Father's health scare shaped Bryce Brown years before he became Auburn basketball's leading scorer

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Father's health scare shaped Bryce Brown years before he became Auburn basketball's leading scorer

Bryce Brown was the only other one home when he heard his father's screams.

Then a junior in high school, Brown was playing a video game when his father, Cedric, felt a pain in his chest that dropped the then-51-year-old to the ground in agony.

"He's a very strong man and I've never seen him in that much pain," Brown said. "I hear him just yelling at the top of his lungs. I've never seen my dad do that, so of course, I knew something was wrong. He said, 'Bryce call 911. Call 911.'"

Paramedics arrived within 15 minutes and took Brown and his father, who was suffering a heart attack, to the hospital where Cedric Brown would end up having emergency stent surgery on Feb. 23, 2014.

"I remember when I was in the ambulance - it was hurting so bad - I told him, 'Just let me die,'" Cedric Brown said. "That's how painful it was. He was like. 'Dad, why did you say that?' It really impacted him a lot."

Cedric Brown ended up spending over a week in the hospital while Bryce, whose Columbia High School team was competing in the Georgia state playoffs, was also in and out of the hospital with a back injury.

The two-week ordeal culminated with Cedric Brown attending the Georgia AAAA state championship, where Bryce was limited due to his back, and Columbia lost to Jonesboro.

The life-changing episode had a profound impact on Bryce Brown, who has kept tabs on his father's diet and health ever since.

"I think it changed him mentally as far as knowing that life is very, very short and very, very precious," Cedric Brown said. "We saw as a family, we saw some immediate growth in him then."

Being close to home and family was important to Bryce Brown, who visited Auburn on Aug. 24, 2014, the day Bruce Pearl's three-year NCAA show-cause penalty expired, for a camp.

Less than 12 weeks later the three-star recruit ranked the No. 369 overall prospect and No. 91 shooting guard in the 247Sports Composite signed with Auburn, where Bryce Brown has become the team's leading scorer and best defender and the SEC's most prolific 3-point shooter while helping the No. 12 Tigers reach the precipice of their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 15 years.

Bryce Brown's journey from an unheralded recruit to a sharpshooter tormenting the SEC all traces back to that fateful afternoon almost exactly four years ago.

"That's the reason why some of the things he goes through (at Auburn), I tell him all the time, 'Bryce look at what we've gone through as a family. Some of the things you go through here, it shouldn't be a big deal,'" Cedric Brown said. "We always ground ourselves back on that life-changing event."


Cedric Brown was having pain he thought was bronchitis for nearly a month. He'd wake up in the middle of the night with back pain, but assured his wife, Donna, that he was alright.

"A man," Cedric Brown said, "not going to the doctor."

He didn't know it at the time, but Cedric Brown later found out he was having a hereditary heart problem.

It reached a breaking point just two days after Columbia, where Cedric was heavily involved with the booster club while Bryce played, won its first-round playoff game.

"It got to a point where it the pain hit me in my chest and that was it," said Cedric Brown, who had blood clots in his heart, requiring stent surgery.

While his father was bedridden, Bryce Brown was coping an injury to a disc in his back. He'd visit his father in the hospital and also receive treatments in order to keep playing for Columbia.

"He would be on the couch in the room where I am, and he would leave to get back therapy and come back and we really bonded a lot," Cedric Brown said. "He would come and say, 'Dad do you really want me to play? Do you really want me to go play, I don't want to leave you.' I said 'Don't worry about me, I'm here talking now. Everything is over. Surgery is over. I'm good I just have to get stronger.'

"It's tough because I'm trying to encourage him and he's more worried about me. I'm saying don't put that type of stress on your body mentally because it's going to hurt you."

Bryce Brown would go and play for Columbia in the second round, quarterfinals and semifinals, which his father was able to watch on TV.

"I was playing hard, I was playing really good, but at the same time my back was killing me," Bryce Brown said. "I was still able to lead my team to the state championship but at some point, I was only able to do so much going through what I was dealing with with my dad and my back at the same time.

"It was real hard for my mom as well. My mom, she never had that much of a load at one time to handle with me and my dad. She was down real bad, she felt bad for both of us. It was very emotional that whole month."

On March 6, Cedric Brown was in attendance to see his son play in the state championship, which Columbia lost, but the outcome was hardly the most important aspect of the evening for the Brown family.

Months later, Bryce Brown would transfer to Tucker High School for his senior season and a visit to Auburn altered his college plans.


Bryce Brown was weighing an offer from Charlotte when he visited Auburn for the first camp Pearl could personally attend.

"My coaches liked Bryce. They didn't love him, but they did like him, so I knew I had to look at him," Pearl said. "We hadn't offered him. Then in August, of course, I got a chance to lay eyes on him. I really liked him. I liked him a lot, but we had already offered (Jacob Evans).

"I remember I said to Bryce and his family, 'Listen, we have an offer out there at your position. I had not seen you. My coaching staff really liked you. Could you hang in there for a little while and see how this other thing plays out? I don't want to take the offer off the table. Not necessarily because I think that young man is better than you, but because I'm a man of my word. I've offered him, and I'm not going to pull.' As it turned out, a few weeks later in September, (Evans) chose Cincinnati over Auburn. Of course, we contacted Bryce and said it's yours if you want it."

Of course, Bryce Brown wanted to play in the SEC and being that much closer to home was a bonus.

The proximity has allowed Cedric Brown, a general manager at a software company in Atlanta, to regularly attend his son's games and practices.

"He'll be giving me advice after, what I can do better, what I should have done and should not have done," Bryce Brown said. "He likes to see what type of person I am in practice as well, see how I am to the coaches, see how I'm doing at all times."

Cedric Brown's self-described "tough" approach to parenting has benefited Bryce, who has often been the target of Pearl's scorn in practice over the years.

When Bryce Brown's body language wasn't to Pearl's liking, the coach would halt the practice and the team would have to run, which wasn't uncommon when Bryce was a freshman in 2015-16 and still happened earlier this season.

"Hell of a player Bryce," Pearl said in one such instance in November.

During one of the team's first preseason scrimmages in the summer, Bryce committed a series of turnovers in a one-possession situation. Though the other team didn't capitalize, during a brief timeout Pearl was reviewing the sequence with Brown's group when the junior guard piped in and the coach immediately cut him off.

"You just turned it over three times," Pearl said, "in a one-point game with 90 seconds to play!"

Brown went back to listening.

"I'd rather a kid care too much than not care enough. Bryce cared too much. He's managed over the last couple of years to put that all together, using his strengths," Pearl said. "In some ways, I think Bryce has always respected that and I didn't give him trust until he earned it. I think he also respects that I trust him. I think he's earned it this year. I think he started earning it in the summer.

"Last year, Bryce as our best player last summer. Last year he was our best player and it did not carryover. There were a lot of reasons why, but it didn't. I was never afraid, even a year ago, to be able to recognize the talent and call it out. That's why I rode him so hard, I don't ride guys that hard that don't have the upside. What am I going to ride you on? You're giving what you got. I knew there was more to Bryce; I knew there was a lot more to Bryce so that's why I rode him so hard and I'll still ride him if he reverts back."

Bryce admits his body language was "pretty bad" as a freshman and sophomore and has grown to recognize that Pearl's tactics are geared in motivation and discipline. Whether Brown even did anything "wrong" is not really the point.

"Bryce has always been accountable for his weaknesses and that made him coachable," Pearl said. "Not that he could always do anything about it because he'd still drive me crazy sometimes, but I never backed off the position I had to have. But Bryce is now making winning plays on both ends of the floor, including being more aggressive at both ends of the floor, so therefore there's more trust. It's clearly has taken place during the course of the season."

The ends clearly have justified the means.

Bryce Brown spent more time in the gym this offseason and improved his vertical jump, which enabled him to attack the hoop with greater tenacity this season. His scoring average has more than doubled from 7.5 last season to 16.4 entering tonight's game with Alabama thanks to an improved shooting percentage (41.6 from 36 last season) and getting to the foul line more than he did as a freshman and sophomore combined, plus he's making free throws at a greater rate (79.7 percent up from 66.7).

"When you allow guys to play with a lot of freedom like coach Pearl allows me to, you have to constantly be on them because at times I can take questionable shots and he has to remind me to stay in the offense, stay disciplined," Bryce Brown said. "I don't have a problem with him doing that. One of the things I feel like coach Pearl knows about me is to keep me challenged, always keep me motivated, because growing up I was always challenged. That's what's gotten me this far. Being challenged just motivates me.

"When I was finishing high school, I was a three-star and that motivates me because I feel like I should've been higher. That motivates me every day; it still motivates me to this day, because I feel like there are guys out there that were rated higher than me on certain people's lists and stuff like that and I'm out there trying to prove that I'm a better player than them and showing I can play with them."

If Auburn is going to continue its historic season with a run in March, it'll be largely up to Brown, who has been coping with injuries to his right shoulder and foot during the last two weeks.

Wherever the Tigers head this postseason, Cedric Brown will be there watching his son continue the best season of his career.

"I feel 30 years old now," said Cedric Brown, 55. "Being here helps me understand what Bryce needs because it's hard to figure that out over the phone. And I think he appreciates that."

James Crepea is an Auburn beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @JamesCrepea.

from Auburn Sports Impact

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