SAN FRANCISCO — Oregon guard Elijah Brown was such a renowned flopper while playing at New Mexico that USC created a drill ahead of its matchup with the Lobos back in 2015 specifically designed to guard him without fouling.
Brown, then a sophomore, had mastered the art of drawing fouls while shooting, just like James Harden or Kobe Bryant. He finished that season with 217 made free throws, third all-time in New Mexico single-season history.
“It’s something he does and he does it very well, and it works for him,” USC senior Jordan McLaughlin said. “But you learn how to play defense without fouling, just trying to make shots tough for him.”
The Trojans’ drill worked. Brown shot 6-of-21 from the field (4-of-12 from three) and only took two free throws in 36 minutes of play. USC won 90-82.
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Brown deployed a similar playstyle the following season, his last with the Lobos, but teams caught onto his tricks. He shot 35 fewer free throws and his shooting percentages plummeted.
Now, entering his last year of collegiate eligibility, Brown finds himself on a more team-oriented Oregon program with a similar, but slightly altered role.
“We lost our five leading scorers, so we’re going to have to get him to score,” Altman said. “But we want him to do it a little bit more efficiently than he has in the past.”
That was part of the reason why Brown elected to transfer to Oregon rather than Gonzaga, St. Mary’s, Iowa State or Northwestern. Brown said that Altman “seemed really genuine” as a person and in what he wanted Brown to do. Oregon won 90 games over the past three seasons and was coming off arguably its greatest year of hoops ever. Brown wanted to be a part of a team that competed for championships. He saw the opportunity he had at Oregon and took it.
“I just feel like it was a good situation for me,” Brown said. “The timing just happened to be convenient.”
Playing for Altman, though, will be much different than playing for former New Mexico coach Craig Neal, who favors a much more single-player-centered offense. Only two players averaged double-figures for the Lobos last season: Brown (18.8) and Tim Williams (17.4). As a team, the Lobos averaged only 13.5 assists per game, ranked tied for 165th in the nation.
Brown described Oregon’s style of play as “way different.” It’s something he’s still adjusting to as Oregon’s enters its third week of official practices.
“I think it’s all just part of getting used to being in the system and getting used to the players that are around me,” Brown said. “Just knowing what you’re looking for and just letting the game come to you rather than forcing it and letting it fly. I think that’s the biggest difference.”
Brown said he kicked his flopping habitat this summer, much to the delight of his father, Golden State Warriors assistant coach Mike Brown, who’s been trying to get his son to stop the habit for years. Elijah said it was a combination of trying too hard to draw fouls and the new style he’d play at Oregon that ultimately led to the change.
Aside from the flopping, Brown showed incredible talent in his two seasons at New Mexico. He averaged over 20 points per-game and was one of the premier scorers in the Mountain West.
But with the flopping habit behind him, he feels his game can take the next step.
“We’re probably going to have that drill again sometime this year,” McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin obviously hasn’t gotten the memo, yet.
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