Former Basketball: Meeting Dion Brown turns writer into fan again
Kevin Foote, The Advertiser, March 3, 2018
It’s been a special season in the Cajundome for the UL Ragin’ Cajuns.
Prior to Saturday’s surprising overtime loss to Little Rock on Senior Night, coach Bob Marlin’s team had won every home game on its way to securing the No. 1 seed in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament and regular season championship.
For this sports writer, though, the top moment of the season ironically came during the halftime ceremony when my favorite all-time Ragin’ Cajun basketball player Dion Brown was recognized for his induction into the UL Athletics Hall of Fame last fall.
I’ve interviewed tons of athletes during my three-decade career in this business. Usually, it’s merely another day at the office.
When you get to interview one of your favorite all-time athletes from the days before it was your profession, however, it’s different.
As much as you attempt to stay completely professional, the fan part comes out.
Making it even better was Brown genuinely seemed to enjoy his return to Cajun Country as much as I relished the opportunity to interview him.
“When you sit back and think about it, this is great,” Brown said. “It’s a good thing they didn’t play this game in Blackham; I probably would have cried. This is the first time I’ve been in here (the Cajundome), so it’s not like I can look in here and go, ‘Oh man, the memories, the memories.’
“It’s so new, so it kept me intact, but then I saw Graylin (Warner) and (Kevin) Figaro and all them guys, man, and that was great. It’s been very enjoyable.”
Dion Brown, center, shows off Wolfpack Classic championship trophy with teammates Graylin Warner, left, and Dan Gay, right. during his junior season. Brown was recognized at halftime of Saturday's basketball game as a recent UL Hall of Famer, and his All-American son Jordan visited the Cajuns over the weekend. (Photo: Advertiser file photo)
It didn’t take very long to discover Brown and I have one thing in common: We both love reliving the great moments of his playing days at then-USL from 1980-84.
“Yeah, I would have loved to play in this place, but Blackham was special,” Brown said. “When I came on my visit, I watched Dion Rainey hit a deep corner jumper to win the game against my hometown team (UAB in NIT opener). I saw the way Blackham just rocked.
“Now that I think back, man, Blackham, it rocked. I don’t know how many people were supposed to be in that gym that night, but I know it exceeded what it was supposed to be. I’m almost speechless just thinking about it. I’m thinking back and just picturing it. The people really supported us and I really appreciated it. I left it on the court every night.”
Brown arrived in Lafayette in 1980 with fellow freshmen Graylin Warner and Alonza Allen under head coach Bobby Paschal. The team barely enjoyed a winning season in its first season at 15-13, but then Brown and Company finished out their careers 24-8 (NCAA automatic bid), 22-7 (NCAA at-large bid) and 23-10 in NIT Final Four in New York City.
“Coach Paschal was so great,” Brown said. “He gave us the opportunity. He decided to go young when we came here as freshman and it turned it right for him, for the team.”
The first game of Brown’s sophomore season was a 70-61 win over No. 5-ranked and eventual national runner-up Georgetown with Patrick Ewing on their way to winning the Great Alaskan Shootout.
In his junior season, Brown and the Cajuns lost at national runner-up Phi Slamma Jamma Houston 79-78 with Akeem Olajuwon, just one Cajun jumper off the back iron at the buzzer away from beating the Cougars as well.
“My time here was great,” Brown said. “I was just telling Graylin, 'I remember when we won the Great Alaskan Shootout when we were sophomores.' We were in the locker room and Graylin was standing there and I was standing and we kind of just looked at each other. It was like we both thought the same thing and we just grabbed each other and hugged each other, because we both knew at that moment we were in something great.”
Expecting simply a courteous, yet business-like interview, Brown was so much more. He wasn’t just saying the words, he felt the emotions of those great memories as he was relaying them.
“We knew we were about to start something fantastic for this program and that’s what happened,” Brown said. “The reception that we got coming back from the airport, man, that was so great (shaking his head in amazement). You can’t write into words how that felt. Looking out at the people welcoming us back, it was great.”
Although Brown had never returned until this weekend, he said he watches every nationally broadcasted UL game — regardless of the sport — that he can get his eyes on. He’s never forgotten where he played.
These days, Brown is following his 6-foot-11 McDonald’s All-American son Jordan Brown around the country. Jordan, who made his official visit to UL this weekend, is ranked by some as the No. 15 prospect in the nation.
“I must say, I tried to stay out of it,” Brown said. “I’ve tried to make the focus totally on Jordan, but they always wanted to know my background. They would say, ‘I could just tell you did something, you played somewhere.’ When I’d say, 'the Ragin’ Cajuns' everybody I’d say Ragin’ Cajuns to, they know. They know of it. They’re like ‘Oh yeah.’
“For some of them, I have to say Andrew Toney went there, but more so it’s the Ragin’ Cajun thing. Hey man, it’s all over the country from California to New York to the Deep South, that Ragin’ Cajun thing is live.”
According to 247 sports, he’s visited Cal, St. John’s and now UL with heavy interest also from Gonzaga and Nevada.
“One thing we meant, we were going to come here,” Brown said. “Other colleges knew we were coming here regardless. People might question it, but they knew we were going to come visit ‘U-S-L' (spoken slowly with a big smile on his face), the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.”
Brown said he’s been blown away by the facilities on UL’s campus.
“The facilities are excellent, excellent,” Brown said. “Back then, if we had all the amenities they got over here nowadays, we probably would have been national champions. We were skinny kids back then, but we were tough.
“We went on some visits, but I haven’t seen anything better. I mean from the actual playing floor to the amenities to how they take care of the kids, they’ve got everything big-time colleges have. It made me proud. I told coach Marlin, ‘Man, y’all killing me. Y’all are making it real hard.’ But I’m loving it. It’s great to be back.”
When discussing his relationship with his son, Brown joked “there’s a fine line between coach and dad” as he tries to mold his son into a finished product.
“He didn’t see me play,” Brown laughed. “It’s almost like he’s looking at me and thinking, ‘Do you know what you’re doing?’ and I look at him and say, 'Jordan, I played.' People don’t know me out here in California, but technically I’m probably the best basketball player in this whole area. They just don’t know me.”
Indeed, Brown finished his career at UL with 1,412 points and is still No. 5 on the school’s all-time rebounding list with 926 boards. He shot 56.3 percent from the field for his career.
“He’s 6-11, very skilled,” Brown said. “He can do a lot of things I could do but didn’t do. He’s actually doing them on the court. He’s got the left-hand, right-hand jump hooks — all the things you need.
“I told him I did the jump hook in college. He was a little reluctant at first, but I told him, ‘You’re going to need this when you’re going against guys who are really tough. You’ve got to have a weapon that you can really turn to.’ I did that when I played and he’s mastered it.”
Those at the Cajundome aware of the Brown family’s visit might have been focusing squarely on Jordan during Saturday’s game.
But the true joy for one old sports writer at least was reliving some precious memories with his dad.
Athletic Network Footnote by Dr. Ed Dugas.