Photo credit: Trung Ho / TrungHo.ca
“I’m just anxious right now. I’m itching for the success.”
Lorenzo Brown is often called up by the Raptors to play spot minutes, but January 11 was special. Brown began the day on his usual grind – tearing up the G League’s Santa Cruz Warriors in Mississauga to the tune of 24 points and 12 assists. That night, with the Raptors up six after the first quarter, Brown was summoned to enter the biggest game of Toronto’s season – a showdown with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
With the game televised nationally in the States, and with that pesky itch for success, it would have been understandable if Brown tried to force his game. And with Brown starting the quarter paired with emerging point guard Fred Vanvleet, i.e., someone standing in his way of an NBA roster spot, Brown may have felt some incentive to outduel his teammate. It also would have been natural for Vanvleet to feel threatened by an intruding fellow point guard. But any tension in the air was dispelled by Vanvleet.
“Fred pulled me to the side and was just like, ‘Look man: we’re in this together. The only way we’re going to succeed is if we work together,'” Brown reflects. “Fred – that’s my guy. I was born in Rockford, Illinois. Fred is from there as well. We have a connection. That spoke to me. I appreciate him for that.”
That connection looked pretty strong on the Raptors’ first possession of that quarter.
With Brown on court, the lead grew from six to 19, and the Raps ended up stomping the Cavs by 34. The gravity of the moment had no effect on Brown’s play.
“(Nerves are not an issue) anymore. At first, maybe early in my career, but not anymore,” he said.
— Lorenzo Brown (@Zo_Brown) September 26, 2017
That tweet was sent out just before the start of the 2017-18 season.
“Four years in the game. I feel like I can compete with the best,” Brown says. “The comment speaks for itself. I feel like I’ve been slept on, and I’m here to prove that.”
Brown was itching to be selected in the first round of the 2013 NBA draft. But only after 51 names were called did Brown hear his. Since that night, Brown’s only tasted cups of coffee with the NBA: abbreviated stints with the Sixers, T-Wolves, Suns, and after a year in China, he’s seen some time with the Raptors, while spending most of the season with their G League affiliate, the 905.
Brown’s always cut a serious demeanour. After moving to Roswell, Georgia as a middle-schooler, Brown remembers not only developing a great passion for the game, but feeling that that was the point when he started to take basketball “more seriously than any other guy.”
That singular focus of outworking his competition appears early on game day. Coming off a 4-for-20 shooting performance in Philadelphia, Brown appears on court for a Saturday afternoon game at Hershey Centre with an earnest intensity. He goes through a systematic routine – agility drills on a block, dribble work with assistant coach A.J. Diggs, and pick and rolls with the bigs.
Then it’s over to the three point line.
Raptors GM Masai Ujiri says that Brown is “close” to nailing down a roster spot in the NBA, but one thing that would seriously help his cause is if he becomes a “knock down” three point shooter. Maybe that’s why Brown appears frustrated after missing a series of corner threes, clapping his hands in disgust. After four years on the NBA fringes, the average pro baller is not cracking the NBA. Even Brown’s peers are skeptical of his chances. But the 6’5 point guard is not deterred.
“When I came back to the G League (from China for the 2017-18 season), people were asking me ‘why are you coming back? You should be going overseas somewhere,'” Brown says. “My mindset is stuck here. I got something to prove.”
Despite his unwavering will, Brown has sought guidance during his fight for NBA survival. He got the perfect dose during the 2014-15 season, when he played 29 games with the T-Wolves, and an aging vet rejoined his old squad.
“Kevin Garnett was the biggest mentor for me,” Brown says. “Preseason, I actually stayed with him. I got a chance to see what he was living like and pick his brain a little bit. That’s kinda where I got my hunger from this year. I just felt like he went through so much, I feel like I’ve been through so much in my life thus far. I’m just trying to improve and get to the top.
“(Garnett’s leadership) was motivating. Just growing up, watching him, how he improved his game, how he led his team to a championship. I just took it as a positive energy and ran with it.”
As the elder statesman on the 905, Brown has become his team’s mentor. While his leadership style appears drastically different from the overt and aggressive Garnett, it’s been equally effective. On-court, rather than barking instructions, Brown has quick messages for his teammates between plays, and authoritatively gestures with his eyes and arms as to where the play is going to go. All while maintaining that stoic composure.
“Brown’s just real chill,” says backup guard Davion Berry. “He’s been like a big brother. He’s been a good guy on and off the court.”
“Every time I talk to him he always has good answers for me, and he always helps me out,” 905 point guard Kaza Keane says. “I’m just excited he’s on my team. He knows how to crack jokes when they’re needed, keep it serious when it’s needed. He’s our leader, and he kinda gets us going. Without him we wouldn’t be in the position we are now.”
Swingman Negus Webster-Chan loves Brown’s understated MO.
“He’s definitely a down to earth guy,” Webster-Chan says. “The team loves being around him. When he goes to the Raptors and comes back down, we love having him here. He’s a star for us.”
Not surprisingly, his teammates unanimously agree Brown belongs in the NBA. Hard to argue that he doesn’t belong in the G League: he’s a three-time G League All-Star, averaging nearly 20 points, 10 assists and over five rebounds this season. But he’s signed to an organization that has three solid point guards, so, as he’s done for the last four-plus years, he’ll keep working while he waits his turn.
“I’m going hard every day. I’m in the gym as much as possible,” Brown says. “I just want the world to see what I’m about.”