Junior guard Kendrix Brown is frustrating in his promise. The way he leaps, the way he runs — all of it reminds you of the player he once was. The player he is. The player he still can be.
Then the turnovers start. A mistimed dribble off his foot here, a forced pass in transition there, and all of a sudden he’s back on the bench, a victim of his own thoughts.
You see, this story is not about Kendrix Brown. No, it is about what happens when an athlete gets inside his own head. When negative thoughts invade an athlete’s consciousness and make his every second away from the court a prolonged rainstorm of self-doubt.
This is not a story about Kendrix Brown. It just happens to be about him this time.
“It is hard when I’m not here, when I’m not in the gym, when I’m not around these guys,” Brown said. “That’s when I’m thinking about everything and feeling horrible about how I’m playing. But when I get around these guys and I get in the gym, I just shut everything off. That’s probably the only time I’m not thinking about how difficult things are going.”
It was not supposed to be this way. After breaking his foot last season, an injury that did not fully heal until a month after the Tribe’s last game of the season, Brown had the best summer of his life.
Playing against the likes of James Madison’s Denzel Bowles and Old Dominion’s Ken Bazemore, both All-CAA players, Brown was one of the best players at the pickup games held on the Old Dominion campus. When the time came for the Tribe to begin its fall camp, Brown was ready.
“It was definitely the best I have felt,” Brown said. “I felt I was … as good as I’ve ever been in every aspect. I guess I had that feeling like ‘I’m healthy, I’m playing so well’ — like it was going to be my time to show everybody how good I can be.”
Brown was the best player on the court in the Tribe’s fall workouts. He pulled up for three-pointers in transition. He dunked over freshmen forwards Tim Rusthoven and Fred Heldring.
After waiting two years in the shadow of former Tribe guards David Schneider ’10 and Sean McCurdy ’10, Brown finally felt unstoppable.
“We would have the groups and it would be me, [sophomore Matt] Rum, [freshman Brandon] Britt and [freshman Julian] Boatner, the guards,” Brown said. “And sometimes we would play one-on-one after the workouts, and thinking back to how I was feeling when that [went] on, I remember specifically how I felt having the ball in my hands and when one of them came out to guard me. I felt like there was nothing you [could] do to stop me. Like, ‘Watch me, I’m going to score.’”
Then, on the last play of the College’s last practice before its season opener against Virginia, Brown twisted his ankle. The injury robbed him of his explosiveness for the season’s first couple of games.
It robbed him of his confidence for much longer.
“That first game I couldn’t move if I wanted to,” Brown said. “I didn’t have the confidence to beat my man or do the things I know I can do. I didn’t have that confidence because of my foot. I don’t know if maybe the first three or four games I didn’t have confidence because of that, and then when I got healthy it just kind of lingered.”
Brown averaged 3.2 points and 3.5 turnovers per game through the first 10 games of the season. By the 11th game, he was no longer a starter, losing his spot in the lineup to Britt.
The low point of Brown’s season, however, came against James Madison when he received his first Did Not Play-Coach’s Decision since his freshman year. Shaken by the decision, Brown could not sleep that night.
Alone in his empty room, the television off, Brown lay awake staring at the ceiling, replaying his summer successes in his head.
“After the game, I was thinking about, I went back to the summer and this past fall and was just thinking about how high I was and how high everyone was on me and my ability,” Brown said. “And I kind of just thought about that. I went from [there] and just followed the path to where I [am] now, and it just felt like I couldn’t slide any lower.”
Despite his offensive struggles, Brown has ]been the College’s best defensive player this season. He has also mentored the Tribe’s younger guards, even when he was not playing well.
“One of the biggest things I was focused on was leadership and being captain,” Brown said. “And when I wasn’t playing well, that was the one thing I focused on, to not focus on how well I wasn’t playing. I knew I could do these things well, I knew I could help the team in general by being a leader on the floor, off the floor.”
There are also signs Brown’s offensive confidence is coming back. Against Virginia Commonwealth, he scored on a baseline dunk, his first in-game dunk in a long time.
Brown has also only turned the ball over twice in his last two games coming off the bench.
For the first time since the summer, you can see the spark in Brown’s game again. For an athlete in his own head, that spark is the promise that things will soon return to normal, that better things are soon ahead. It is what gets you through the bad times.
It is what gives Brown hope that he is close to being back to where he once was.
“I feel like as bad as things are, I feel like [I just need] that one good game and I feel like it’s going to be that game every time,” Brown said. “I feel like it’s going to catapult me and my confidence, and everything is going to be great again.”