Report from the Inside: IMG Camp
Introducing Mr. Sean Brown.
by Alan Paul
I’ve been emailing for a while with Sean Brown, who earned my immense respect by walking on at Pitt last year. I’ve always tipped my hat to student athletes walking on in any sport anywhere. It takes a lot of love for the game, and no one can doubt that Brown has that.
He wrote a nice piece on hi walk-on experience which will go up here before long. He also penned an incisive account of a recent trip he took with two teammates — best friend Tyrell Biggs and fellow Pittsburgh homeboy DeJuan Blair — to the IMG Academy, where both were training, with very different goals. Dejuan is trying to get himself into the lottery, while Ty is just trying to get on the radar. Sean thinks both accomplished their goals… But before we get to that, please allow my man Sean Brown to introduce himself to you:
I’m a Pittsburgh kid born and raised. My father Darrell Brown played for Maryland in the 1970′s with Len Elmore under legendary “Lefty” Driesell and was cast in “The Fish that Saved Pittsburgh” with Julius Erving. I was supposed to walk-on to PITT my sophomore year, but I dislocated my knee (think Shaun Livingston) and was forced to rehab before officially joining the team for the 2008-2009 season.
I appreciate the game and its players from the vintage Jerry West days all the way to King James and everything in between. A mid 80′s baby, I had the pleasure of growing up in the golden age of basketball with Magic, Kareem and Jordan. Aside from the game the growth of Hip-Hop influence from Run-DMC to Jay-Z and the emergence of the sneaker culture has kept my creative mind flowing and my closet full with 400-plus kicks.
Now I’m trying to breakthrough in a street culture industry (Think Alife Rivington Club and Reed Space) while maintaining my love for the game via the written word. In ’94 SLAM Magazine took Hip-Hop culture and effortlessly blended it with the greatest game on Earth while maintaining journalistic integrity as well as the fun and excitement that is the game of hoops. An obvious topic was my former PITT teammates Tyrell Biggs and DeJuan Blair’s experience preparing for the NBA draft.
I practiced, played and was apart of the most historic season for the Big East (three #1 seeds, eight bids) as well as PITT basketball. In the Elite Eight I witnessed our team lose its dream to a full court driving Scottie Reynolds in a slow motion movie ending. When Reynolds made that shot I had no more organized ball to look forward to — – just rec and summer leagues. But that doesn’t mean I can’t be a part of this amazing game with one of its premier players. Props to Slam.
Props to Sean. Here is his piece on his former teammates:
For most ballers the summertime is used to develop new skills, hit the blacktop and train for the upcoming winter. However, for future NBA prospects the first two summer months are key in showing what they can contribute to NBA organizations. Most players attend training facilities in hopes of fine-tuning some skills under helpful and well-connected eyes. Enter David Thorpe. David Thorpe is Executive Director of the Pro Training Center at IMG Academies. Thorpe’s direction and preparation has helped shape a number of NBA talents, with names such as Luol Deng, Udonis Haslem, and Courtney Lee among many. David Thorpe is not just a trainer but also a teacher more importantly. He has stressed the overall development of players and their understanding with the professional game involving its smallest details. A number of points made by Thorpe and his staff involve consistent play on both ends of the floor and genuine energy creating good work ethic. This energy is evident throughout the sessions at the Pro Training Center at IMG for those working towards the draft. Thorpe and his staff have combined constant professionalism with tough training to prepare these players for the physicality and mental toughness that this years draft class will need to succeed at the next level.
Early prospective draft picks such as UCLA’s Jrue Holiday and Louisville’s Earl Clark were among many getting ready for late June under Thorpe’s instruction. However, an interesting former duo has emerged that has impressed scouts and instructors alike. Former University of Pittsburgh frontcourt starters DeJuan Blair and Tyrell Biggs have two different paths but one very common goal, better someone’s NBA organization. After signing with the same agent the teammates both found themselves competing at the IMG facility in Bradenton, Florida.
Wide body DeJuan Blair has steadily dropped weight and enhanced a mid range jump shot to be considered a legitimate top 20 selection. Blair only needed two monster years at the collegiate level to be considered one of the nations best big men. Listed at a generous 6’7 he has the heart to out rebound anyone and is polishing some skills to match. The Pittsburgh hometown bruiser’s personality much like his game is simple. On the court he is a rebound force to be reckoned with, off the court, a charismatic kid in a large body. That big kid has had to transform rather quickly on and off the hardwood. “Since my workouts started here I have gotten way more disciplined. I eat differently and train different.” His frame has steadily become more trim from only three weeks of workouts. A more focused Blair has developed into a better-conditioned enhanced big guy that has touch and a better-looking 15 footer. “My conditioning is on point and my shot has really improved. I shoot it different now and more consistent.” Much of this improvement is attribute to that when a player works out under Thorpe’s instruction it’s all business. A criticism of players that leave college early is maturity level and focus, all which is addressed for two months as player’s workout rigorously. Media preparation and a strict regimen have immediate positive impacts on guys like Blair. Thorpe says that he has seen many players with Blair’s build have tremendous NBA careers. “We want him to keep that monster rebounding ability and work on some more athleticism to go with it. Working on footwork, hedging on screens. His shot will improve naturally with hours of work that he will put in.” The benefit of training at IMG Academies has allowed Blair to keep his raw talent but create skills so his game can evolve and better an NBA team.
Workouts at Thorpe’s Pro Training Center also have a tendency to break talent whose names can’t be found on a mock draft board. Tyrell Biggs, long forgotten since Pitt’s Elite Eight run has impressed scouts and used the exposure to his advantage. Biggs has had a stellar month of performance and has been one of the most consistent players. The New York native had a mediocre senior season on a quality Pittsburgh team surround by scoring threats, but with a position change and improved aggressiveness Biggs is believed to get some quality looks from NBA scouts. At 6’8” with quality face-up skills, Biggs has proven that his play in college was merely lost in translation. “College was a great experience from a team perspective for me, now I can show off my individual skill.” The little aspects of his shot have made it more consistent crediting his focus and some instruction on bouncing after his release. Outside of his playing ability everyone seems to acknowledge Biggs’s business like attitude towards the game. Thorpe has described Biggs as coming in “fully aware of the obstacles he faces and the daily fight he will endure.” This uphill battle that Biggs will face to land on an NBA roster has been met with his attitude of constant professionalism and a planned purpose throughout all his workouts. Sometimes the ability to be seen in a different setting allows players such as Biggs to surprise and creates opportunity to play at a higher level once not available to them.
The former Pitt Panthers front court manned by the senior role player and go to big man have helped one another in unfamiliar territory. DeJuan’s home was so close to Pitt’s campus he could probably have touched the Petersen Events Center from his living room with his seven-foot two wingspan. With that said, the NBA lifestyle will soon change his level of comfort to some degree, a transition he is happy to make. Although Tyrell’s situation is somewhat different, he still finds comfort in working out with his fellow big man daily. David Thorpe has described this relationship as an “incredible kinship.” This bond has allowed both to be supportive of one another, with DeJuan stating, “I want Biggs to end up where he deserves to be.” The only two teammates, the pair can always be seen in the gym bettering one another’s games. “We push one another everyday. He gave me that comfort level when we got down here.” Blair states. Biggs gives a similar account of the relationship “We get to make a competition out of everything we do, it’s great.” You don’t seem to see one without the other. Weightlifting, instructional forums, shooting drills, Blair and Biggs are at it, relentlessly. Thorpe sees their relationship slightly different stating that it seems to be competitive but is also somewhat of a support system for both players. Blair as a young player has adapted and maintained his work ethic in part by seeing the example the former older teammate has set. While Biggs has been able to steadily gain confidence by working out with a younger talented player. Neither player needed motivation to see that there is a great deal on the line as far as their professional careers go, however the bond has only aided their skills.
Whether Blair ends up as a lottery selection or gets selected late in the first round he will know he has worked and refined his skill level to the best of his ability. If Biggs great build and excellent shooting stroke is enough for NBA teams will not be determined until June. Either way, these two former teammates know they have bettered one another at the best training facility under superb instruction.