We often forget when we watch our favorite college teams compete that these athletes are just kids.
They may have the bodies of giants, but the mind of someone still coming to grips with the world around them.
I know I could never handle the pressure and fame being an athlete entails—and we have all seen talented men fall under the crushing weight of expectations.
It's just not every day we see them climb back up.
Odds are if you're not a big Virginia or ACC fan, you've probably never heard of the name Elton Brown.
Of course, if you're a Virginia fan, he's probably a name you would like to forget.
Brown, whether deserved or not, became the symbol for everything wrong with Virginia basketball during the Pete Gillen era.
Brown was a big man with a big smile who had tons of potential. Everyone had high hopes for him—as did the Cavaliers who began his freshman season ranked in the top five in the country.
Well, that team soon fell apart for a myriad of reasons—and many people began to associate the team’s flaws with one man.
Brown was a tough rebounder, but he made dumb decisions. He had a very low basketball IQ, and constantly had fans up in arms over costly turnovers.
Brown may have finished with over 1,300 points in his Virginia career, but fans mostly remember his foolish attempts to shoot three-pointers that were air-mailed into the stands of University Hall.
Brown was also a terrible liability at the line. In one of his final regular-season games at home against Maryland, Brown had a chance to tie the game in overtime. He bricked the first shot, then air-balled the second one to cost the Cavaliers a chance at victory.
Brown never played defense, a trait almost all of Gillen's players shared. He was someone that the ACC big men were able to eat alive. Even though Brown did a good job being physical when he had to, that attitude was not consistent enough over 40 minutes to result in wins.
His biggest flaw, however, was his attitude. Mentally, Brown was not ready to handle the physical gifts God has given him.
In other words, he often acted like a brat.
He pouted when Gillen would put him on the bench. He cursed out his fellow players and the referees. Most distressing, he showed no desire to really improve his game. His girth made it difficult for him to ever really hustle, and he soon became the bane of Virginia fans existence.
People wondered how someone so immature could captain a team.
To this day, I have never seen a college player receive such ire from his home crowd as Brown—and I’m not the only one.
Brown did lower his weight, but still did not seem willing to commit to the weight room and the game film to reach his full potential. He was more content to blame others for the fall of the program and feel sorry for himself than to actually do something about it.
He had the ego of a Brett Favre and the reputation of a Kyle Boller.
Brown had entered Virginia with fans on a high as the Cavaliers had reached the postseason and a number-five seed. He left with a combined team record of 69-57, 22-43 in the ACC.
His career also had one more embarrassing finish—Brown was arrested for brandishing a weapon at a local mall in Charlottesville after an altercation. He ended up spending 10 days in jail, and really seemed to be heading down the wrong path.
Brown went undrafted in the 2005 NBA Draft, and many considered this to be yet another story of a gifted athlete who wasted his talent.
Then a funny thing happened—Elton Brown grew up.
In a recent interview with the Denver Nuggets media, Brown called his time at UVA “The best four years of his life.”
It taught him that if he really wanted his dream of playing in the NBA to come true, no one was going to hand it to him. He was going to have to reach the big time the old fashioned way—earning it.
Brown has been all over the map trying to impress the right people at the right team.
He began his career in Greece, then made his way to the NBDL where he found some real success.
Brown averaged a double-double his last two years in the NBDL and made it to the All-Star game both times—once being named the MVP for his stellar performance.
All the while, he was traveling around the United States, living off of $30,000 and dreaming of a better life.
Clearly, that gives a man some time to think about the past—and Brown has learned his lesson.
If you need proof of this metamorphosis, listen to what the scouts are saying:
Brown is known as a relentless and physical force who plays bigger than he is and will do all the little things.
He is not concerned about putting up big offensive numbers; he just wants to give his team a chance to win.
They also rave about his ability to listen and work with coaches to improve.
What a difference three years make.
Brown did find some real success last year in Israel, as his team, the Hapoel Holon, won a championship. That also gave him another chance to mature.
Brown admitted at first all he cared about was the paycheck, and he was frustrated over being cut from the NBA roster earlier that year. Eventually, he bonded with his teammates and was able to enjoy probably the biggest accomplishment in his professional career.
Still, all of that is just fuel to the fire of making it to the NBA.
Brown was one of the last players cut by the New York Knicks in 2006, and met similar frustration last season by the L.A. Lakers.
This summer, Brown was trying to find a spot with the Denver Nuggets.
He has received positive reviews, but that magical call still remains elusive for the 6'9", 255-lb. forward.
Time will tell what the future holds for Elton Brown, a man who has experienced and learned more than any of us could ever imagine.
He has experienced joy, heartbreak, anxiety and confidence but now Virginia fans can experience something too: pride.
Good luck, Elton Brown.