Several years ago, Troy Brown Jr. and his family were driving home from a preseason basketball tournament at midnight, and Brown Jr. was fuming. His team had just lost a tournament championship game in the closing seconds, and even though he had spent his entire day hooping, he was too fired up to stop.
“He was so mad,” said his dad, Troy Brown Sr. “He had tears coming out of his eyes and he was insisting that I take him to the gym, at midnight, so he could work on his game.”
Brown Jr. hates to lose. He hasn’t had to deal with it much throughout his career, but that only made the losses, when they came, that much more painful.
It’s that competitive fire that helped Brown Jr. become one of the top high school basketball players in the country — a path that ultimately led him to Oregon. He’s the highest-rated recruit of the Dana Altman era and could be Oregon’s first one-and-done player in school history. He’s been in the national spotlight since elementary school and will be once again this fall as he helps usher in a new era of Oregon basketball.
He may not be at Oregon long, but his stop in Eugene will serve as the next step to an already illustrious career that took off over a decade ago.
‘He wanted to accomplish more’
By the age of 3, most children can ride a tricycle or use advanced sentence structure. Brown Jr. was already dunking.
The little plastic hoop that his father set up in their Las Vegas home served as Brown Jr.’s introduction to basketball. He jumped off chairs and tables trying to recreate dunks he saw from the NBA stars of the late ’90s.
Brown Jr. also played soccer and football and ran track as a kid. But his father recognized early on that basketball would be his son’s path. Brown Sr. played basketball in college at Texas A&M University-Kingsville. That’s also where he met his wife, Lynn, who ran track and played volleyball. The genes were there; they just hoped the motivation would follow.
Brown Jr. started playing competitively around the time he was 4, and became a phenom as an elementary school kid. He studied Larry Bird and Penny Hardaway, two players who made their teammates better, and soon adopted a similar playing style.
He stepped into the national spotlight in second grade, when his AAU team competed in the national championship tournament in Orlando.
“Really early on, we kind of had an idea that he’d end up a pretty good basketball player,” Brown Sr. said. “He’s always shown ability to play the game at a pretty high level.”
While Brown Jr. had the physical traits and the ability from an early age, he was constantly playing catch-up to his older sisters, Jada and Janae, who both also excelled at sports. Janae won the shot put at the 2002 National Junior Olympics and Jada won a Nevada state basketball title in high school, which made their jabs at their brother more poignant. The competition, while friendly, fueled Brown Jr. all the same.
“He would see his sisters competing,” Brown Sr. said, “and he wanted to accomplish more.”
Those accomplishments started to build in middle school, as Brown Jr. dominated the Las Vegas’ youth basketball scene. His notoriety spread and he received his first scholarship offer when he was 14 from UNLV.
But before committing anywhere, Brown Jr. had to make it through high school. Nevada has two of the premier high school basketball schools in the country in Bishop Gorman and Findlay Prep, which have created dozens of Division I recruits and a handful of NBA players. Brown Jr. could’ve played at either if he wanted. Instead, he chose Centennial High, a public school where his sister Jada won a state title. He wanted to follow in her footsteps and win a state title for himself. He also wanted to play with his friends, most of whom were going to Centennial.
Playing for a coach like Todd Allen only sweetened the deal.
Allen turned the Centennial program around during his tenure, and the Browns liked the team-oriented style that Allen preached.
Allen heard rumors that Brown Jr. was considering choosing his program over the perennial powerhouses like Gorman and Findlay. So Allen went to watch the eighth grader workout, introduce himself and see what the hype was all about.
“First time I saw him work out, I knew he was going to be special,” Allen said. “You sit there and think, ‘There’s no way this kid is an eighth-grader. There’s no way.’”
Brown Jr. started all four years at Centennial, leading the Bulldogs to a record of 95-17 while averaging double figures in points every year. A 6-foot-7 point guard, he could smother opposing players on defense or rise over them for dunks and jumpers. He earned McDonald’s All-American honors in 2017, played in the Jordan Brand Classic this past summer, and won a gold medal with Team USA in the 2016 U17 FIBA World Championships — a feat that he routinely brings up to his sisters.
He made the most of his time at Centennial. Stepback jumpers, ankle-breaking crossovers and vicious dunks were in store whenever Brown Jr. took the court. His most viral play came in December of his senior year when he dunked on 6-foot-11 Marvin Bagley, a consensus top-three player in the country.
“He’s had dozens of highlight plays and clutch moments that he capitalized on,” said Darian Scott, a high school teammate of Brown Jr. “You will see him doing something impressive every night he’s on the floor. I guarantee it.”
What made Brown Jr. special was what made players like Bird and Hardaway special; he elevated the play of his teammates and inspired others to perform better.
Allen remembers Brown Jr.’s sophomore year when Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski visited Centennial. Krzyzewski, who is a two-time inductee of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, could only think of one comparison for Brown Jr.: Magic Johnson, the 6-foot-9, Hall of Fame point guard who won five NBA Championships with the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1980s.
“[Krzyzewski] told me that Troy has the ability, with his makeup, to be that good if he chooses to,” Allen said.
Despite all Brown Jr. accomplished in high school, Centennial lost in the state playoffs in each of his four years. He graduated from Centennial in 2017 with a sense of “unfinished business,” according to his father.
“I think it’s driven him to continue to work hard,” Brown Sr. said. “I think just like everything else, he kind of takes it and uses it as energy to drive him.”
Oregon and beyond
By the time he graduated, Brown Jr. had already committed to Oregon. He signed with the Ducks in November of 2016 after Oregon made a late push for him in the fall. He enrolled in early June of this year.
He liked Altman and his staff, which was a primary reason he chose Oregon over Kansas, a more traditional blue-blood program and the place his sister Jada played basketball for four years. Altman said he’s enjoyed working with Brown Jr. in the few months he’s been on campus. He called Brown Jr. a “really good talent” and said that he’s been “easy to work with.”
“Troy is gonna be unbelievable,” sophomore Payton Pritchard said. “He’s gonna have to step up big for us this year.”
The one drawback with Brown Jr., though, is that this could be his only year in an Oregon uniform. Several NBA mock drafts list him as a potential first-round pick. If those predictions hold up, he would be guaranteed millions of dollars if he makes the jump to the pros, a tough offer to reject.
Oregon had three players drafted last year, the most in a single year in program history. Brown Jr. could make Oregon history again this year by being the first Duck to go one-and-done.
“We haven’t had those types of issues before,” Altman said. “… Fortunately for us, he’s just worried about the year.”
Brown Jr. himself said he’s not thinking about the draft.
“One and done is always in the picture,” Brown Jr. told John Canzano on The Bald Faced Truth back in May. “But I never really thought of it like that. I’m just here to play basketball and whatever happens, happens.”
He has time to make that decision — June 11 is the deadline. Oregon’s season will be long over by then, but Brown Jr. will be sure to make every moment of his career as a Duck count, no matter how long it lasts.
Follow Gus Morris on Twitter @JustGusMorris