- The Washington Times - Monday, May 23, 2005

BRUNSWICK, Ga. — There would be no reason to stop in Brunswick, Ga., along the way from Savannah to New Orleans on this Washington Nationals minor league road trip. There it was, just a hop, skip and jump off Interstate 95, just another town with a few convenience stores.

And there should be no reason for Washington sports fans to care about Brunswick, Ga. In fact, I’ll bet that most Washington sports fans wish they never heard of Brunswick, Ga., a small coastal town about 70 miles north of Jacksonville, Fla.

But unfortunately, Washington fans know very well the significance of Brunswick, Ga. And if you are a sportswriter and Brunswick, Ga., is right there, you have to stop.

Why? Because this is where Kwame Brown was once great. This is where Kwame Brown became the No.1 pick in the NBA Draft. This is where the future of the Washington Wizards was once plotted and planned, in a high school gym that the hometown star used to fill to the top.

And this is where the man who helped mold Kwame into that great high school player still coaches — and still believes in the man-child he knew here in Brunswick. The coach is confident that Brown will come back from his suspension from the Wizards during the playoffs and eventually be successful as a pro.

“I believe he will turn things around,” said Dan Moore, Brown’s coach at Glynn Academy. “[In] his past history he comes back from making mistakes, and he is remorseful and makes good decisions after that.”

Brown’s history on the court at Glynn Academy is on display in the trophy case at the school’s gym. There is the plaque that Brown received from the Georgia Coaches Athletic Association in 2001 for player of the year and his 2001 first-team All-State selection by the Atlanta Tipoff Club and a photo of him dunking in a Red Terrors uniform.

“He used to fill this place to the rafters,” said his former assistant coach, Burnett Rooks.

In Washington, the only trophies Brown has accumulated are his leftover Chinese food containers. And the only thing he has filled MCI Center with are boos.

The Kwame Brown that many Wizards fans dislike — the one suspended for not showing up for practice and essentially quitting on his teammates in the playoffs — is not the one that Dan Moore remembers.

“It’s disturbing the whole way this has happened, that he is portrayed that way, because our picture of him is that he is a good guy, and he is always remorseful when he makes mistakes,” Moore said. “I’m not surprised that he made a mistake because he is only 23-years-old and living in an adult world. I am a little embarrassed for him, the way he is being portrayed, because that is what we know of him. That is not the full picture of him.

“I will stick with my loyalties to Kwame. I love this kid.”

Moore’s defense is yet one more argument for an NBA age limit, but even the proposed 20-year-old limit by commissioner David Stern would not have helped Brown. There are plenty of 23-year-olds who make mistakes in a variety of jobs in the adult world. Some do stupid things and don’t show up for work for one reason or another, and they are fired. Most learn from their mistakes and get other jobs.

And that is also part of Moore’s defense that could come back to haunt Wizards fans — that, based on at least the opinion of the one person who watched Brown develop as a player during arguably the toughest developing years of one’s life, he will get over this, and come back better.

“Decisions are decisions,” Moore said. “[Brown] is a man now, and he has to live with them. In my case, when he made a bad choice, we were able to work it out. He took the punishment and came back and worked harder and got better each time. To me it appeared that is what he is trying to do with the Wizards. Now, the way he goes about that sometimes is not what you would like to see. But I am used to working with young people, and I don’t know if the NBA is used to that. And there is a tolerance level. Where should that tolerance level be? Kwame didn’t go past the tolerance level when he was here.

“When we disciplined him when we had to, he accepted it and moved forward. It would appear he is past that tolerance level in Washington, and maybe rightfully so. You only get so many chances, and I guess they drew a line in the sand and he stepped over it. Here he got up to the line a couple of times, but he took the discipline and came back from that.”

Moore said Brown was hardly a pampered superstar in his program.

“Unlike most of these young superstars, we dealt with Kwame when issues came up,” he said. “We didn’t let them pass. He sat two or three games for us when he was a senior, even though he was a first-team Parade All-American and McDonald’s All-American. He didn’t play a couple of games. Not everything was given to him here. He was just one of our players, and we treated him that way. He was a special one, but if he got out of line, he got disciplined for it.”

Do you think the Wizards’ braintrust that decided to make Brown the No.1 pick in the 2001 draft knew any of this? That he had been benched a few times in his senior year? Moore raised the notion that they were not particularly confident in Brunswick that Brown was, at the very least, physically or mentally equipped to be the No.1 pick in the NBA Draft.

Moore turned the whole notion of Brown’s failure as the league’s top draft pick on its head by suggesting the blame for that failure is on the Wizards.

“It’s a little unfair that he is being targeted because he is the first pick,” Moore said. “He wasn’t the one who chose. The Wizards did. The backlash of that is why isn’t he this or that. I don’t think he ever said he would be, not to my knowledge, and I certainly never did and neither did any of us down here. What he has been as a basketball player is a very unselfish player, one that had a lot of skill in certain areas, and a lot of unpolished skill in others. Why that measured up to a number one pick, that is on the Wizards.”

Brown may never play up to the potential of a No.1 pick, but Moore believes he still will be a successful NBA player.

“I think [Brown’s] potential is as huge as it ever was, maybe even bigger since he has grown,” he said. “How many guys get to the NBA and keep growing? He has gained an inch of height and 35 pounds of muscle. He really went from being a forward to a center. If I am a GM in the NBA, I don’t think there is any way I can pass up a chance at a 7-footer.”

Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld hopes that is the case — that others believe the damage Brown has done to himself is reversible and worth a gamble, so they can pump up the value of any compensation the team would receive should Brown, a restricted free agent, go elsewhere. It’s doubtful that he will be able to have success with the Wizards, where the damage has been done. This isn’t Glynn Academy. There may still be love for Kwame Brown in Brunswick, Ga., but in Washington, as the song goes, love don’t live here anymore.

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