Many kids dream of becoming NBA players. They emulate stars of the day on Fisher Price hoops in their basements and driveways.
Few, however, approach those aspirations quite like Troy Brown Jr. The Wizards' 2018 first round pick says he can date watching film to improve his game all the way back to elementary school.
Early on, Brown Jr. discovered there was a deep and rich archive of NBA video, free and readily available on the internet. All he had to do was log on to YouTube.
Brown Jr. would consume clip after clip with his father, Troy Brown Sr., who played in college at Texas A&M Kingsville. He began by studying the best point guards of that era like Chris Paul. From there, he went further back and found legends of the 1990s like John Stockton and Penny Hardaway.
"It was kind of basic for me to watch regular NBA basketball," Brown Jr. told NBC Sports Washington. "I wanted to see where it started from and see how it developed and evolved."
Brown Jr. became fascinated with the history of the game and the point guard position. That led him to the 1980s and Magic Johnson.
"That was my favorite player for a really long time. When I was younger, him and Larry Bird, I watched them all the time," Brown Jr. said. "I just liked that era of basketball."
Studying became a common theme for Brown Jr.. He went on to make honor roll and take pre-AP classes in high school. And applying that focus to the court helped him develop a basketball IQ beyond his years.
Brown Jr.'s intellect was the first thing many Wizards officials pointed to when he was drafted this past June. Team president Ernie Grunfeld made reference to Brown Jr.'s smarts six different times the night he was drafted. Head coach Scott Brooks mentioned some variation of his IQ and his understanding of the game five times.
All of that praise from basketball lifers, yet Brown Jr. was only 18 when he was picked.
One Wizards front office executive when asked about Brown Jr., remarked: "have you talked to him?" Those in the organization believe his intelligence will help set him apart as an NBA player.
That potential was demonstrated during the pre-draft interview process when the Wizards gave Brown Jr. a pop quiz. Brooks handed him a whiteboard and tasked him with drawing up a last-second play in front of coaches and front office personnel. Brooks has administered that test many times over the years and Brown Jr. responded as well as anyone he has seen.
To make the NBA, it takes a lot more than being smart, of course. It takes talent, which Brown Jr. was blessed with as the son of two college athletes. And it takes skill, which can only be obtained through years of training and hard work.
Brown Jr.'s on-court basketball journey began in Nevada rec centers and high school gyms, air-conditioned escapes from the desert heat. The stories from his AAU days have become legendary in Las Vegas hoops.
In fourth grade, he started playing for DeDan Thomas, a Las Vegas AAU coach who played college ball at UNLV. While with the Running Rebels, Thomas was coached by legends like Jerry Tarkanian, Rollie Massimino and Jay Wright.
UNLV is also where Thomas first met Wizards senior vice president of basketball operations Tommy Sheppard, who served in the sports information office. That connection came in handy when the Wizards assessed Brown Jr.'s character before drafting him.
Thomas coached Brown Jr. with Brown Sr. also on the staff. He first met the family while working as a probation officer with Brown Jr.'s mother, Lynn, in Las Vegas. Both of Troy's parents were correctional officers.
In those early AAU years, they took long road trips to California and Arizona so Brown Jr. and his teammates could face off with the country's best. Back then, that meant going up against guys like Marvin Bagley III, Wendell Carter Jr. and Deandre Ayton, three of the top seven picks in the 2018 NBA Draft, in the fifth and sixth grade.
When Brown Jr. was in seventh grade, Thomas brought him to a men's league game at Club Sport in Henderson, NV along with his former college teammate who played professionally overseas. Brown Jr. lit up the other team.
"Guys were coming up to Troy after the game and asking how old he was," Thomas said. "Everyone just knew the kid had it."
Brown Jr., now 6-foot-7, grew quickly as a kid and was often the tallest player on his team even though he played a grade up. And despite his size, he mostly played point guard. That gives him a different perspective when playing other positions off the ball.
It helped having Thomas, a former point guard himself, oversee some of his formative years.
"He was like a sponge, man. Very smart kid," Thomas said.
From eighth grade through high school, Brown Jr. played for the Las Vegas Prospects under coach Anthony Brown. Coach Brown remembers a kid, who like many in the AAU circuit, didn't care for defense when they first met.
But over the years, that changed. Brown takes pride in Brown Jr.'s development on the defensive end and one story stands out above all.
In the summer of 2016, Brown Jr. won a gold medal with Team USA at the FIBA U-17 World Championship. He then flew to Atlanta, GA to join his AAU team for the Peach Jam.
Due to the long flight, Brown told Brown Jr. he could sit out the first game. He initially followed those orders.
But the next morning, as the team met in the hotel lobby at 7:30 a.m., Brown Jr. was the first to arrive. He told coach he wanted to play. The matchup was against future Duke star and current Trail Blazers guard Gary Trent Jr.
"He ends up guarding Gary Trent in this game and puts the handcuffs on him," Brown said. "The kid just refuses to lose... That's who he is as a person. No excuses. Regardless of whether he came from Team USA or not. I came here to take care of business. Check up."
When Brown Jr. was a freshman in high school, he was invited to LeBron James' camp, in his hometown in Las Vegas.
James was in the gym when Brown Jr., on a team with Ayton, faced off with future NBA players Jalen Brunson and Stephen Zimmerman. Brunson, who is three years older than Brown Jr., went on to star for two national championship teams at Villanova and win the national college player of the year award.
"Troy was in awe. He was 14 and he's playing on this big stage," Brown remembers.
"So, they come down and Brunson makes a good move on Troy and then claps in his face. Troy goes for a triple-double in that game. They beat Zimmerman and Brunson. They win the game. It's camp ball, but he gets a triple-double. LeBron James comes over and is watching him. Everyone is standing around like 'who is this kid?'"
Brown, who has coached other NBA players during his 19 years at the AAU level, says Brown Jr. is as impressive a young player and man as he has come across.
"I think I will tell those stories for the rest of my life," Brown said.
Now on a Wizards team that has made the playoffs in four of the past five seasons, Brown Jr. has to wait his turn for playing time.
It's not quite the same as when he stepped on campus at Oregon University as a McDonald's All-American, but he learned a lesson then about making a first impression as the new guy.
"It was about coming in and proving myself in my first couple practices and letting everyone know that I was here to stay," he said. "I was going to work as hard as I could every day just to prove a point. From there, I kind of gained respect from everybody and that's how I earned my spot."
Brown Jr. is young and playing on a deep Wizards roster that features Otto Porter Jr. and Kelly Oubre Jr. at the small forward position. Brown Jr. has to pay his dues, as they once did.
He understands he has to be patient, but is preparing for when the opportunity comes.
"I'm getting here early and putting up shots. I'm putting up shots after practice," he said. "I'm making sure I'm always ready when my name is called."
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