Memorial (Port Authur, Texas) senior J'Covan Brown has made a habit of seizing character-building opportunities during his high school career.
Prior to transferring to Memorial as a junior, Brown learned about leadership as a freshman and sophomore when he carried Monsignor Kelly to consecutive TAPPS state titles. More recently, Brown got a lesson in patience when a foot injury sidelined him for three months this summer during the height of his college recruitment.
Whether good or bad, Brown emerged from each experience a better player every step of the way. And now the 6-foot-3, 185-pound shooting guard enters his final prep season as the state's No. 2-ranked player and the No. 46 overall recruit from the Class of 2008 by RISE.
"J'Covan has had some great opportunities to challenge himself the past few years," says second-year Memorial coach Terrul Henderson. "He's the kind of kid who needs to be challenged to get better. Challenge him and you'll see his best."
But for as long as Brown plays basketball, he might never face a bigger challenge than he did as a middle schooler taking part in the Port Arthur Parks & Recreation Department adult summer league.
Sure, it might not sound like anything special, but every Port Arthur-area baller who has made a name for himself on the hardwood makes it a point to come home each summer to participate. We're talking the likes of current NBA players Stephen Jackson (Golden State Warriors) and Kendrick Perkins (Boston Celtics) and former UT star and NBA first-round pick B.J. Tyler.
Surround those NBA veterans with a deep cast of current and former Division I college players and you've got yourself a first-class league.
"All the guys used to force J'Covan to get out there when he was in fifth and sixth grade," says Henderson, who has been a family friend of the Browns for years. "They knew he could play, so they wanted to toughen him up. Those games made him the player he is today."
Today, Brown is a no-nonsense shooting guard with NBA range and the ability to beat anyone off the dribble. He can also run the show as a point guard or sneak down low and steal a few rebounds if that's what the team needs. After all, when you battle NBA players for boards over the summer, venturing into the paint during the high school season isn't that intimidating. Brown has no problem holding his own during the summer league these days. But it was a different story a few years ago. Luckily, he always had an ally in Jackson, his cousin, who is known as Stevie in his hometown.
"Stevie told me to never be nervous and always give it my all," Brown says. "They beat me up pretty good when I was younger. But it was good what they were doing to me. I have no fear now."
That helps explain how Brown was able to step in as a freshman at Monsignor Kelly and average 20 points, seven assists and four boards per game en route to a TAPPS Class 5A state championship. The Bulldogs moved up to Class 6A the following year, and Brown responded by upping his production to 25 points per game, fearlessly leading the team to another state crown.
With his brother and teammate, Johnathan, graduating from Kelly following the second championship and family friend Henderson taking over at Memorial around the same time, Brown made the move to his hometown school for his junior year. Thanks in large part to his 26.3 points per game, the Titans stormed to a 29-5 regular season record last year only to be upset by Madison in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs. Henderson has high hopes for this year's team, with Brown being the key to it all.
"He's evolved into a leader over the years, and we're going to need that out of him this year," Henderson says. "We're going to be a young team with some really talented young guys, so his leadership abilities could be the difference."
Brown unexpectedly found himself in a leadership role this preseason while spending three months rehabbing a broken bone in his right foot. Instead of letting his star senior get comfortable on the bench while watching his Memorial teammates play in preseason leagues, Henderson turned the coaching reins over to Brown.
"It took my mind off wanting to be out there," Brown says. "I got to see what my teammates strengths were, which should help for the season."
Every minute Brown spent directing his teammates made him that much hungrier to get back on the floor this winter. After missing so much time, he's sure to have plenty of pent-up energy to unleash on some early-season opponents. And as one of the few uncommitted players in the RISE Top 50, a fast start could heat up Brown's recruitment as well. As of press time, he'd zeroed in on Texas, Oklahoma State and Baylor, but also listed Kentucky, Cincinnati and New Mexico State as schools of interest.
Wherever Brown's career takes him, one thing's for sure: He'll be playing his summer ball in Port Arthur.
"He has the opportunity to be the next guy from this area to go on and make a name for himself," Henderson says. "To be one of the guys all the kids look up to."