Farmington is just another little Currier & Ives town along a winding Maine road, about 200 miles north of Boston and 70 miles from the Canadian border. The brick buildings of the downtown area huddle together along the Sandy River, the farms are scattered across the hillsides. Logging trucks roll past on the highways, the local radio station plays Pine Tree John Got Drunk and signs on the outskirts of town tell you that the Rotary meets on Thursdays.
Farmington also is the location of The Farm—the University of Maine at Farmington, a 1,600-student state college that opened 114 years ago as Western State Normal School. Cameron Brown is a senior at The Farm, hoping that a year from now he'll be teaching elementary school back home in Hallowell, or any place in Maine where he and his wife can get teaching jobs. Right now, however, Brown is the 6'4" star forward of the UMF Beavers and well known to faithful readers of the Waterville and Lewiston papers and the National Collegiate Athletic Association statistics sheets. Cam Brown is the leading scorer in the country among NCAA Division III schools. And on the weekly lists of stats for that division's schools—Eastern Mennonite, Slippery Rock, Ripon, et al.—he is the only player among the nation's leaders in all four individual categories: scoring (31.1, first), rebounding (11.6, 18th), field-goal percentage (.715, third) and free-throw percentage (.930, seventh). An old friend saw Cam's name mentioned in a South Dakota newspaper story on statistical leaders. Another heard about him on his radio off the Florida Keys. "I couldn't believe it," says Brown. "South Dakota? Florida? I get one write-up a year in my hometown paper [the Kennebec Journal of Augusta] and that's only an hour away."
Such is fame, and last week as Brown was bouncing around in the warmup lines for a game with Lyndon State of Vermont, he was asked to step over and pose for a picture with Lyndon's Ricky Sutton. It seemed that the Maine United Press International office wanted the two to pose together. Sutton, a 6' guard from Highland Park, N.J., had led the nation's Division III scorers the past two years, and now he was playing against Cam. Brown fidgeted through the picture-taking. He was nervous; this was one of the few times he'd ever seen two photographers in Dearborn Gymnasium, and this also was the first game the Beavers had played in six weeks.
The last had been on Dec. 16 against Nasson of Springvale, Maine. Exams came after that, then Christmas. While Phil Ford of North Carolina spent his Christmas vacation playing in Hawaii and Ronnie Perry of Holy Cross spent his in New York, Cameron Brown was loading beer cases for an Augusta liquor distributor. He married his longtime girl friend, Donna Teel, on Jan. 7 and two days later started a two-week schedule that began each day at 5:30, included the hour drive to Augusta and ended with Cam and Donna working nights in a pizza shop. The first time Brown touched a basketball after the Nasson game was on Jan. 20, six days before the matchup with Sutton.
February 6, 1978
His nerves, rust and Lyndon's box-and-one all helped make Brown's afternoon begin miserably. In the opening minutes he couldn't get the ball, and the first couple of times he did, he forced bad shots. Then Lyndon got tired of chasing him around and things began to fall together. A 20-footer from the right sideline. Swish. Next time down the floor, a 20-footer from the left. Swish. Back door. Two more points. Brown was limited to 26 minutes because of foul trouble, but when the game was over he had added these numbers to the stat sheets: 12-for-16 from the floor, 30 points, nine rebounds, six assists. UMF's Steve Powell had frustrated Sutton into an 18-point afternoon, and The Farm held Lyndon far below its 107-point average. The 84-69 victory raised Farmington's record to 7-1 and put it on the way to its third NAIA regional playoff berth in four years (like many smaller schools, Farmington is a member of both the NCAA and NAIA).
Statistics aside, Brown's performance was typical of what has made him Farmington's best player for four years. He hit 20-footers from either side, jump hooks from the baseline and turnarounds. He even executed one dazzling left-handed drive. "I've never seen anyone, except maybe John Havlicek, work as hard or as well without the ball," says UMF Coach Len MacPhee. "I don't care what level you're talking about. He's a textbook, only you don't put his kind of intensity, self-perfection and orneriness in textbooks."
Nature made Cameron Brown 6'4", 180 pounds and a bit slow. It also left him three inches, 20 pounds and a leap and a step from the big time. "I've often wished I were 6'7"," says Brown, "but I'm not, so I make the best of what I have. Coming from a Class C Maine high school, I had no false expectations.
"Last year Sutton told me he was transferring to Rutgers, that he had to if he were going to play pro. It's different for him. In New Jersey his peers play the big time, maybe the pros. Hey, my hero in high school was Brad Moore. He comes from Hallowell and starred at Colby. It's different in Maine. It's almost as if we're cut off from the rest of the country. If someone says he's going to play after college, he probably means for the Griffin Club in Portland. I play here for the same reasons that as a kid I shot in my backyard until my hands bled. I want to. If I have a really good year, maybe even get some of this publicity, I look at it one way—maybe it'll help Donna and me get teaching jobs."
In the summer Brown has worked with and played against players from Division I and II schools. "I think I could play with them now, even the big time up to Orono," Brown says, referring to the University of Maine.
"But I couldn't have, coming out of high school." Even though Hall-Dale Regional (300 students) won the state Class C championship, Cam was not formally recruited. No scholarships, no assistant coaches in patent-leather shoes. "I wanted a place like Farmington," he says.
Including the school, Farmington has a population of about 6,500. The town's big claim to fame is Chester Greenwood Day; he invented the earmuff. There are few bars in town, and the only week-nights the Golden Galley is busy are those when UMF plays, when Buckeye and the boys—rabid local alumni—come to town. "The State Theater never shows X-rated films," Brown says. "Matter of fact, if they're R-rated, they're cut so much they only last an hour."
The philosophy of the athletic program is clearly spelled out in the UMF catalog—"to create opportunity for participation by more students." Thus MacPhee's budget is $2,200, of which $1,000 is used to pay officials. "We're in what someone called a '12-man-van league,' " says MacPhee, who also teaches a full course load in the physical education department. Many of UMF's opponents pull kids out of New York or Boston; all of MacPhee's are from Maine. Last year the players raised $8,000 for a Christmas trip to Great Britain, the first flight for 10 of them. But $8,000 can't be raised too often, so the one overnight trip this year was to U. Maine-Presque Isle. The big rivals are U. Maine-Portland-Gorham and Husson College of Bangor. The league is called the Western Maine Athletic Conference. Newspapers get the results from Sports Information Director Don Waterhouse. Many games are at 4 p.m., and the Lyndon game drew just 750. Special favors? To earn money in the work-study program last year. Brown had to wash the team's uniforms every day. "We'd get home in the middle of the night," he says, "and I'd have to go right to the laundry.
"I've gotten a lot out of this place," Brown continues. "Eventually, I'd like to coach, and there's no one better to have played for than Coach MacPhee. He believes in teaching kids the best systems offered by the North Carolinas, Indianas, etc. If one wants to learn, it's all there. I couldn't have asked for more."
Brown and MacPhee turned out to be a perfect marriage. MacPhee's teams are defense-oriented (the Beavers have led their league in defense the last five years), his offense geared to motion and passing. "I'm just not a one-on-one player," says Brown. In the three previous seasons there was more size (6'5" Ray McKenna is this year's biggest player) and more shooting balance, so Brown averaged 20.0, 19.3 and 18.3 points per game, shooting 54% and averaging 10.8 rebounds. "We don't try to get the ball to him any more than before," says MacPhee. "He's averaging just 17 shots a game. I guess it's a reward for years of being such a perfectionist. He always pushes himself to work harder than anyone on the court. He demands perfection. One night he went 11-for-12 in the first half and came to the locker room ornery because of the one shot he missed."
Cameron Brown's ornery nature, so he says, is inherited. His father, now in the state agriculture department, was a left-handed pitcher who had much success in the town team leagues around Maine. Up in Jackman he knocked down a batter, and a lumberjack came out of the stands after him with a chain saw. Brown threatened to drill him between the eyes with the baseball. The lumberjack backed off. Major league scouts offered the elder Brown contracts, but he had a wife, was from Maine and planned to stay.
Cam will stay there, too. Donna's family are Rockland fishermen (her uncle, Henry Teel, was the subject of several Andrew Wyeth paintings). And in five weeks the basketball career of the nation's leading scorer, Division III, will probably be over. "I think about that," says Brown, "but I never expected it to be any different. I never dreamed about the spotlight. I got more enjoyment out of basketball than I ever imagined. But I've got responsibilities now. I've got to start thinking about finding a job."