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Kwame Brown busts out
by Gary Starikoff / November 4, 2002

Through three games, Kwame Brown is averaging 12 points, 13 rebounds, and 4 blocked shots. He was the Wizards’ only bright spot in its 74-68 season opening debacle at Toronto on Wednesday, finishing with 12 points, 18 rebounds, and five blocks.

He was stellar in Thursday’s home opening 114-69 smackdown of Boston, with a 20-point, 6-rebound, 6-block effort that was highlighted by an early third quarter rally that featured a power dunk, followed by a three-point play, and then a block off Antoine Walker that led to a jump shot at the other end.

And while Brown struggled from the field in the Wizards’ 87-79 loss to New Jersey on Saturday, scoring only four points, he did manage 14 boards and 2 blocks while holding his own in the lane against Kenyon Martin and Dikembe Mutombo.

Despite the low offensive output against the Nets, the kid’s early season performance has received round praise. “He was all over the place. He’s infectious.” Michael Jordan said. “He’s going to prove over and over again in his career why he was picked number one in the draft,” Celtics Coach Jim O’Brien said.

For sure, it’s been only three games, but considering where the high-schooler ended last season, it’s more than nearly anyone could imagine.

Brown fought most of the way through his rookie campaign. He saw action in just 57 games and averaged just 5 points and 4 rebounds. He spent a good portion of midseason on the injured list, and the rest of time and trying to please a demanding coach who carried a father’s authority. “I told him [many times], ‘Kwame, I promise you, if you do what we ask you to do, we’ll give you the space that you want,’” Doug Collins remembers. “‘But I can’t do that until I see that you can handle it.’”

Off the court, life wasn’t much easier. Brown was living on his own for the first time and learning how to negotiate the big city. By season’s end, Collins had noticed that Brown’s face had broken out, and that he was exhibiting noticeable signs of stress.

But what a difference a summer makes. The coach admits now that he was probably too hard on the young man. “Coming in from high school, playing with arguably the greatest player ever to play, and being the number one pick,” Collins says, “there’s nobody ready for that.” So, in an astonishingly restrained move for a notorious control freak, the coach did what all good parents do—let up and let go. Instead of looking over Brown’s shoulder at every turn, Collins became simply his coach, while veteran big men Patrick Ewing and Charles Oakley were brought in as mentors.

The coach cannot overstate Oakley’s role in Brown’s early returns. “I told Oak you can do more for that young guy than I can ever do,” he said.

“Charles is always in my ear,” Brown admits. “If I slip up one bit, I hear it. If I go five minutes without hearing something from Charles, something’s wrong.”

What does Oakley say to the kid? “I [tell] him to prove to people why he’s the number one pick. Does he listen to me? I don’t know what he did in another class, but when you come to my class it’s full attention.”

So what now? Is it too much to expect Brown to keep this pace up? “Now the thing is that everybody will expect everything,” Jordan said on Saturday. “You’ve got to be ready to do it every single night.”

One thing, however, is for certain: Whatever the Wizards’ expectations were for him last year, Kwame Brown fell far short. This season, however, he already seems to have exceeded even the most optimistic predictions.

“I’m not about to get a big head when we’ve got 80 more games to play,” Brown stated self-consciously after the Boston victory. But quicker than you could say “Jermaine O’Neal” or “Tyson Chandler,” Brown added proudly, “I’m gaining these guys’ respect and trust.”

Gary Starikoff is a regular contributor to HoopsHype.com

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