Brooks: By Any Name, Carlon Brown Came Up Big In L.A.
BOULDER - It was early January, and Carlon Brown had ushered in the New Year like a wild man . . . 18 points against Washington on Jan. 5, 28 against Washington State two nights later.
Dude was on a tear - simply sick, in C-Unit terms. And when that happens, a very cool nickname is in order. He had drained 6-of-12 three-pointers in a 71-60 rout of Wazzu, so after the postgame media conference Carlon "Downtown" Brown was suggested to him.
It was initially well-received . . . but there was a problem looming.
A couple of weeks later, Colorado's leading scorer was Carlon "Out-Of-Town" Brown. Dude wasn't on a tear; he was in a shooting slump, a funk that was eating at him and leaving his coach wondering what could be done to yank him out of it.
Short answer: Nothing.
"As a coach, I talked to him a few times, but I did not have an answer for him," Tad Boyle said. "And as a coach, that's pretty helpless. But I knew it was there, he knew it was there, we all knew it . . . the fans knew it. It just wasn't happening. Sometimes you can press too much. My thing as a coach, the only thing I can do is to continue to show confidence and faith in him."
And, folks, we're talking about real strong shows of confidence and faith here. Brown, who had scored in double figures in 18 of 24 games, hit a four-game stretch of eight, five, six and six on 3-of-8, 2-of-12, 1-of-8 and 2-of-7 shooting.
After spending extra practice time for several days trying to shoot his way clear of the slump, he took the opposite approach and on one team off day stayed clear of the gym entirely. That didn't help either.
Boyle talked to Brown and took a positive approach, keeping him in the starting lineup and trying to keep his spirits from sagging. Said Boyle: "I didn't berate him or come down on him. I just said, 'Hey, as long as you're taking good shots and you're defending and rebounding . . .' If I see that (offensive slump) leaking over to defending and rebounding, then I've got do something about it.
"To his credit, I think there's only one game where I thought he was sub-par defensively and he let it leak over. He handled it like a true professional. Teams go through it, players go through it . . . it's a part of basketball, especially over a long season. We started practice, individual workouts, last August. It's just been a grind. Now we haven't been going every day, but in terms of focus, getting ready for a senior year, he's been grinding it."
To Brown's credit, he continued to grind. "It was his will," CU assistant coach Jean Prioleau said. "Through that hard, hard time, he never lost his will."
While his jump shots continued to clank, Brown continued to go hard to the rim, trying to draw fouls and hit free throws. "If you can get ball to rim, attack the basket, get to the free throw line, you don't live and die with your jump shot," Boyle said. "You find other ways to affect the game."
Like a long fever breaking, Brown began coming out of the slump/funk on the Buffs' season-ending road trip to Oregon and Oregon State. The bad news: CU didn't win either game. The good news: Brown was back in double figures (20 and 14 points) after four games.
Next up was the Pac-12 Conference tournament, and Boyle knew Brown's role would be critical to the Buffs' success in Los Angeles. "You have to have your best players step up at this time of year," he said. "If you don't you're going to lose and go home."
The Buffs settled in for what would be a four-day stay - and a tournament championship.
In a good-thing-it-was-after-dark 53-41 first-night win against No. 11 seed Utah, Brown scored 15. Against third-seeded Oregon the next night, Brown accounted for 18. The following night against No. 2 seed California, he got 17, and in Saturday afternoon's championship game against fourth-seeded Arizona he had 13.
In two of the four games - the final two - Brown had highlight reel dunks, the most critical coming in the 53-51 championship game win over the Wildcats. It was the Buffs' only field goal in a final 9-plus minute span, and it earned a spot (No. 4) in ESPN's nightly Top 10.
So, given those two sick slams, can we call him Carlon "Throw It Down" Brown? He liked that, too, and the all-tournament selection panel liked what Brown had shown them in four days. Averaging just under 16 points a game, he was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player - an honor Boyle said was richly deserved.
But Boyle was looking more into what Brown had done in all areas. "I mean, Carlon really grew up (in L.A.)," Boyle said. "His leadership skills came to the forefront and his teammates responded to him. He's got a lot of respect in our locker room. I couldn't be more proud of the way Carlon played and more importantly how he handled himself in huddles, timeouts, off the floor, in interviews . . . he said all the right things and acted on them. I'm really proud of him."
His teammates took notice, too, but their heads began turning before the Pac-12 tournament trip. When Brown was struggling with his offense, sophomore Andre Roberson said he noticed a senior who "just tried to stay consistent with it . . . his dedication to keep working really showed, and he started to come out of it."
Asked what kind of example that had been, Roberson said, "Just that hard work pays off. You've got to stick with it, keep going out knowing it's your last year and you've got one shot . . . we can all take heart in that and learn from what he went through. What he's getting right now is an accomplishment. It's pretty cool."
But it's an unfinished accomplishment. The Buffs are in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2003, drawing a No. 11 seed and meeting No. 6 seed UNLV on Thursday night (7:57 p.m.) in Albuquerque. Brown has been in the NCAAs before, but with Utah in 2009 as a sophomore at Utah before transferring to CU two seasons later.
Brown said that experience, coming three seasons ago, "might be a little bit overrated when it comes to a field where you have every situation, every team play their hardest because it's win or go home. It's pretty much everybody is zero-zero and the better team that day is going to win the game."
What he will draw on more, though, is personal confidence that received another lift in L.A. His role in the Buffs' four wins "gave me a great deal of confidence," he said. "I want to hit the big shots that people have been counting on me to do so far this year and again in the tournament when we needed it the most. I'm just looking forward to the opportunity of playing and making plays for my teammates."
Carlon "Downtown" Brown? Or Carlon "Throw It Down" Brown? Doesn't really matter as long as he continues to be Carlon "Still-In-Town" Brown.