February 29, 2012

Brown Thrives Through Change At Holy Cross

By Matt Dougherty
Patriot League Media Relations Director

After competing for one of the top prep schools in the nation, Devin Brown wanted to do the same in his selection of a college when he decided to play for Head Coach Ralph Willard at Holy Cross.

In his first season, Brown just missed the epitome for a Division I basketball player. Holy Cross made it to the cusp of an NCAA Tournament berth, but fell at American in the 2009 Patriot League Championship game.

After that year, Willard left for Louisville and Brown's time at Holy Cross took a turn amidst a pair of coaching changes. Sean Kearney served as the head coach of the Crusaders for just one season in 2009-10 before Milan Brown, now in his second season as the head coach, took over after that year.

Through it all Brown learned how to deal with different basketball philosophies, different leaders and most importantly, change.

"It was very difficult from a standpoint of dealing with three different personalities," Brown said. "We went from Coach Willard who is a very defensive-minded coach to Sean Kearney who is a more offensive-minded coach and now with Milan Brown who is more of a hybrid of the three. It was very tough to adjust to different game plans and different systems, and all three have their own ways of conducting practices and handling certain situations that came up within the team. It was a learning process that taught us a lot about ourselves and we found out if we just stuck together as a team we would be fine."

Brown notes there are certainly similarities and differences between the coach he was recruited by and the one he plays for now.

"They are both basketball junkies," he said. "Coach Milan Brown was a great caliber of player at Howard and had some success as a coach at Mount St. Mary's. The intensity they bring is about the same even though they may show it in different ways. Coach Willard if he's mad at you may not speak to you, while Coach Brown expresses how he feels about his players and certain events that happen to us as a team."

Despite going through coaching changes in each of the offseasons, Brown made great strides from his freshman to sophomore year and against from his sophomore to junior campaign. He went from scoring 5.8 points per game as a freshman to 12.5 as a sophomore, and then boosted that number again to a team-leading 15.4 points per game as a junior. His success earned Brown a spot on the preseason All-Patriot League team prior to the 2011-12 season.

Brown credits all three of his mentors with helping his game improve each season.

"I would say that Coach Willard helped me out a lot with that at first," he said. "He was a great motivator and was never content with a player's performance, and he would always push you to add different areas to your game. Before my sophomore year he told me I needed to work on my outside shot, so that summer I got my repetitions in to work on my outside game. As Coach Kearney came in my sophomore year he was more of an offensive-minded coach who gave us a lot of freedom and I was really able to showcase my abilities. Coach Brown is also a players coach who gives us a lot of freedom and trust and we have been able to show what we can do on the offensive end."

While Devin Brown enjoys consecutive seasons with the same head coach for the first time in his career in Milan Brown's second year, he also takes on a new role as one of the senior leaders for the Crusaders.

"I never really knew what it meant to be a leader until this year," he said. "It's tough, when things are going poorly people will look to you for answers. It's usually your fault if things are going poorly and people expect you to implement some type of change. Every day at practice the younger guys look to the captains to bring it and you never have a day off. The coaching staff expects the best from you every single day and it can be physically and mentally exhausting, but that just comes with the territory and it's part of being a leader."

Brown's life experiences have no doubt helped his ability to grow as a leader. He grew up in Baltimore, with his father a police officer and his mother working in the mayor's office.

"You learn a lot of life lessons living in Baltimore and you definitely have to be street savvy and smart," he said. "I think that's where I got a lot of my on and off the court toughness."

From Baltimore it was on to a year at Notre Dame Preparatory School in Fitchburg, Mass. Brown played for a team that was ranked fourth in the nation in 2007-08, and gained plenty of experience at practicing and playing basketball at a high level.

"It was a very humbling experience, it showed me how good I really wasn't," he said. "There is a lot of talent there and it really instilled in me a very strong work ethic. There were guys going to Kansas, Duke and other great teams and it was real good for me. I turned into a basketball junkie there and because of it I was able to come to one of the top schools in the country.

Brown felt that Holy Cross had the right balance of athletics and academics when he decided to embark on his journey to Worcester.

"The biggest motivating factor for coming to Holy Cross was the tradition of winning that the school has had," he said. "In the past you always heard about Holy Cross being one of the top-tiered teams in the Patriot League and they had success in the NCAA Tournament. Secondly, I wanted the opportunity to not only excel athletically but academically as well and out of all the schools that were recruiting me I felt that Holy Cross gave me the best opportunity to do so."

Brown has accomplished plenty on the court in his seasons with the Crusaders, including scoring his 1,000th point last year in a Patriot League Tournament quarterfinal loss to Lafayette. While the career achievement was significant, the outcome sticks with him along with the loss to American in the League Championship as a motivating factor in his senior season.

"Coming into my freshman year I knew we were a solid team, but I knew nothing about college basketball and you can't really learn until you are immersed in it," he said. "It gave me motivation that if I ever got that opportunity again that I was not going to let it pass. And also last year losing at home in the quarterfinals against Lafayette. I told myself that if we ever have a home playoff game again that I would not let my team lose."

Brown will get his opportunity to put those losses behind him in this year's Patriot League Tournament. Once the season and his time at Holy Cross conclude, Brown, a psychology and pre-business major, will look at his options for the future.

"I'm definitely going to pursue opportunities to play professionally," he said. "I just want to have the best opportunity possible, and if playing professionally does not work out I want to pursue a career within the financial services industry."

Either way, there will be change. Something Brown should be very comfortable with after his time at Holy Cross.

This story appears in the 2012 Patriot League Tournament program, which will be available for purchase at host sites for both the men and women's tournaments.