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Mr. Dion Brown
|Spotlight on Former Athlete: Dion Brown - Men's Basketball 1980-84
December 2017 Spotlight Feature by Bruce Brown
Points – 1,412
FG Pct - 56.3
Rebounds – 926 (4th in USL history)
Rebounds per Game – 8.6 (7th)
Rebounds, One Game – 21 vs. McNeese State, 1982
Minutes Played – 1,215, 1983-84; 3,750, Career
Games Played – 33, 1983-84; 118, Career
Great Alaska Shootout All-Tournament Team
NABC All-District, 2nd, 1983-84; All-Louisiana, 2nd, 1983-84; 3rd, 1982-83; All-Southland Conference, 2nd, 1981-82
Cajuns were 84-38 as a Team (15-13, 24-8, 22-7, 23-10), with two NCAA Tournament berths and an NIT Final Four
Graduated on time in 1984 with degree in business management. Who's Who Among American Universities
Blue collar star Brown showed way to victories
By Bruce Brown
Dion Brown freely admitted it had been a while since he owned a spotlight as an athlete.
After all, it's been 33 years since he last played for the Ragin' Cajuns in one of the most successful eras in UL basketball history.
So, when informed last month that he would be inducted into the UL Athletics Hall of Fame, it was stunning.
“Man, I was a little speechless,” Brown said. “It totally caught me off-guard. It's great just to be included with some of the greats at USL. I'm still soaking it in.
“It's funny. I haven't been in the limelight myself for years. I'm busy working with my son, Jordan. I play second fiddle to him. I don't know how to react to it anymore.”
Jordan Brown is a 6-foot-11 basketball prospect considered one of the best in the nation.
“We've been concentrating on his recruiting,” said Brown, a 6-7 forward for the Cajuns from 1980-84. “He's a '4' but he's 6-11. He can do a lot of the same things I did, but he's very skilled. I've got him at a prep school now, to get him better competition. The other night he scored 28, had 19 rebounds, 8 blocked shots and 7 assists.
“He's among the top 10 in the nation. I've put myself on the back burner for him.”
Brown was joined in the 2017 HOF class by Lacey Bertucci Sharp (softball), JoJo Harris (women's track and field), Jonathan Lucroy (baseball) and the late, great Kim Perrot (women's basketball).
Danny Cottonham, Sherry LeBas and John Porche were Lifetime Achievement honorees.
Brown, who works in nuclear medicine, lives in California with wife Yolanda, older son Dion Z. Brown and daughter Kayla, a nurse. His HOF resume' made it easy to include him.
The Cajuns won 84 games in his four seasons (15-13, 1980-81; 24-8, 1981-82; 22-7, 1982-83; 23-10, 1983-84), and Brown's tenacious rebounding played a large role.
He totaled 926 rebounds and 1.412 points, averaging 12 points and 8.6 rebounds per game while hitting 56 percent of his shots and 65 percent at the line. His tireless work ethic set a standard and earned respect of friend and foe alike.
The 1981-82 team stunned Georgetown, Washington State and Marquette to win the Great Alaska Shootout, won the Southland Conferece tournament and returned the Cajun program to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the mid-1970's death penalty.
In 82-83, UL reached the NCAA as an independent.
The Cajuns advanced to the NIT Final Four in Madison Square Garden in New York City in 83-84, a fitting final spotlight for a special group.
It was a previous appearance in the NIT that led Brown to USL.
A Tale of Two Dions
Brown came from a high-profile high school program in Birmingham, Ala., the same town that gave USL Andrew Toney, so he was familiar with the Cajuns before visiting as a recruit late in the 1979-80 campaign.
Familiar, but not committed
“It was still up in the air,” Brown said. “I made my visit, and Dion Rainey was my host. He showed me a good time. I came at the right time. It was the NIT, a home game, Blackham Coliseum was electrifying.”
As fate would have it, the Cajuns were hosting Alabama-Birmingham that night, a school also eager to land Brown.
“I remember looking across the court at the coaches from UAB, and them probably thinking 'what's he doing here?' ” Brown said. “It went down to the wire, and Dion Rainey hit a shot to win it.”
It was, in fact, a legendary launch that gave USL a 74-72 win for Toney and company as they then beat Texas and lost to Minnesota in that NIT.
“I remember UAB was after Dion hard,” coach Bobby Paschal said. “It went down to the last shot, and Dion Rainey hit that shot in the corner, in front of our bench that many people still remember to this day.
“The two had the same first name, the crowd, and enthusiasm, we won the game – I'm sure it didn't hurt his decision to come to USL.”
“It was meant to be that I visited USL at that time,” Brown said. “I already knew Andrew Toney from Birmingham. It was a no-brainer. Soon after that, it was over.”
Soon Brown was having his signing picture taken with his mother, Paschal and a cousin – less fanfare than the one sure to greet Jordan's decision. The Cajuns, who are on Jordan's list of schools, got a solid talent in Dion.
“We were fourth in the nation, two-time state champions,” Brown said. “We had 6 Division I players on that team, 3 were drafted by the NBA.
“Playing there helped to build me up to have confidence when I came to USL. Graylin Warner was Mr. Basketball in Louisiana, Alonza Allen was Mr. Basketball in Florida. I knew I had some work to do.” That never scared Brown.
Work Ethic in Place
“I knew from the beginning that he played hard and played to win,” Paschal said. “He had a good, tough high school coach who pushed him, and they played in one of the tougher high school leagues. He played hard and rebounded hard.
“Playing to win is one of the most important characteristics you can have. Dion played to win, and prepared to win as well. He practiced extremely hard and was an excellent guy to coach.
“I can't remember a time when I had to get on him to do what we wanted him to do. He consistently improved, got much bigger and stronger and became more of a man, more of a force on the team.”
Brown's role was rebounder, and he played that role with a quiet intensity.
“The word that myself and the staff emphasized more than any other was rebounding,” Paschal said. “If your team rebounds really, really hard it seems to influence their play in all aspects of the game.
“Dion was a ferocious rebounder. He went after every ball hard. He had long arms and was a quick jumper off the floor. His specialty was a big influence on our ability to play hard and fight together to win.”
“You can't go wrong with rebounding,” Brown said. “I was used to winning, doing things the right way and playing to win. Once I established myself, I was able to add in scoring. I those days, you played your position and knew your role.
“I probably put on 20 pounds. I got a lot stronger than people even thought I was. I played defense, took just as much pride in it as in offense. A lot of it is desire. That's No. 1.”
Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood
Brown wasn't through with basketball when the Cajuns finished play in the 1984 NIT Final Four.
“When I finished USL, I played a little bit of CBA and overseas,” Brown said. “After a few years, I joined the Air Force and saw some of the best non-NBA people I had seen.
“There were 12 of us picked for the All-Armed Forces Team, and (Navy's) David Robinson and I were roommates. We developed a really good friendship. He was a multi-millionaire but he was having a hard time with people getting on him. I was three years older and more of a veteran, but he had status.
“He wanted to do everything right. He'd drive to the basket and get fouled, but it wasn't being called. I told him to pump fake on a 7-8 foot shot, then go to the basket. I also tried to get him to do a jump hook, which I did at USL.”
Robinson went on to multiple NBA titles with the San Antonio Spurs, while Brown met Los Angeles product Yolanda and began their family.
“The last day of camp, he gave me the pants from his first Spurs sweatsuit,” Brown said. “They came up to the calf on him, but fit me just perfect. I still have them.
“He's a super nice guy. We kept in contact for years.”
A joy to coach
“Dion was everything you could want in a player – in how he played, accepted his role, and I enjoyed him off the floor,” Paschal said. “He went about his business in a quiet way. He worked hard on the court and in school, a tremendous pleasure to coach.”
That was the kind of player Toney had been before Brown, and the two also shared another similarity besides Birmingham and spirit – academic drive.
“I wanted to get my degree, and my goal was to graduate early (as Toney did),” said Brown, who finished in business management. “But there was one course left I had to take my final semester. I got it, though. Promised my mom I would.
“I had to really study. I took the time to study. It taught me discipline. I had to learn how to study, how to complete things.”
Brown's time, both on and off the court, was well spent.
* * * * *
Brown, teammates big part of history
Coach Bobby Paschal Sidebar
By Bruce Brown
Former Ragin' Cajun basketball coach Bobby Paschal has a special place in his heart for players like Dion Brown, who were part of a pivotal era in UL history that helped vault the program back to prominence after the NCAA death penalty in the 1970s.
Birmingham product Andrew Toney was the first piece of the puzzle, scoring 2,526 points from 1976-80 and leading the Cajuns to the NIT quarterfinals as a senior.
But it was Brown, another Birmingham recruit, whose Cajun career took it a step further with teammates like Graylin Warner, Dan Gay, Alonza Allen, Alford “Pop” Turner, George Almones and Johnny Collins.
Lafayette High's Kevin Figaro scored 22.8 points per game to lead a 15-13 transition year, then turned things over to Brown, Warner and friends for what proved to be a spectacular 1981-82 campaign.
“The things those teams accomplished made it a lot more fun to coach,” Paschal said, “and Dion was a big part of a lot of those accomplishments.”
At the 1981 Great Alaska Shootout, the Cajuns shocked No. 1 Georgetown and freshman phenom Patrick Ewing, 70-61, beat Washington State 72-59 and won the title with an 81-64 thrashing of Marquette.
They never looked back, adding the Southland Conference title and an NCAA Tournament berth by season's end – the school's first NCAA bid since 1973.
“One thing for sure,” Brown said, “everyone remembers the shot that Michael Jordan hit to beat Georgetown in the NCAA finals. But who was the first team to beat Georgetown that season? We were.
“I remember looking at Graylin in the locker room afterwards, and we knew it had just propelled us to another level. It was the beginning of something special. We embraced. We knew.
“And, we just kept going. We were a team to be reckoned with.”
“The Shootout had a great impact, locally and nationally,” Paschal said. “We jumped up to the Top 15, maybe No. 13, in the country. It was a memory we created for ourselves. It showed how good we could really be.”
Oddly enough, the Cajuns had lost an exhibition game to Marathon Oil prior to the Shootout.
“We had a week in between to prepare, and that was a good thing,” Paschal said. “That team really wanted to win.”
That 81-82 team finished 24-8 after losing to Tennessee 61-57 in the NCAA Tournament.
The next year, as an independent, then-USL returned to the NCAA and finished 22-7 in a season marked by a midseason 79-78 defeat at Houston.
“We went into Houston against Phil Slama Jama, and they beat us by one point,” Brown said. “Hakeem Olajuwon had 12 blocked shots in that game, including a shot by George Almones at the end.
“If he (Olajuwon) doesn't show up, we probably beat them by 10. We had them.”
There were numerous moments during that era, such as duels on the baseline with La. Tech's Karl Malone and in the backcourt against McNeese State's Joe Dumars, and the Cajuns soaked it all in.
“We were more in the moment,” Brown said. “We were just playing and enjoying it.”
The 1983-84 season was a fitting swan song for Brown's senior year as the Cajuns advanced to the NIT Final Four in New York City's Madison Square Garden. They edged Utah State on the road 94-92 on an Almones backside put-back, held off Weber State 74-72 at Blackham then blew out Santa Clara 97-76 at home to reach NYC.
USL dropped a pair to Notre Dame and Va. Tech once they got to the Big Apple, but still finished 23-10.
“The NIT Final Four was huge, too,” Paschal said. “When we hosted Santa Clara, the atmosphere in Blackham was unbelievable. We knew what was on the line.”
“Those were just some fun years,” Brown said. “Great guys, great players.”
And players who became part of history.
* * * * * * *
|Basketball- (M):|| 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1984|
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