After final exams in May, the Holy Cross campus in Worcester, Mass., becomes somewhat of a ghost town.
Living in a nearly vacant college town might be lonely for some. But Crusaders guard Devin Brown, a second-team All-Patriot League player last season, wouldn't have it any other way.
"The entire campus empties," said Brown, a 2007 City grad. "I'm with my teammates in the gym, working out, usually three or four times a day up at the Hart Center. It's really good. It cuts down on the distractions, allows me to work on my game as much as possible."
When Brown wasn't working on his game this summer, the Baltimore native was interning at GE and plotting his post-graduate plans for entering the business world. That summer balancing act of books and basketball was typical for Brown. Over the past three years at Holy Cross, the 6-foot-2, 190-pound senior has emerged as a seemingly model student-athlete at the academically rigorous institution.
"We talked earlier in the summer about some things he was going to need to do from a basketball standpoint, but he also has had some things off the court with his academics," said Holy Cross coach Milan Brown. "One of the [business] professors pulled me aside and said, 'He's absolutely going to be a star.' … [This is] what kids who go to Holy Cross do. They're going to play and be about academically trying to set themselves up for the future and where they're going to work. He goes just as hard going for 30 points as he does in [in the classroom]. He's done both. He's talked a lot about being good in both avenues."Devin Brown's status as one of Baltimore's top college basketball players certainly wasn't a given coming out of high school. He transferred to City from Calvert Hall at a time when the Knights were far from the powerhouse program they are today. As City's lone senior starter during the 2006-07 season, however, Brown led the Knights to a 20-5 record – its best mark since 1999. A first-team Baltimore Sun All-Metro selection, Brown averaged 20.5 points, five rebounds, four assists and two steals.
Brown was fully qualified academically coming out of high school, but decided to enroll at Notre Dame Prep in Fitchburg, Mass., in hopes of generating more college interest. In Holy Cross, Brown found a program with a rich basketball history and – most importantly to him – an institution that offered a rich educational experience.
"I would definitely say the academic reputation of Holy Cross [was a major reason I committed]," Brown said. "One thing about Holy Cross is that academically, I'll be graduating with a degree that will make me competitive in the work force. I would be surrounded by a lot of smart individuals. That was something that was really important to me. I was fortunate enough to learn early on that the basketball won't bounce forever. I wanted to focus on basketball for as long as possible with a good athletic program, and also really establish myself academically as well. That's kind of how I came to the decision."
On the court, things haven't gone quite as smooth for the Crusaders during Brown's three seasons. Ralph Willard, who guided Holy Cross to four NCAA tournaments, left after Brown's freshman year to join Rick Pitino's Louisville staff. Sean Kearney, Willard's successor, was fired after just one year.
Then came Milan Brown from Mount St. Mary's, who knew of Devin Brown "just a little bit" from his time recruiting Baltimore.
"I had remembered seeing him playing at City, but it had been so long," Milan Brown said. "A couple of people we know from back home told us he was a good athlete, good player, and we would probably have a chance to turn him into an even better player than he is now. Obviously we're excited with the way he played. Physically, he's a freak. He's a really strong kid. He's benching over 300 pounds. Last week he had a 35-inch vertical. It's pretty freakish for a kid that's 6-2 and doesn't play football."
Devin Brown, who's majoring in psychology with a pre-business concentration, said he bonded with his third coach in three years almost immediately. His individual results reflected a comfort in the new system. Brown averaged a team-best 15.6 points, reaching double figures 21 times. The former City star converted on 81.1 percent of his free throws and 36.6 percent of his 3-point attempts.
But for Brown, all the individual accolades were essentially for naught. Holy Cross finished the 2010-11 season with an 8-21 record, including a 7-7 mark in the Patriot League.
"I would say there were a few moments when I was able to produce at an individual level," Brown said. "But as my coach said and told my team, it really doesn't matter. If the team isn't performing as a whole, there's probably something going on with the individual parts. It doesn't matter how many moments I had. If we're not producing, it really doesn't mean much.
"I wish I would've been able to do more to help the team – taking [better] shots, grabbing more rebounds, finding the open man, getting a few more steals, motivating my teammates better when I'm on the bench, pushing the team more in practice – a lot of things I could have done. When we didn't perform as well as I thought we should have last year, I took it really hard."
Milan Brown appreciates the passion his star player has exhibited on a daily basis since he's known him. He knows the senior has time for two activities in life -- basketball and school – but that clearly suits him just fine. The fruits of Devin Brown's labor this summer have definitely been noted.
"Once we got here for the first week of workouts, you can tell how hard he's worked, and his mentality and how he's been in workouts," Milan Brown said. "He worked on his game last summer. He's basically ready, basketball-wise, to take that next step."
Devin Brown has big plans for his post-college life. He's "loading up on business courses now" in the hopes of landing a job in finance. But he's also intently focused on his senior season with the Crusaders. Brown committed to a Holy Cross program that was used to winning. By drawing on his Charm City upbringing, Brown hopes to restore the Crusaders to their old ways.
"Just growing up in Baltimore, you have to be tough," he said. "Nobody is going to give you anything. Everything you have, you really have to earn it. You just have to go the extra mile. That's something I've tried to bring here to Massachusetts. There's always someone coming for what you have. To remain on top, it's always good to have a goal. I think that really comes from training and being from Baltimore."
The Sweet 16 is an occasional series profiling the 16 best Division I college basketball players from the Baltimore area. Players were selected based on prior accomplishments and projections for the upcoming season.
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Photo of Devin Brown courtesy of the Holy Cross athletic department.