STATE COLLEGE, PA. — STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- Monroe Brown is just like the pink bunny in those seemingly endless TV spots. Penn State has relied on him for years, and for just as long he has annoyed opponents.
A senior guard out of Aberdeen High School, Brown is putting the finishing touches on what has been a solid career. He has made Happy Valley a happier place for basketball fans, as Penn State is headed to its fourth straight postseason appearance.
The Nittany Lions, an independent this season while shifting their conference affiliation from the Atlantic 10 to the Big Ten, play UMBC tonight (8 p.m.) at the Baltimore Arena.
It will be the 112th straight start in the Penn State backcourt for Brown and point guard Freddie Barnes, and the time has gone quickly.
Barnes is Penn State's all-time assist leader and fourth in points. Brown stands third in assists, with 438, and with 1,181 points, he needs just four more to become the Nittany Lions' No. 5 career scorer.
Known best for his defensive abilities the last three seasons -- he has 232 career steals -- Brown has had to step forward at the offensive end this winter, and it's doubtful Penn State would be 17-7 without his team-high 15.0 points per game.
"Before, we had a lot of people down low who could take over a game," said Brown, who had a career-high 30 in a 34-point rout of UMBC Feb. 1. "Now, more of our points are coming from the perimeter. My scoring's increased simply because I'm getting more shots. I'm one of the guys coming off the pick now."
In December 1988, Brown was one of the guys coming off the Penn State bench.
He signed early as a high school senior, but his last season at Aberdeen didn't finish as well as it started. A broken jaw kept him out of the state tournament, and the lack of postseason publicity and an unselfish 16-point average added up to third-team All-Metro status.
It was a landmark year for guard talent in the metro area, as the first team featured Sam Cassell, Devin Boyd and Terrance Jacobs. Kevin Green, a 2,000-point scorer for Loyola, didn't receive as much as honorable mention notice at Dunbar.
Eleven games into his freshman season, Brown was tabbed by coach Bruce Parkhill to start over a veteran. He averaged 7.3 points and made the Atlantic 10 all-freshman team, and the scoring figure increased to 8.2 his sophomore season, when a broken nose and a broken finger contributed to 35.6 percent shooting.
Brown shot less and enjoyed it more as a junior. Tenacious defensive work remained his forte, as he limited Temple's Mark Macon to 6-for-22 shooting in the semifinals of the Atlantic 10 tournament.
In a first-round upset of UCLA that was Penn State's first NCAA tournament victory since 1955, Brown was forced to play the point, and had 10 points, 10 assists and six steals.
It was deja vu in Penn State's most recent outing, a 67-64 defeat of Butler that kept alive the Nittany Lions' faint hopes of an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament.
When Barnes nursed a turned ankle for several crucial minutes, Brown moved over to the point. He crammed 10 of his 18 points into the last seven minutes and at the same time shifted defensive assignments and quieted Darin Archbold, the Player of the Year in the Midwestern Collegiate Conference last year.
There isn't much flash to Brown's game, but he does have textbook extension on a jump shot that has become one of Penn State's biggest weapons. He's averaging a career-high 35 minutes out of necessity, as third guard Michael Jennings, a native of Severna Park who prepped at St. John's Prospect Hall in Frederick, is redshirting with a knee injury.
"I know I'm scoring more," Brown said, "but my defensive responsibilities haven't decreased. If anything, they've increased."