Fourth in an occasional series looking at some of Philadelphia’s men’s basketball players to watch.
Fran Dunphy knew the odds were long, but he did not want to discourage Josh Brown, the point guard on the Temple basketball team he coaches. For Brown, it was simple: mind over matter. In this case, matter won convincingly.
Brown had surgery on his left Achilles tendon May 25, 2016. He played his first game a little more than six months later.
“I was realistic with myself, but I just tried to drill in my head that I was playing,’’ Brown said.
Brown played against St. Joseph’s on Nov. 30. After a few games, his body was telling him what his mind did not want to believe. He knew it when Temple went to Miami to play DePaul.
“It just for some reason took me forever to get ready for the game,’’ Brown said. “I remember the walk-through the day before, I was limping. It took me until a couple seconds before the end of the warm-up that I felt like I was ready to go and play that day.
“After that game, I sat down with my father and I came to practice the next day and told Coach [that] Villanova the next day [Dec. 13] was going to be my last game because I couldn’t recover fast enough; other injuries were coming along. I was putting too much pressure on my Achilles.’’
Brown said he was “being sore, twisting my ankle, overcompensating with my right leg because I’m not so sure with my left leg. I’m having injuries in my right leg that are not supposed to be happening. That was just the physical, and then mentally, I feel like I’m using my right leg too much, maybe my right leg will have the same injury.’’
His coach had done all the requisite homework. He called Penn State graduate Tim Frazier, who had torn his Achilles at the start of his senior season, did not play again for a calendar year and really was not the same even then, but is now all the way back in the midst of a solid NBA career. He had Brown speak with Frazier.
“Everybody that I talked to, whether it was Tim Frazier or many others, said, `This is not an easy thing to come back from; this is at least a year, probably 18 months,’ ’’ Dunphy said.
The coach told Brown what he learned, but also told him “I’ll do whatever you want.’’
So Brown tried. He played really well in his first game back, and the coach thought maybe Brown was going to be the exception to the Achilles rule.
“Maybe, this is the miracle that’s going to take place,’’ Dunphy remembered thinking.
Then, during that Villanova game, there was a Wildcats pass that the old Brown would have stolen. Only he didn’t, and the coach knew what his player already knew. This was not going to work.
Josh Brown is a player coaches love. He is never going to dazzle with statistics, but he always does the little things that tilt outcomes his team’s way.
His last game before the injury was that excruciating overtime loss to Iowa in the 2016 NCAA tournament. He started and never came out, playing arguably his best game at Temple with 16 points, 9 rebounds, and 5 assists.
“That was the last time I felt like myself in a game,’’ Brown said. “I still think about that game and everything that went on.’’
He played 36.2 minutes per game that season and had a 3.5-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, a number that basketball cognoscenti really appreciate.
“Pretty extraordinary,’’ Dunphy said. “Not making mistakes is kind of a skill.’’
The senior Brown was going to lead a talented but very young team last season — until May 20.
“It was a Friday,’’ Brown said. “We had a lifting session, got shots up afterward. We were done for the day. I go back to my dorm. We get a text from our grad assistants that there’s guys in the gym playing pickup.’’
“They’re in Temple’s gym?’’ Brown thought. “I might as well come over there and show my face.’’
He played a few games, “finally get lathered up, going full tilt. Out of nowhere, the last game, it just happened.’’
He was in shock at first because he didn’t feel any pain. When he tried to walk it off, he couldn’t.
Still, he didn’t think it was that bad. When he was told about the tear, “I was still kind of in shock; that can’t be me.’’
Brown played just five games last season, so he was eligible for a medical redshirt. Now, 17 months after the injury, he can’t wait for this season to start. He might not be all the way back, but he is close enough.
“I understand I’m not as explosive as I was before, but I wasn’t that explosive to start with,’’ Brown said.
Recovery takes a little longer, so he plays a little slower, which he said has actually helped his understanding of the game.
“What we missed was that security blanket of four-minute timeout, up two, down three, what do you want to run, what’s going on out there, how do you feel about it,’’ Dunphy said. “So you don’t have that. We have a bunch of younger guys who hadn’t had much experience. He would have been so great with them.’’
After he stopped playing, Brown did what he could to show his young teammates what to do. Now, he will be doing more than just showing them. He will be right there with them.
“He’s figuring life out, and he’s figuring basketball out,’’ Dunphy said.
It’s really quite simple, the coach said.
“He just knows the game better than most guys,’’ Dunphy said.
And Brown arrived that way after attending Bob Hurley’s basketball finishing school at St. Anthony in Jersey City, N.J.
“He’s been good about seeing and telling what he knows,’’ Dunphy said.
And Brown knows a lot.
“You don’t want to play without him,’’ Dunphy said. “It’s no fun.’’