Brown Sugar

A high school hoops phenom comes home a pro

Gray says he has two years of eligibility remaining, and he's trying to hook up with an NAIA school so he can play basketball and get his degree.

"I can still help a team win some games," he says.

In 1985, Watts was a treacherous place. Wendelene and Gerald Brown Sr. didn't want their boys growing up there, so they packed up and moved to Phoenix.

"When they're shooting at your doorstep, it's time to go," says Wendelene.
Young Gerald and his two sets of twin brothers--Ketrich, Keith, Jeremy and Jerome--were opposed to the move. Watts was where their friends were, and Phoenix seemed like another planet. Gerald was stunned that the place where they were staying had no sidewalks. Jeremy tried to pick up a scorpion because he didn't know what it was.

"They just weren't used to desert life," says Wendelene.
The family moved into the same blue-and-white house in west Phoenix where they live today. Gerald is well-paid, but that doesn't mean his parents are retiring. Gerald Sr. works at Master View Window Company and Wendelene at Cable System International.

"We don't ask him for nothing," says Gerald Sr. "He's going to need his money in a few years. This is just a phase of his life."

The ambiance of the Brown home has changed dramatically since they first moved in. With five basketball players growing up together, the house looks like a wing in the Hall of Fame. Trophies, newspaper clips and team photos make houseplants and artwork unnecessary.

A visitor to the Brown home can follow Gerald's entire basketball career by reading what is hung on the living room walls. But you can't get far without Wendelene pointing out the most important part of the collection.

"Don't forget the diploma," she says.
Brown's parents can't decide which day they were the most proud of Gerald. It's a jump ball between graduating from Pepperdine and the day he was signed by the Suns.

His mother is happy that Gerald is playing in Phoenix, even if Gerald Sr. thinks he might do better elsewhere.

"I think he plays better on the road than at home," he says. "He's trying to prove too much. He's got to say, 'Fuck the crowd.'"

After home games, Brown sometimes has dinner with teammates. Since he's from Phoenix, he knows the best local spot to get quality chow. Don't bother checking, it's not in the New Times Dining Guide.

"I can't keep him away from the house," says Wendelene. "He's always coming over saying, 'Ma, what ya cooking?'"

"We need to put some hot sauce and gunpowder in his diet," suggests Gerald Sr. "Give him that killer instinct."

The famed disciplinarian has become a basketball guru. Gerald Sr. knew what was best for his son in high school, and he thinks he knows what Gerald needs to succeed in the pros.

"It's like any other job," he says. "He's got to stay after practice, work on his jumper and look at game films."

The consensus in the Brown family is that Gerald isn't shooting enough, and they're not shy about telling him. Wendelene says she is constantly hollering for Gerald to put the ball up. Gerald Sr. wants his son to be more reckless, to loosen up and let it fly.

Brown began the season hesitant to take too many shots and sometimes passed up an open look. Lately he's been busting the open jumper, including a career-high 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting in a recent road game against the Blazers.

"No way a coach is going to tell a scorer like Gerald not to shoot," says Gerald Sr. "Rex Chapman gets to shoot."

Gerald Jr. just laughs off the advice.
"Your family always thinks you're open," he says.
If the past is an indication of things to come, then his family might be right. As a freshman at Pepperdine, Brown played in every game but averaged only 3.4 points on 39.8 percent shooting. The next season he had mastered the offense and was the leading scorer for the rest of his run through college. By the time he was a senior, Brown was scoring almost 17 points a game and shooting 46 percent. He made the All-West Coast Conference Team every year except his first, and in 1996-97 when he was redshirted for a knee injury.

Coach Rhymes believes that's the pattern Brown will follow in the NBA.
"Just like in high school and college, he's going to get better and better," says Rhymes. "He learns as he goes, and he's got a great player in Jason Kidd to learn from."

Brown already has figured out some of the nuances of surviving in the NBA by just being himself. Except for the game-face scowl worn by Cliff Robinson, the collective disposition of the team mirrors their name. Old ladies at a bingo tournament raise more hell than the Phoenix Suns. If Brown was a wild, blunt-smoking maniac who showed up on police reports or threw towels at Ainge, he'd be in the CBA by now.

Ten years down the line, Brown hopes to still be playing in the NBA. If not, he's got his sociology degree to fall back on and might get into teaching, counseling or coaching.

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