Brown Sugar

A high school hoops phenom comes home a pro

Brown credits veterans Cliff Robinson, Chris Morris and Danny Manning for helping him make the transition from college to professional basketball. All the vets keep the rookies from getting carried away by making them adhere to the strictest commandment in the NBA: Thou shalt serve thy veteran teammates.

"We make [the rookies] get doughnuts, get juice, carry bags, and bring us the newspaper," says Tom Gugliotta. "All of our rookies work hard."

At least Brown, Bailey and Garrity have next season to look forward to. Any new rookies will be taught the fine art of paper fetching--unless the veterans exercise a loophole in the deal extending their rookie obligations.

"Because of the lockout, the vets say that we'll have to keep doing it for 30 games next season," says Brown. "I think they were kidding. I hope they were."

Antrone Gray isn't a professional scout, but he's got the lowdown on Gerald Brown. Yes, he's biased about his high school teammate. They've been best friends since eighth grade. But he was there when a skinny kid with promise evolved into Arizona's most dominant high school player. And he remembers the moment it happened.

It was their junior year, and the Carl Hayden Falcons had just lost in the first round of the state basketball tournament. They had been favored to win it all.

In the locker room after the game, the players wallowed in self-pity and disbelief. It was so quiet you could hear the sweat evaporating off their bodies.

"All of a sudden, Gerald and Reggie Hill's attitude changed," Gray recalls. "They said, 'F- that, we're too good to be out already.' We started getting hyped up. We knew we'd come back next year."

That was the Falcons' message to friends at school. Asked what went wrong in the first-round defeat, the answer was always the same: "Watch next year."

This was their last shot at a state title, and Brown wasn't having a repeat of the junior-year disappointment. Gray seems awestruck as he describes Brown's quest.

"First game senior season, Gerald came out on fire. He scored about 35, 45 points, and he did it for like three games straight. Nobody was stopping him, so I just kept getting it to the hot hand. Once he got in the paint, you could barely stop him. He was shooting over everybody."

Gray's memory of that season is uncanny. Specific details replay in his mind like a combat veteran who still smells gunpowder in the air. Carl Hayden's only loss that year was to Camelback, a hated rival. The game was close at the end, and whoever had the ball last was going to win. Carl Hayden was trying to keep its record perfect. With time running out in the game, things got nasty. One player went sprawling after a roughly contested jump ball.

"Both benches cleared and a couple of punches were thrown, but nobody was ejected," Gray says.

The officials had seen enough chaos and called the game. Camelback was leading at the time, so it got the asterisk win. Rhymes told his players to get off the court and get on the bus. The game was played on Camelback's floor, so the crowd let Carl Hayden hear about it.

"They were booing, a couple people threw the finger," says Gray. "Obvious fouls weren't being called. We still think that game was B.S. We just got on the bus and left. We never talked about that game again."

Carl Hayden soon got its revenge against Camelback. The situation was similar to their first meeting--12 seconds left in the game. Carl Hayden ball, trailing by two.

"Rhymes called a timeout and drew up a play," says Gray. "He said, 'Give the ball to Gerald and go coast to coast.' He brought the ball up the right side of the floor and took it to the hole. I was standing on the same side behind the three-point line.

"The whole defense collapsed around Gerald. Instead of forcing it up, he passed it out to me. I took the three and it went in. We went crazy."

In an age when last-second assists have become archaic, there's no doubt that Gray sees Brown's generosity and trust as precious gifts. His high school hoops experience and his relationship with Brown and the Carl Hayden basketball program have been highlights of his young life.

Gray followed Brown's career at Pepperdine and now watches him play on TV for the hometown team. Carl Hayden's erstwhile dynamic guard duo doesn't hang out as much as they might like, because both have adult responsibilities. They talk on the phone, and Gray wants Brown to start dominating like the old school days.

"I tell him, 'Just do what you normally do. Do what got you there,'" says Gray. "He needs to put the ball up more, but Gerald, he's not a ball hog."

In the Suns' locker room after a close loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, Pat Garrity is the hot commodity. He had a solid performance, so his reward is a bunch of microphones stuck in his grill.

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