Oct. 25, 2013
BY MIKE LUCAS
MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan has been singing the praises of his freshmen players - "Very astute, very perceptive, hungry" - and one of them, Vitto Brown, will return the favor, so to speak, by singing the National Anthem before Saturday's Red and White scrimmage at the Kohl Center.
"Me and my family have been singing at my high school games for the past four years," said Brown, a product of Bowling Green (Ohio) High School. "But this is the first time doing it by myself. I've been practicing and I recorded it (the anthem) and let my parents hear it to see what they thought."
After listening, Sheila and Angelo Brown informed their son that "it should be pretty good."
They have more than just an ear for music, too.
Sheila and Angelo Brown have been singing together since meeting as undergrads at Langston (Okla.) University. Earlier this year, they released their debut CD, "The Shades of Brown." Sheila is the lead singer; Angelo is the writer-producer. Their music is worship-gospel with a jazzy R&B flavor.
"My mom used to do a show - a dinner theater - at BGSU (Bowling Green State University)," said Vitto Brown. "She would have a lot of different performers and acts. She had me singing when I was 7 in front of five hundred to six hundred people. I did a solo; so I've been used to it for a while now."
Brown has also sung in the church choir and the show choir at Bowling Green High School. With all due respect to his singing voice, Brown was better known in the hallways for his basketball skills. As a senior, he averaged 24 points and 13 rebounds and shared the Ohio Division 2 Player of the Year award.
Besides finishing as the school's third all-time leading scorer (1,186), he was the career leader in rebounds (808) and blocked shots (336). As a freshman and sophomore, he focused on his defense. It was during the summer prior to his junior year when Brown's offense "just blossomed."
It was timely since he felt the urgency to fill the void created by the graduation losses of his older brother Xavier and Chauncey Orr (who has been playing for his dad, Louis Orr, at Bowling Green). Xavier Brown, a 6-foot, 180-pound guard, has started the last two years at College of Wooster.
"My dad taught us both how to play and I attribute most of my success to my brother," said Vitto Brown who credited Xavier with honing "the guard side of my game" when they were younger. The 6-foot-8 Brown shot 35 percent from the 3-point arc and 72 percent from the line as a senior.
There was a telling quote from Brown's high school coach, Von Graffin who raved about how Brown, the team's best player, was also the team's hardest worker. "He's still growing physically," Graffin told the Toledo Blade. "I can't imagine what his body will develop into."
Brown is still growing into it. He was 17 when he signed his tender last November. He had verbally committed to the Badgers before Toledo Whitmer's Nigel Hayes announced his intentions to come to Wisconsin. Brown and Hayes had been pretty competitive on the AAU circuit.
"I didn't used to like Nigel very much; we were kind of rivals,'' said Brown admitting Hayes' team "always got the best of us." They didn't talk about coming to the UW, but he added, "I figured I would much rather play with him than against him. When we got here, we became best friends pretty quick."
Their friendship began developing last February when Nigel Hayes and his family traveled to Bowling Green and watched the Wisconsin-Illinois game on TV with Vitto Brown and his family. "We got to bond a little bit," Brown said. "I learned that he was a crazy eater and a really funny guy. I enjoy him."
Brown and Hayes discovered that they have much in common; not unlike the UW's entire six-member freshman class. They all seem to get along. "We've all bonded like a family now," Brown confirmed. "We've gone through all the same struggles together and the same trials."
There was definitely an adjustment period to the competition and college basketball. "It was tougher in the beginning," Brown said of his early arrival on campus, "but the summer allowed us to get acclimated with how the system works and going to Canada also helped a lot."
In late August, the Badgers played five exhibition games against Canadian teams. Brown said it didn't help that much "from a playing standpoint" as much as it did help from being "able to observe the team and the readiness that goes into games and how we carry ourselves" as UW players.
One of the first things that he learned about was urgency and "going hard the whole time" at both ends of the floor. "In high school," Brown said, "you could take plays off if you were bigger or better than the other people you played against. But now everyone is closer to the same level."
Brown, who just turned 18 in July, singled out Wisconsin's new strength coach Erik Helland, a 25-year veteran of the Chicago Bulls, for "helping us with our physical maturation."
It will be an on-going storyline for the freshmen whether they play or redshirt. "I plan on playing and doing what I can for the team," said Brown, who's hoping to get off on the right note Saturday.