A conversation with an Illini: Dee Brown

Dee Brown at Assembly Hall during the 2005 season. The Daily Illini file photo.

By Kevin McCarthy

Dee Brown is back. The braids and headband may be gone, but the former point guard’s heart has never left Champaign. No. 11 sat down to talk with me about the “magical” 2005 season, his dreams of wearing the orange blazer and playing horse.

Kevin McCarthy: At what point during that 2004-05 season did it hit you that your team could make it to the national championship game?

Dee Brown: To be honest with you, I haven’t told this story in months. We lost to Duke in the Sweet 16 my sophomore year. When we got back to Champaign, we said, “I don’t think people are going to be able to beat us next year.”

KM: That season, when you would walk around campus, could you even get from one place to another without a crowd forming?

DB: You could make a movie out of that year — there was so much support and so much love. It was tough to get around, but it was fun.

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KM: Talk about the atmosphere when you would walk into Assembly Hall that season.

DB: Electric, man. It was loud, it was fun. I remember the Orange Krush used to spend the night outside days before the game. Every time I think about it, I just get chills because of the support and the people showing up so amped for the games. They were really our sixth man.

KM: What was your favorite memory from that season?

DB: It would have to be winning that Arizona game to go to the Final Four. That was big for us — that was our hope, our dream and our goal from the beginning of the year. It was also my grandma’s last time seeing me play; that was big for me.

KM: What was it like knowing that it was your grandma’s last time getting to watch you play?

DB: Oh man, it was awesome. She was one of my biggest fans. For it to happen in such a historic way, it was a great feeling. You can’t take that away from me for the rest of my life — getting to play in front of my grandma to make it to the Final Four. Coming back from down 15, with 3:57 to go, it was just magical.

KM: What made you, Deron Williams and Luther Head so good together?

DB: Sacrifice. We didn’t care who got the credit, we just enjoyed watching each other play. We enjoyed winning together. The chemistry was special. It’s rare nowadays to see players completely sacrifice for the good of not only the whole team, but for another individual player.

KM: Do you still keep in touch with those two?

DB: For sure. They’re more than just teammates — they’re brothers.

KM: What can your story — as a kid from Maywood who made it big — do to inspire a younger kid who wants to accomplish what you did?

DB: Man, I come from nothing. I came from the bottom. You see somebody who grew up in a less fortunate area, having a dream and being a smaller guy — everybody was telling me what I could and couldn’t do. Now, I have things that they can’t take away from me — as far as hardware, degrees, all these accolades. You see a guy who dreamed to do those things as a young boy. He worked to achieve them.

KM: Who did you look up to when you were growing up?

DB: I have to say I looked up to my mom. You could watch Isiah Thomas, Allen Iverson — you can seem them on TV. It’s different than someone actually being there all the time for you. I saw my mom and how hard she worked and I just used that work ethic that she instilled in me to get me to where I needed to go. The people in my neighborhood who didn’t quite turn out or be successful really motivated me too, they showed me what not to do.

KM: Talk a little bit about being coached by Bruce Weber. What made him such a good coach?

DB: He worked. He loved the game. His work ethic was crazy. That’s what brought us together. He’s a great coach.

KM: John Groce — what do you like about his coaching style?

DB: He’s a point guard coach. He’s really enthused and has great energy. Players love playing for him.

KM: So far, he has failed to land a Dee Brown type of player. He hasn’t gotten that big player out of Chicago. What does he have to do to land that caliber of player?

DB: I don’t know the answer to that. In Groce we trust, I really believe we’ve got the right guy. He has terrific work ethic and I think he’ll get the job done.

KM: What’s your pitch to Chicago kids on why they should come play at the University of Illinois?

DB: Stay in-state, represent your state school. It can’t get any better academically than Illinois, your parents can come from two hours down the road to watch you play, we have the No. 1 living alumni in the country, top-10 public university, brand-new facility once the State Farm Center is done being renovated, a rich history in developing players and I’m down here. I’ll make sure you reach your full potential.

KM: That sounds like a good pitch to me. Can this program become a powerhouse again?

DB: For sure.

KM: How do you plan on helping in that process?

DB: Anything I can do. I’m very good at selling this school. I’m going to do everything I can to spread that positive word and vibe that you can get by going to the University of Illinois.

KM: What happened to the corn rows?

DB: Man, you get to an age where you have to change it. I had the braids for a long time, but by the time I turned 29, I went another direction.

KM: How do you think I would look with those?

DB: (laughing) You’d look smooth. You’re alright.

KM: Are there any basketball dreams you weren’t able to fulfill?

DB: I would say winning an NCAA and NBA championship. I was five points away from winning in college and I went to the Western Conference Finals in the NBA.

KM: You played in eight different countries. Just in general, what’s the difference between playing in the NBA and playing overseas?

DB: In the NBA, it’s a lot of one-on-one basketball. Overseas, it’s really geared toward the team. It’s about sharing the basketball and taking the right shots.

KM: How are you liking the new job? (as special assistant to the Athletic Director)

DB: I like it. It fits my strengths. I’m very blessed and humbled to come back to my school.

KM: You’ve talked before about wanting to coach here. What are those dreams to you?

DB: They’re real. If I don’t coach here, I’m going to coach somewhere. In the future, God leads me where I need to go. Everybody says I’ll be a great recruiter, but I’ve been a point guard, a second coach for nine years.

KM: What would it mean to you to coach for Illinois?

DB: Everything, it’s a dream.

KM: Would you rock the orange blazer?

DB: Of course.

KM: Would you want to stay in Champaign for the rest of your life?

DB: That’d be the ultimate dream.

KM: Do you ever just step back, look at all you’ve accomplished in life, and just take a second to say “wow.”

DB: No. I’ve never been a complacent guy. I want to continuously achieve. I’ve got so many dreams. I just want to keep climbing and see how far that ladder goes.

KM: Can you and I play “horse” at some point? You and me — over at the State Farm Center?

DB: For sure.

KM: I think you might take me down.

DB: I’ve got some trick shots. I ain’t gonna hit you with the basics.

KM: I gotta say something before I go. Growing up as a kid in Illinois, it’s been hard not asking you for your autograph. I’m not allowed to do it — but, I just want you to know that you’re the man.

DB: Thanks, man. I appreciate it. Anything you ever need, holler at me.

Kevin is a sophomore in Media.?