality: `He's got to learn how to play'

Pro Basketball

March 08, 2002|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - It's in Kwame Brown's face where Doug Collins can see the trouble.

The problems of Brown, the Washington Wizards rookie forward, aren't found in the furrowed brow of a rookie struggling to find his niche, or in the scowl of a talented young player learning that the NBA won't roll over for him like high school players did.

If anything, his older teammates have been telling Brown, the first overall pick in the June draft, that they can't read anything in his face when he plays.

"Popeye [Jones] is always telling me that I show no emotion on the court," Brown said. "I'm the same way. I have the same facial expression. If I make a good play, I won't say anything. I have to develop a real passion for the game. I'll try to find that. I've just never been like that."

Where Collins, the Wizards coach, can trace Brown's difficulties is in the acne that dots the 19-year-old's previously smooth face. The pimples are a sign of the stress getting to Collins' prize pupil.

"You look at Kwame and he's got this beautiful basketball body, and a lot of wonderful skills, but he's got to learn how to play," Collins said. "And that's the next step, and I've got to get his confidence back."

For his part, Brown, who is averaging 3.0 points, 2.7 rebounds and 11.5 minutes while shooting 35.6 percent, knows that things aren't as they could be.

"It's very stressful, but what job isn't stressful?" said Brown recently. "It would be stressful if I couldn't eat. I'm doing what I love to do, playing basketball. It's stressful right now because I'm not playing like I want to. I'm not saying that it's all right, but when I start playing to the level that Coach feels pleased, then I'll be pleased."

Brown's playing time - the third-fewest minutes on the team - is decidedly sparing. However, since Michael Jordan went the injured list Feb. 26, Brown has received more time, getting 20 minutes in a loss to Portland and 21 in a loss at Chicago. In the latter game, he was badly outplayed by fellow high school draftee Eddy Curry, who was picked three places behind Brown.

Given Brown's unfamiliarity with big-time basketball, no one should have seriously expected him to emerge straight from the Glynn Academy, his Brunswick, Ga., high school, with the kind of game that would net him the Rookie of the Year honors. Other former first overall draft choices who have won the award - Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, Derrick Coleman, Larry Johnson, Shaquille O'Neal, Chris Webber, Allen Iverson and Tim Duncan - played at least two years of college before jumping to the NBA.

But Collins, himself a first overall pick of the Philadelphia 76ers in 1973, expected more and is taking the rookie's shortfall hard.

"I said, `Kwame, I apologize to you if I've made this tougher for you in any way, if I expected much too much too soon,' " Collins said. "I've never coached a high school player. I've coached some young players, but most had had some college or at least a year in the league. But I've never coached a guy right out of high school, and I didn't do a very good job."

Collins and his coaching staff are working with Brown on fundamentals, such as positioning. Brown tends to play standing straight for rebounding rather than from a crouch or with his knees slightly bent.

As a result, when a shot misses, Brown doesn't get much lift, and when he crouches to spring, the rebound usually goes to a player who was already in position. Brown plays standing straight whenever he's in the post and gets out of position easily, so he has to reach with his hands to compensate, usually resulting in a foul.

"We've been talking to him about that for six months," said Collins, who plans to send Brown and three other players to Pete Newell's big man camp this summer. "And we keep showing it to him over and over on the tape, but at some point, he has to say, `I have to do this.' "

That's not to say that Brown is uncoachable or a head case. In fact, he has adopted the philosophy that rookies should be seen and not heard and answers everyone politely, making sure to use "ma'am" and "sir."

What he is, is a kid in a game that demands immediate maturity. He is constantly flanked by adults who help him on and off the court, including Jones, Christian Laettner and Jordan, who drafted Brown in one of his final acts as president of basketball operations before returning to play.

"You just keep yourself surrounded by good people and your teammates," Brown said. "You're a family. You're together with your teammates more than you are with your family. I try to get with veterans like Popeye and Christian and talk to them about it, because they've gone through it. I try not to listen to people on the outside telling me what I should or shouldn't do when they haven't gone through it."

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