CLEVELAND — The Miami RedHawks are playing for their NCAA tournament lives on Thursday against Toledo.
That’s enough motivation for any team. Dalonte Brown, a freshman forward for the RedHawks, has a little something extra in the tank.
“Oh yeah,” the former Bowsher standout said. “It means more than a lot to get a chance to knock off Toledo. I had motivation [the first time we played]. My coaches had me pumped. That’s where I’m from, and that was my first offer.”
Dalonte Brown of Bowsher shoots over St. John's player Joey Fretti last year. Brown was City League player of the year with the Rebels a year ago.
The 6-foot-7, 196-pound Brown was named to the Mid-American Conference all-freshman team Monday. He’s started 31 of 32 games this season, averaging 8.3 points and 5.4 rebounds in 22 minutes. Brown is shooting 44.3 percent from the field.
His best performance of the season came at Bowling Green’s Stroh Center, just a few miles south of his childhood home. Brown recorded 16 points, a Herculean 17 rebounds, and three blocked shots in a 77-72 Miami victory Jan. 2. He’s reached double figures 10 times, including a career-high 19 points against Kent State on Feb. 27, and had four 17-point games.
The Rockets beat Miami 73-67 in the teams’ only meeting this season. Brown had seven points, six rebounds, and one block. They meet again at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the MAC tournament quarterfinals.
“I’m happy with the season, but I feel like it could be better,” said Brown, whose GPA is above 3.0. “It was a learning curve — the speed, the physicality. It was a huge change with the plays. In high school, we didn’t really run sets, we just went. Defense wasn’t a big deal in high school either.”
Brown was a second-team All-Ohio selection last year and named City League player of the year after averaging 22.1 points per game. He committed to Miami in February, but the RedHawks fired coach John Cooper less than a month later, leaving Brown’s status in limbo.
When longtime Purdue assistant Jack Owens was hired in April, it took several weeks before Brown heard from the new Miami coach. Nervous, Brown thought about signing with Ball State. But once he got to Oxford and met with Owens, Brown was put at ease.
“I was able to get him to campus after two or three weeks of recruiting him, and he basically committed right then,” Owens said. “My initial reaction was someone with his size and skill and determination was a guy I definitely wanted to be part of the program.
“He's been able to provide energy, athleticism, skill. He shoots 40 percent from 3 in league play. He's just a guy you know whose upside is going to be great. We’re truly excited about him. Moving forward, he’s going to be a big part of what we’re doing as a program.”
No one, not Owens and not even Brown, expected that he would be an every-game starter during his freshman season. But he went to work as soon as he arrived, putting up extra shots, going through conditioning drills, dribbling, and zeroing in on weaknesses. It quickly all started clicking for Brown.
“Everyone knows college is not easy,” he said. “It’s not easy to start as a freshman. But I did things to get in the starting lineup, and I did things to keep me there. I’m only going to get better.”
As Miami gears up for a March run, Brown also has an eye on the offseason, a time he wants to improve his ball handling and shooting and beef up in the weight room.
“He’s an all-conference talent,” Owens said. “I definitely think his best basketball is ahead of him. He’s just a hard worker and a guy we know we can count on. He loves the game of basketball. He’s always in the gym working on his craft. Those things are exciting.”
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