WVU basketball: Browne excelling in the art of theft
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- What people will remember about Gary Browne from West Virginia's basketball win Saturday against Cincinnati is the 3-pointer that forced overtime and gave the Mountaineers five more minutes for their fifth win in six games.
That's accurate. It's just not appropriate.
Browne stole one from the Bearcats, took a victory that was headed back to Cincinnati and kept it inside the Coliseum, where WVU is 31-9 in Big East games under Coach Bob Huggins.
What we're learning about this freshman from Puerto Rico is that he's quite good at taking things that are not his.
"The easiest way to make a play is to get the ball," Browne said.
That is Browne's game.
When he's on the floor, he's chasing the ball.
He runs after long rebounds and loose balls. He reaches for passes and lunges at shooters. He loiters near the action and tries to gobble up what someone else bobbles. He races for the sideline or the baseline to keep a ball in play and doesn't seem to care that he's heading full-speed for a table or a row of fans.
Browne has only been playing basketball in America for two years. He's been part of the national team back home since he was 14. He's been obsessed with possession for as long as he's played sports.
Like so many others in Puerto Rico, Browne played baseball and revered the late Roberto Clemente. He wasn't an outfielder, though, and instead played shortstop.
Those dives, that reach, the swift hands and careful balance are all things you've seen on the hardwood that he used on the diamond.
"Sometimes baseball is about one possession," he said. "They hit the ball. That's one possession and you get it or you don't get it. If you don't, that hurts the team. That's the same things here. I see a ball all the way out there and I want to get it. One possession can define the game."
After Brown's 3 with 11.3 seconds left in regulation Saturday, he defended an inbound pass and extended his arms to deflect a pass into an area where he could get it. Browne grabbed the ball and went to his basket for a layup and a 75-72 lead.
It completely changed the game and vividly illustrated Browne's background. He was part shortstop with the way he expanded to close the passing lane, but also part volleyball player.
That was another hobby as a kid in Cupey, and while he hasn't dunked the ball or swatted shots like the outside hitter he was, like Picky Soto, the national hero he emulated, he has showcased his other volleyball skills.
When a teammate would dig an attack or deflect a ball at the net or simply mis-hit in the middle of the court, Browne would speed over and keep it in play.
The games have changed. The goal has not.
No matter the sport, you have to get to the ball.
"Even golf," Huggins said. "You can't hit it if you don't get there."
Browne has a team-high 30 steals, but that hasn't been his greatest contribution. The Mountaineers (15-5, 5-2 Big East) aren't a very big team, but they're third in the Big East in rebounding margin and Browne has more than helped. He's allowed WVU to play big when it plays small.
Huggins hasn't had much in the line of reliable contributions from the three players he hoped would take over on the wing. Keaton Miles starts and he's had his moments, but he's also seventh on the team in minutes. Aaron Brown doesn't start, but he shoots it well and plays more than Miles. Tommie McCune has played six minutes in two conference games.
They are 5, 4 and 7 inches taller than the 6-foot-1 Browne, but Browne plays more, scores more and rebounds more. In seven Big East games, Browne has 34 rebounds - eight more than the other three combined and two more than 6-9, 260-pound Deniz Kilicli.
He had nine against Cincinnati, which was actually three shy of matching his career high.
"I don't box them all out, but I find space to get to the ball," he said. "I don't care who it is, they don't jump that high to catch the ball over the rim. It's always going to come down. If it comes down to the floor, I want to get it."
Browne has strong hands and a stronger will to get to the spot. He would lead the team in that category if it existed and if Kevin Jones weren't a teammate. Still, WVU's best lineup this season has Jones and Kilicli in the frontcourt and Jabarie Hinds, Truck Bryant and Browne in the backcourt.
Those Mountaineers shoot, score, pass, rebound and guard the ball better and that became clear when Browne could come off the bench and not only play his game, but do what Miles, Brown and McCune couldn't do with their minutes.
Browne is very much a Huggins' player.
"Every time I play a game, I go hard 100 percent of the time," he said. "We practice three hours every day we go. When the game is only 40 minutes, why can't you go hard the whole time?"
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.