From second sport to Division 1

Published 5:31 pm Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Former Lakeland multi-sport standout Kris Brown is a sophomore walk-on at Norfolk State as the Spartans get going in their 2010-11 basketball season. Brown, pictured here last season in a game against MEAC rival Hampton, made the team last season, his second year at NSU, and played in 10 games.

When Kris Brown was a senior at Lakeland, he was hoping to continue playing football at the college level.

A chance for the former Cavalier receiver and defensive back never came on the college gridiron, though.

“Basketball sort of came up as a last resort and the (Norfolk State) coaches helped me out,” Brown said.

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At a lanky but strong 6-foot-3, Brown was an outstanding swingman on the hardwood during his high school days, as well.

The mere thought of playing Division 1 basketball, as a fallback plan, says all anyone needs to know about Brown’s athleticism. More importantly, Brown had to put in the work, starting before he was on the Norfolk State team.

After his freshman year at NSU, the Spartan coaching staff told Brown if he got ready over the summer, he’d get the chance to make the team for the 2009-10 season.

Brown successfully made the Spartans as a walk-on and a redshirt-freshman. Unlike most walk-on players, he was more than just an extra guy for practice scrimmages, as Brown saw playing time in 10 games last season.

Then came an offseason, this time while Brown was completely a Spartan basketball player.

“It takes a lot of effort because everyone’s talented,” Brown said. “You’ve got to be dedicated and willing to work.”

There’s a one-week break after the season ends, in NSU’s case following the MEAC Tournament in March last season as the Spartans went 11-19.

The summer workouts focus largely on individual skills, Brown said. Conditioning and weight lifting intensifies from August until official preseason practices start on Oct. 15.

“It’s not too hard to manage,” said Brown, an electrical engineering major. “You have to focus all your time on basketball and school. You really can’t have much time for extracurricular activities going on.”

“Everything’s at another level,” said Brown about the huge step from high school hoops to NCAA Div. 1 competition. “Everyone’s big and strong. Everyone’s ready to play every night. You have to be ready every night,” he said.

For the early part of the season, largely the non-conference schedule, most of those nights come in opposing gyms for Norfolk State.

NSU opened this season with a loss at Long Island. The Spartans played their only home game of the first two weeks of the season Tuesday evening against Jacksonville State.

When the Spartans are at home, playing a short drive from Suffolk is an added perk, says Brown.

“It’s nice being close to home, so parents and family can come see,” Brown said.

The Spartans will be on the road for a week, including over Thanksgiving, starting this weekend. The trip includes match-ups against the Atlantic 10’s St. Joseph’s and the Big East’s Rutgers.

“When we have long road trips, it brings us closer together and makes us more of a unit,” Brown said.

“We get up for every game, but we look forward to the challenge of playing bigger schools. Our coaches make sure we get our heads right. The coaches help us, making sure we’re running what we’re supposed to run and that our defense is right. That gives us confidence and we have confidence in each other,” he said.

In December, NSU has six straight road games. The Spartans go to Virginia and travel to points such as Orono, Maine and Evansville, Ind. The Spartans won’t play a home game at Echols Hall from Nov. 30 to Jan. 8.

“It’s definitely worth it,” Brown said. “I don’t mind any of the work, as long as we get these wins.”