Brooks: Brown Hoping His Game, Buffs Ready To Surge
BOULDER - A word of advice to Colorado basketball fans: Don't give up on Carlon Brown. He concedes he finished November and started December in a mini-slump, but he's only 10 games into his senior season, his first at CU, and his game is far from requiring last rites.
Witness last Monday night's contest against CSUB (that's California State University-Bakersfield if you're not up to speed on your hoops acronyms).
After averaging 7.9 points and 1.3 assists in his four previous games, Brown found his touch, rediscovered his feel, let the game come to him, played within himself - however you want to describe it - and scored 15 points while also making time for eight assists in the Buffs' 70-64 win. His point total was eight below his best at CU, his assist total was a CU best.
Of that four-game stretch prior to Monday night, Brown said, "Yeah, I could say I was in a little bit of a slump; I wasn't making as many shots as I can, I was turning the ball over a bit. But (Monday) night I just wanted to play my game and get everybody involved like I was doing - let the offense come to me instead of rushing and forcing things. Hopefully I can just keep building upon that."
It was the kind of performance the personable Brown and his coach, Tad Boyle, know he is capable of delivering - maybe not on a nightly basis, but certainly with regularity. "We'll take that every time," Boyle said before adding, "Not that he's going to get 15 and eight every night, but just so he maintains that presence . . . he's certainly got the ability.
"My whole thing with him is I just want him to play basketball. I want him to be a basketball player. I don't want him to think so much as react and play. He's got great instincts, he's a good passer and a good shooter. I think sometimes he just tries to go a little too fast."
Boyle signed Brown, a transfer from Utah, season before last for a specific reason. Looking ahead to 2011-12, Boyle knew he would lose Cory Higgins to graduation and believed there was a very good chance of sophomore Alec Burks turning pro - which happened.
It was a solid plan. Brown would sit out his mandatory transfer year, practice against Higgins and Burks, and be ready to step into the lineup this season, helping the Buffs compensate for losing 75 percent of last season's offense. Those were great expectations, and Brown admits to feeling "a little bit" of pressure to carry a large chunk of CU's scoring load. Still, he's doing that; of four Buffs averaging in double figures, Brown's 12.7 mark is the best.
"But at the same time," he noted, "I knew I was just going to play my game and not try to be somebody I wasn't . . . as far as the two guys who were here (Higgins and Burks), we have three different games. I was just more focused on meshing early with this team because we've got a good mix of veteran guys and some freshmen who are playing key roles.
"We wanted to incorporate it all. That was the best thing for our team instead of just one guy being overpowering with his scoring ability. We like to have a balanced attack, a balanced effort. These guys were recruited for a reason and everybody's capable of playing at this level. We just have to go out and do it."
Boyle and his staff liked what they saw during Brown's previous three seasons at Utah, where he was the leading scorer (12.6) as a junior and averaged 4.1 rebounds. Brown made 75 starts in 98 career games for the Utes, who visit the Coors Events Center on New Year's Eve in the Pac-12 Conference debut for both teams.
When word began rippling through basketball circles that Brown wanted to transfer, the Buffs took an interest. "With the way we recruited Carlon, it was under the pretense of yeah, we're losing Cory, probably Alec . . . we're going to need somebody to step in and show some experience and leadership," Boyle said.
And Brown, who will graduate in May with a sociology degree, has responded in both of those areas.
"One of the things he's asked me is, 'What do you want my role to be?'" Boyle said. "I'm really proud of him for staying positive. Even when he hasn't played well he hasn't gotten down on himself or his teammates. He hasn't pointed fingers. He's just come to practice the next day and tried to get better with a good attitude - and that's what a senior leader does. I can't say enough about his wanting to do the right thing. We're going to need him to continue to do those things for us."
Against CSUB, Brown hit six of his eight field goal attempts (one of two three-pointers) and both of his free throw attempts. In addition to his eight assists - one below his career best at Utah - he had three rebounds, a block and a steal. After committing two of the Buffs' eight first-half turnovers, he was turnover-free in the final 20 minutes.
The upgrade in Brown's game was the product of "simple decisions," Boyle said. "The thing about Carlon is he's a very good passer. He's no different from any of our players; he just has to make simple plays. We said it going into the season, he's the kind of player who can make plays for himself and for his teammates - and (Monday) night you saw him do both.
"I think it comes down to decision making, I really do. But the assist-to-turnover ratio, that's one of the things we challenged all our guys with. That was one of his and (Monday) night it was four-to-one. That doesn't mean he's going to get eight assists every night . . ."
But Brown believes he's capable if he keeps it simple and, in his words, stays "more focused on playing under control and taking what the defense gives me. I was fortunate to find some guys open, and those guys made plays . . . I've been capable of finding guys, but (Monday) night I was seeing guys and they were finishing around the basket and making shots. It made me look better than I normally do."
If Brown says there are marked differences in his and Higgins' and Burks' games, there is a similarity that the Buffs hope to exploit as they finish non-conference play (two home games remain, including Thursday night against Texas Southern at 7 p.m.) and head into the Pac-12.
Higgins was effective at posting up smaller defenders; at 6-5, Brown can do the same thing. Boyle calls Brown "a very good low post basketball player . . . much like Cory did last year, Carlon has that ability, too. He's done a good job in our motion offense of finding his way down there to post up smaller guards. At times he's been there, but we have to make a more concerted effort now."
Brown and 6-7 freshman Damiene Cain have been effective enough in practice in the low post that teammates aren't reluctant to run the offense through them. Said Boyle: "Our players feel comfortable getting the ball down there because they know something good's going to happen. When either one of them is posting up, our guys want to look for them."
Taking that opportunity when it presents itself in fine with Brown, but then he's open to most anything if it will benefit the Buffs. "It's something we talk about from time to time, especially when we're in motion (offense)," he said. "I've always felt comfortable with my size and my capabilities down there against most guys who are guarding me. Hopefully, we can implement that some more and take advantage and get us some easy post touches and easy baskets."
With Monday night's win, the Buffs improved to 6-4. They still are plagued by the inconsistencies usually common to young, formative teams. For whatever reason - coming out of semester finals, a 10-day break between games, whatever - their start and finish against CSUB were erratic.
Not wasting any possessions and eliminating the lapses - "Playing the game the right way," said Brown - will help the Buffs as they head toward their Pac-12 debut. Perhaps it's because last season showed him how much he missed playing, but Brown also would like the Buffs to build leads that allow more of his teammates court time.
"Hopefully we can come out of the gates with a lot more intensity, a lot more aggression and put teams away - especially the ones we should early," he said. "That way, everybody can get in and have that opportunity to play because that's why guys come here . . . some of the guys who don't get that time missed out on an opportunity (Monday)."
When the Buffs finally learn to carry practice habits into games, Brown believes good times await. "I think once we can figure that out it'll be a lot easier for us," he said. "We shouldn't have any more home losses and lapses like we've been showing. It's a clich+¬, but we're trying to take it game-by-game. We're only 10 games in; there's a lot of season left."
Certainly enough for Brown and the Buffs to smooth out the rough edges and make it a success.