Dec. 9, 2009
by Pete Spiewak '10
C.J. Brown thought that things couldn't get any better.
Being named to the Saint Joseph's men's basketball team as a sophomore walk-on for the 2007-2008 season was a true honor for Brown, who spent his freshman year playing junior varsity and practicing with the women's team.
Brown has been an athlete his entire life. He loved the competition and the challenge that sports presented him. So when head coach Phil Martelli chose him to be a part of the team during his sophomore year, Brown could not have been any more thrilled.
"It was like a dream come true," Brown said.
Little did he know, two years later, his dream would get even better.
With four available scholarships heading into this season, and only three freshmen - Carl Baptiste, Justin Crosgile and Carl Jones - joining the team on Hawk Hill this year, there was one open scholarship.
The guard from Newark, Del., prides himself on pushing his teammates in practice, hoping to make the team better. If you ever go to a St. Joe's practice, you'll see that the little guy donning number "5" is the one who is wearing everybody out.
For two years, Brown had given his all for the Hawks, so when there was one scholarship left to fill, Martelli had a chance to give something back to the senior guard: Brown received the scholarship.
"That was the best news I've gotten in the three years that I've been here," Brown said, recalling the day he found out he was awarded the scholarship.
Even with the open scholarship, Brown was approaching the season without any expectations, and was just grateful for the opportunity that Martelli had given him the past couple of years.
"It was completely unexpected," he said. "I was hoping and I was praying to get some help, but they definitely didn't owe me anything."
With the scholarship, Brown knew his game was subject to higher expectations, and his coaches will be watching him even closer this year, making sure he continues to play hard and challenge his teammates, making sure everybody on the floor hustles. If Brown ever stops giving 110%, he knows that Martelli will be all over him.
"I feel like he depends on me for a lot, he puts the whole team's effort on my shoulders and makes me responsible [for the team's work ethic]," Brown said. "That means a lot to me that he really values me as a part of the team, and I know my hard work hasn't gone unnoticed."
After last season, the Hawks named Idris Hilliard as one of the team's Most Improved Players at the annual post-season banquet. Hilliard went from playing 5.7 minutes per contest as a freshman to being the team's full-time power forward, averaging 9.2 points and 5.5 rebounds per game last season. The player he shared the award with? Brown - who saw just eight minutes of action that season. The award was just another indication that Martelli views the senior as a true asset.
"The fact that they would consider me for an award such as that, in the same class as Idris, says a lot about my work ethic and about my role on the team," Brown said. "That just reassures me that I'm doing the right thing and I'm doing what I'm supposed to do."
In his post-season player assessment meeting with Martelli last year, the head coach told Brown that he needed him to welcome the team's newest guards, Crosgile and Jones, and make them feel comfortable upon their arrival.
"He told me that he was looking for me to be a leader, and take some of the younger guys under my wing and show them the ropes," he recalled.
And Brown has done just that. He has looked after Crosgile and Jones since they first got to Hawk Hill and has especially reached out to Crosgile, who was anxiously waiting to get his first chance to play while nursing a hand injury. After all, Brown remembers a time when he was the new guy on the team, searching for a role on a star-studded team that featured Pat Calathes, Rob Ferguson and Ahmad Nivins.
When he first joined the team as the lone walk-on as a sophomore, he received support from the current Hawk captain, Garrett Williamson.
"From day one, Garrett has always been one of the guys constantly in my ear giving me encouragement," Brown said. "Garrett has been like a brother to me."
It's the things like his relationship with Williamson that have made his stay at Saint Joseph's so enjoyable, Brown will tell you. His teammates are like family to him, and he isn't ready to move on to the next chapter of his life just yet.
Although he isn't ready for graduation, he has admittedly thought about the possibilities of what Senior Day could be like, remembering Edwin Lashley's performance on Senior Day last season, when he scored the team's first five points in the only start of his career.
"He basically went four years without playing, and once he got a chance, he took full advantage of it," Brown said of the game last season against St. Bonaventure. "I would like to do the same thing. If I'm given the chance to play, I want to do well and help the team. That's something I'm looking forward to."
He has already made a few good memories during the few opportunities he has gotten to play as a Hawk. Brown, a fan favorite, scored the only two baskets of his career in the span of one week as a sophomore - one at Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse and one at The Palestra - and the fans could not have enjoyed it more.
"Having thousands of people yelling my name, chanting my name - I've never experienced anything like that," Brown added. "[Being cheered for] makes me feel like I belong."
Getting to play at a basketball-obsessed school like Saint Joseph's is something he will treasure forever, and right now, he just wants to enjoy his senior year.
"I try not to think about leaving St. Joe's, because I'm really not ready to give it all up," he said. "Basketball just means so much to this school - there's really nothing like it. I'm going to miss it."
When it's all said and done, Saint Joseph's will be better off for having C.J. Brown in the program, and he will be missed by his teammates and coaches. For Brown, he could not be more grateful for his time as a Hawk.
"I wouldn't trade it for anything."
And why would he? He's just living a dream.