Cal State San Bernardino’s bid for another CCAA title and a chance at a national championship took a major hit when leading scorer Brandon Brown decided to forgo his senior season and turn professional.
The 6-foot-7 center-forward has signed a contract to play for Siauliai, Lithuania, of the Union of European Basketball Leagues. Brown said the decision was a financial one.
“I had to make some money to support my family,” he said in a press release from the school.
It was the second major blow for veteran Coyotes coach Jeff Oliver, who had assembled a team that looked like it would contend for conference, region and national honors.
USC point guard Dante Smith, who earlier signed a letter of intent with Cal State, opted to stay with the Trojans. He was the No. 1 junior college point guard in the country when he came out of Mt. SAC.
Oliver said what bothered him most was the lack of communication and timing of Brown’s move. Brown, named Newcomer of the Year in the CCAA last season, already had passed a summer class and was taking another.
“He kept telling me he was coming back,” Oliver said. “I knew there was some fishing going on and he was exploring some options. Guys do that. But he told me he was coming back.”
Brown’s departure will free up considerable scholarship money if Oliver can find a quality player still available. His track record of landing players late is good.
The loss of Smith and Brown is huge, but Oliver already had secured the services of 6-foot-7 forward Brian Le Duc, the leading scorer and rebounder at Division I University of Pacific last season.
“We’re going to go back to work and see what else we can come up with,” Oliver said. “We might have a different type of team, but we’ll find a way to survive.”
Brown led the CCAA in scoring (21.5 ppg) and was third in rebounding (8.7 rpg). He also led the conference in blocked shots. He was a first-team All-CCAA and All-West Region selection. He also was named Most Valuable Player at the conference tournament, won by the Coyotes.
Brown had 11 double-doubles with a career high of 39 points at Chico State. It was the fifth-best single-game scoring performance in Coyote hoops history. He had a career-high 14 rebounds against UC San Diego. His 200 rebounds for the season ranked him No. 9 on the Coyotes’ all-time list.
He was a four-time CCAA player of the week and led the team in scoring in 17 of the 23 games he played. He scored 30 or more points four times.
He will play for a team that went 15-5 last season in the Lithuanian LKL league. He signed a contract Tuesday and will leave for Lithuania today.
Oliver said if Brown had remained in school on an athletic scholarship, he would have been within a couple credits of obtaining his bachelor’s degree by next June and still able to fulfill his dream of playing professionally.
Brown was projected as a preseason NCAA Division II All-American and potential CCAA and NCAA player of the year if the Coyotes proved to be as successful this coming season as some observers figured they would be with his presence in the middle.
“Physically he was ready to go pro, but mentally he wasn’t,” Oliver said.