Craig Brown loves his two roles and how they collide every November through March. He’s a full-time father to his sons, Connor, Austin and Garrett, and a part-time basketball coach for New Life Christian School. That’s where Connor and Austin have established themselves as one of the county’s most formidable duos.
“Any chance I get with any of my boys, I’ll take it,” Craig said. “I see it as a privilege, as a dad and as a coach, to see them develop not only in their character and maturity, but their skill level. I’ve had a front row seat to that.”
Ever since Connor, a senior, transferred in from Bullis in Potomac his sophomore year, so has the rest of the county.
“Any coach would love to have two players as talented as them,” New Life coach Bruce Bryant said. “It’s a luxury, but you also have to have a buy-in from the rest of the team. Everybody else still has their roles.”
Bryant remembers the day that the Browns made their first visit to New Life. Connor was a 6-foot-4 rising sophomore, Austin a 6-foot-1 incoming freshman.
“Of course that brings a smile to your face,” Bryant said.
Connor has since added two inches, three if you count his shoes, and Austin has picked up three of his own. But as for their growth on the basketball court, they’ve blossomed at an alarming rate.
Austin currently has the better of his older sibling in the scoring column, averaging 18.2 points per game compared to Connor’s 18.0, but Connor has the edge in assists (3.6 to Austin’s 2.5), rebounds (8.8 to Austin’s 8.0) and double-doubles (three to two).
“You could see that, early on, they had a natural talent and they worked at it,” Craig said. “They had to work hard at it — countless hours, countless shots, hitting the weights, a lot of effort to get to where they are. They set themselves apart.”
Other coaches have taken note. The Browns have seen pretty much every defense a team could possibly throw at them — triangle-and-two, box-and-one, 1-3-1, man, 2-3, 3-2 — but most have come with little success. The first time a team deployed a Brown-specific defense, however, it caused a couple problems.
“This year is the first that’s ever happened,” Craig said. “Not that it’s totally foreign, but one game a coach slipped it in and we were wondering, ‘OK, how do we beat this?’”
The answer, usually, is just to find a way to get the ball in either of their hands. Connor, standing 6-foot-6, is an oversized guard with a pogo-stick vertical leap, point guard handles, and unlimited range. Austin, who stands two inches shorter than his older brother, prefers banging around down low, which sets up a quintessential inside-out game between the two.
“They have different moves, different skill sets, inside or on the perimeter,” Craig said. “They’re unique to me. I got to treat them differently.”
When asked what position he plays, Austin was hesitant to pin it down to a single number.
“We’re so versatile that we can totally change up what happens,” said Austin, whose season high is 29 points, which he has hit twice. “We don’t really have positions, we’re players.”
And they’re quite good ones. After an uncharacteristic two points in the season-opener, Austin hasn’t been held to less than 15 since. And Connor, whom Bryant named the team’s most valuable player last year, has reached double-digits in every game.
It’s not difficult to understand that they work well together, but there’s no ignoring the fact that they’re still brothers, and one of their coaches is still their dad.
“It gets testy sometimes in practice,” Bryant said. “They go at it. They’ll call each other out if one of them isn’t concentrating. But the love for each other is there, no doubt about that.”
There’s bickering, but “never more than a few minutes,” Austin said. And besides, it’s tough to stay angry with the sibling who finishes the closing half of alley-oop passes more often than not. And they may be brothers, but, like their playing style, there’s still a gap between their personalities.
“I mean this in a good way,” Craig said. “[Austin], he plays with a chip on his shoulder. You’re not going to be able to push him around. He has a quiet determination, not a lot of fanfare.”
Austin’s unsung hero-type personality earned him the nickname “Stealth” somewhere along the lines. Connor, on the other hand, is, although atypical of his size, a point guard through and through.
“He’s a selfless player,” Craig said. “Sharing the ball almost to where he should take a little more charge.”
Fortunately for the other teams on New Life’s increasingly difficult schedule — a byproduct of having the Brown siblings is landing higher quality opponents — this is the final year that this particular Brown duo will be together. Next year, Garrett, who by Brown standards is undersized as he is not quite six feet, and Austin will be the feature tandem.
But for now, Connor and Austin will count each game on the same team as a blessing.
“During a game a few weeks ago I called them over and I told them ‘This is me speaking to you as your father,’” Craig said. “’You need to cherish each and every last minute playing together. Enjoy every minute you have together.’”