He had a last chance to make a first impression.
His high school coach, Mosi Barnes – who has been his mentor, his father figure and his dread-locked brother — once described him as “an urban legend.”
Since then the scope of Harris Brown’s story has stretched far beyond the tough Indianapolis neighborhood where he came of age.
Brown was a hoops standout at two Indianapolis high schools: Northwest and then TC Howe, where he averaged 30.4 points as a senior, was named the top prep player in Indianapolis and was third in the voting for Indiana’s Mr. Basketball.
That launched a journey that’s put him in the basketball jerseys of four different college teams.
He’s been an Evansville Purple Ace, a Dodge City Community College Conquistador, an Arkansas Tech Wonder Boy and now, finally, a Central State Marauder.
Along the way he’s dealt with everything from a bruised ego to two shoulder surgeries.
“It’s been tough, physically and mentally,” Brown said. “Each time you have to reintroduce yourself and try to fit in.”
The fit, he said, has been the best at Central State.
He credits Marauders’ coach Joseph Price with giving him “a second chance.”
Price called it “a last chance.”
The veteran CSU coach likely offered it for a few reasons.
He probably feels a bit of a kinship to Brown. He was once an Indiana prep sensation himself, scoring 1,492 points at Marion High. While his college career didn’t have the twists and turns like Brown’s has had – he played four years for Digger Phelps at Notre Dame, where his backcourt mate was John Paxson – he understands the need of getting another chance.
“Sometimes kids just need another opportunity to show what they are capable of,” he said. “And that’s what Central State is all about. We give a lot of people an opportunity when other schools maybe wouldn’t accept them
“It’s all about caring about kids.
“And when you do that, then it’s up to them to show that they deserve the chance and will make the most of it.”
And from the pragmatic sense, when someone like Brown makes the most of it, is a boon to the basketball program. .
But a shoulder surgery prevented that from happening last year and then this season – as he tried to get past the worry of re-injury — there were tentative games early on.
But Monday night it all came flooding back for Brown, in part, possibly, because a familiar face was in the crowd at Beacom/Lewis Gym for the first time ever.
At the invite of Price, Barnes – the former coach at Howe and now the athletics director and basketball coach at Arsenal Tech in Indianapolis – had come to the Marauders game against LeMoyne-Owen to watch Brown and another of his former Howe players, 6-foot-7 Dreon Lewis.
“Harris is like family to us,” said Barnes, who brought along his wife Kamika and their two daughters, 9-year-old Karis and 5-year old Kamille.
“The guys didn’t know we were coming today, so we kind of tried to sneak up on them,” said Barnes. “They didn’t see us until the lay-up line.”
Brown responded with what Price called “the greatest game of his college career.”
The 5-foot-11 senior guard scored a career-high 30 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, as CSU ran past the Magicians, 99-75, in a game that was not that close.
Brown made 8 of 11 three-point attempts – “the rim felt as big as the ocean,” he later said – and had hit five of them just 10 minutes or so into the game.
That seemed to especially rile LeMoyne-Owen’s leading scorer Tyrone Banks, who grabbed Brown’s arm on one play and then bulldozed him to the floor – straight onto his repaired, but still-wrapped right shoulder – after a steal and a fast break attempt a few seconds later.
Banks drew a technical foul and a warning from the refs and ended up on the bench the rest of the game.
Brown spent a few minutes on the bench, as well, getting his shoulder checked out. He eventually returned and continued his long range marksmanship, before driving the length of the court, through the five magic-less Magicians for a layup and his 30th point.
‘They knew I had a gift’
Brown said he was raised by his mother in the New Bridge Apartments on the east side of Indianapolis.
“It was a tough neighborhood and it’s easy to get caught up in what other people are doing,” he said. “The life cycle for a lot of guys is two things: getting locked up or getting killed.
“I wanted to break that. I was cool with lot of those guys, but they didn’t cross a line with me. They didn’t let me do anything out there. They wanted me to keep playing basketball. They said they knew I had a gift.”
That was sometimes easier said than done and in a video made by Charter Schools USA, Mosi Barnes talked about how Brown had been expelled from a middle school for his absenteeism and attitude.
That’s about the time the two met and they developed an immediate kinship. And it went farther than both having dreadlocks a smiling Brown said:
“When Coach Barnes came into my life everything changed. He was that male figure I needed. He was really like my brother. He taught me a lot about basketball and life. He’s the one person I can talk to about any situation.”
And there’s been plenty to talk about.
At Evansville, Brown averaged just 1.4 points as a freshman playing behind the Purple Aces all-time leading scorer JD Ballantine. He transferred to Dodge City (Kansas) and, playing alongside Lewis, who left Vincennes, averaged 13.4 points. But he found life off the court far different than anything he knew.
“That’s the real country,“ he said. “It was all cowboy boots and hats. The slaughterhouses are there and all you smell are cows. And people aren’t used to a lot of black people there, so we stayed in our lane and hung out mostly in the gym.”
While he said Arkansas Tech was “beautiful,” he played in just 15 games (averaging 13 points) because he was having recurring shoulder dislocations.
That prompted his first surgery. By then Lewis had left Dodge City for Central State and Harris soon followed suit.
At his first preseason practice last season with CSU, his surgically-repaired shoulder popped out again and it was decided he needed another surgery. That sidelined him for the season.
And that led to this year, his “last chance,” as Price called it.
‘You’re treated like family’
His “best” chance is the way Brown describes it:
“Central State is my first time at an HBCU (historically black college) and I love it. You’re treated like family. It’s a good vibe.”
Price has tweaked that vibe as the season has progressed:
“I’ve challenged him to raise up his level of play. After someone has surgery they sometimes are very nervous about contact. I’ve been riding him hard lately to prove he’s one of the top plyers in our conference.”
Brown is now averaging 16.6 points.
The (14-11) Marauders have one shining star in 6-foot-5 freshman Darweshi Hunter, who leads the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference in scoring at 20.5. He opened the preseason with 35 against Wright State.
Monday night – although he’d finish with 17 points – Hunter got in early foul trouble and went to the bench.
That’s when Brown took over.
No one enjoyed it more than Barnes. His first impression of Harris Brown in CSU’s maroon and gold was one he won’t forget:
“For Harris to go through the adversity he has, stay in school, work toward his degree and then have a game like this, it’s a beautiful thing.”
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