- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 10, 2004

The harsh, sometimes vulgar browbeating the Washington Wizards’ Kwame Brown took from former coach Doug Collins and Michael Jordan caused his skin to break out.

It was nothing compared to the tirade from his older brother, 6-foot-6, 240-pound Alton, after Kwame was arrested and charged with drunken driving last summer in his hometown of Brunswick, Ga. Kwame was found to have a blood-alcohol level more than twice the legal limit.

“I asked him, ‘Why would you wait until you get to the pros to make yourself look like a fool?’” Alton said. “I told him, ‘Everything you do stupid reflects on the family. Don’t be a fool and put yourself in a position where these things make the family look bad.’”

Kwame can laugh about the criticism from Collins and Jordan. Not so about Alton, considered the enforcer among Kwame’s seven siblings.

“I’m human and I make mistakes, and that was unquestionably a mistake,” Kwame said. “I did something I shouldn’t have done, and Alton really got on me about that. I promised him that I would do better, both on and off the court.”

And Brown has kept his word. He hasn’t encountered any trouble away from the court since that rueful August day, but he has changed perceptions of him on it.

After two seasons spent floating back and forth to the bench with little impact, the 7-foot, 260-pound Brown has begun to show the promise that caused the Wizards to make him the first high school player selected with the top pick in the NBA Draft in 2001.

In this case, the numbers reveal a lot. His averages this season — 10.5 points and 7.1 rebounds — are up from 7.4 and 5.3, respectively, the year before. Even more telling, Brown has averaged 14 points and 8.5 rebounds since the start of 2004.

He has 10 double-doubles this season, and all but two have come since Jan.1, including five in his last seven games. By comparison, Brown totaled just six double-doubles in his first two seasons.

And there’s some indication the return of injured players Jerry Stackhouse (knee surgery) and Gilbert Arenas (strained abdomen) to the lineup only will continue Brown’s emergence. In the three games in which Stackhouse and Arenas have played, Brown has averaged 19 points and nine rebounds.

That Brown has begun to blossom this season isn’t without precedent; many of the players who jumped straight to the pros have shown their most marked leap in their third seasons.

However, Brown’s third year got off to a bumpy start. His play was spotty and resulted in a return to the bench.

Brown’s response was, well, interesting. He didn’t seem to get angry when Wizards coach Eddie Jordan decided to divvy out some of his playing time to Christian Laettner and Etan Thomas.

“I was more comfortable coming off the bench; I still say that,” Brown said. “The most important thing to me was for the team to win. At the time I was playing better off the bench. But I want to be a starter in this league.”

And now that he’s back in the starting lineup, Brown has begun to build a fan club around the league, particularly among the coaching fraternity.

Cleveland coach Paul Silas made special mention of Brown on Saturday — and that was before he dropped 20 points and 10 rebounds in the Wizards’ 106-88 dismantling of the Cavaliers that ended an 11-game road-losing steak.

“The talent and athleticism have always been there,” Silas said. “He came in at a very young age on a team that expected a lot of big things from him early. But this thing takes time. It takes time for a young kid to learn our league and to understand how he fits.

“This is just coming about now for him. He is beginning to get confident; he’s feeling good about himself. I think the coaches have confidence in him, and I think that all plays a big part in his development and his growth. Now I see all the promise. All the things that people saw when they drafted him are coming into play now.”

Here’s an example of that growth. Earlier this season, one Eastern Conference scout called Brown “an athlete who is not that much of a basketball player” based on his observations from the past two years. “He needs to develop a go-to move. You look at him, and you notice that he has so much athleticism. But he’s not very good with his post moves.”

After seeing Brown for the first time this season — in the last two weeks, to be precise — that same scout amended himself.

“I’ll tell you what, he looked pretty good the other night,” the scout said about one of Brown’s double-doubles. “He’s much more productive. I think he’s going to be more effective if they don’t try to pound the ball inside to him. He ran the floor well, got offensive rebounds. He did a lot of good things that weren’t part of his game last year. No question, he’s getting better.”

The scout, of course, was quick to point out there’s still a lot of room for improvement.

“The last time I saw him he didn’t shoot very well, and I still don’t think he does. And he needs to get some kind of a post game,” the scout said. “He’s got to develop something he can go to and have confidence in.”

Brown seems aware of his flaws. Without being told about the scout’s criticism, Brown talked about developing a shot he can rely on in a pinch. And he talked about desperately wanting to become a better passer out of a double team.

But he doesn’t dwell on the well-documented negativity of his past.

“I’m just being positive about this,” Brown said. “I’m not going to let my head get too big because I still have a bad taste in my mouth for what happened. I remember what it was like before positive things started happening to me. This is a learning process, and positive things are happening. It’s a stepping stone to bigger things.”

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