Monday, July 28, 2014

Intramural players showcase talent

Former NCAA Division I athletes John Brown and Solomon Tat continue playing basketball after graduation

Not too long ago, John Brown and Solomon Tat’s college basketball seasons would be in full swing around this time of year — Brown at Liberty University and Tat at the University of Virginia.

BRACE YOURSELF — Once a starter for Liberty,  John Brown now takes up his trade at the intramural level after graduating. Photo credit: Courtney Russo

BRACE YOURSELF — Once a starter for Liberty, John Brown now takes up his trade at the intramural level after graduating. Photo credit: Courtney Russo

In 2013, Brown and Tat are still playing basketball. The two former Division I athletes have taken their talents to intramural basketball at the LaHaye Student Union.

The likelihood that Brown and Tat’s paths would ever cross seemed nearly impossible. An ocean separated their childhoods, Brown growing up in Savannah, Ga., and Tat in Nigeria. Both grew up craving sports, taking part in anything competitive that they could.

According to Tat, basketball is not nearly as popular in Nigeria as it is in the U.S. At age 11, Tat said he had some friends that would play basketball, but he was more focused on soccer and track and field. However, one day when soccer practice was cancelled, Tat decided to join his friends in basketball practice and never looked back. Tat’s talents were recognized almost immediately, and he began playing with his junior national team within two years.

“With the background of soccer and track and other sports, the athletic part (of playing basketball) came easily,” Tat said. “The mental and the knowledge part of the game was a struggle for me, because I had to learn the rules and how things worked.”

Tat came to the U.S. after being noticed in international tournaments by an American coach named Linzy Davis, who would become his coach at Community Christian School outside of Atlanta.

College coaches aggressively recruited Tat not too long after his arrival, and he ended up as the third-ranked player in Georgia in the 2006 high school class, according to the recruiting site Rivals. Tat committed to Virginia over a slew of other top Division I programs.

Brown’s journey to play was much different than Tat’s. While Brown was a productive high school player, he was not the star that Tat was. He did not have college coaches watching his games. Brown’s only chance to play Division I basketball out of high school was to attend The Citadel as a walk-on.

After redshirting his first year, Brown earned himself some playing time because of his hustle and defensive intensity. He went on to start 22 games and average five points and 6.3 rebounds per game, according to The Washington Post.

After his redshirt freshman season, Brown decided to transfer from The Citadel for personal reasons to attend junior college. Brown got his first taste of recruitment during that season, when he averaged a double-double at Roane State Community College in Tennessee.

“My whole recruiting process (during the junior college year) was pretty fun, because I never went through that in high school,” Brown said. “I got the chance to fly to Portland, fly to New York and a lot of different places.”

Brown chose Liberty over several other schools and immediately made an impact. Brown was a Second Team All-Big South performer during the 2010-11 season, averaging 10.8 rebounds per game, which was good for eighth in all of NCAA basketball. He started all 32 games for the Flames as they went 19-13, including a 13-5 conference mark.

While Brown was thriving at Liberty, Tat was finishing up an injury-plagued career at Virginia, in which he was never able to reach his full potential. Tat said he was not able to make a full recovery from a few nagging injuries, which slowed him down in practice and during games. While he still gave full effort, his body did not allow him to be the player he could have been when completely healthy. Microfracture surgery on his knee before his senior year was the cherry on top of the injury sundae for Tat, as he received the least amount of playing time during his four years as a Cavalier.

Brown’s successful first season came crashing down on a summer afternoon while he was playing in a scrimmage. Brown described himself as playing the best basketball of his life up until that Friday in August when he tore his anterior cruciate ligament and lateral collateral ligament, along with damaging other ligaments and muscles around the knee.

“We had played five games before (the game of the injury), and this was like the last game. I was about to shut it down after (the game ended).” Brown said. “I jumped off my right leg (to try to steal the ball on a fast break attempt), and for some reason, I came back down on my right leg and all of a sudden, I just felt it buckle. At that point, I knew something was wrong. I got up, and I just collapsed to the ground. I was like, ‘I can’t walk. There’s something wrong.’”

Having recovered from all their injuries, Brown and Tat now have another chance to play by competing in intramurals. Brown still wears a bulky knee brace, which visibly annoys him during games, but both players still stand out on the court.

“(Brown and Tat) don’t look at themselves higher than other people,” Intramural Sports Basketball Supervisor Sean Lally said. “They’re just trying to compete and raise each other’s and everybody else’s games. It’s good to have them both (playing intramurals).”

In the quarterfinals of the intramural basketball playoffs, Tat and Brown met up in a rematch of last semester’s championship, in which Tat’s squad prevailed. This time, for the second time in the 2013 season, Chaff — the name of Brown’s team, which consists of mostly fellow law school students — defeated Tat’s The Unit, 58-39. Brown outscored Tat 20-18 in a game that included a double-digit deficit for The more than half of the contest.

“I love playing against John Brown, because he brings out the best in me,” Tat said. “I just don’t like losing to him.”

With Brown and Tat planning on continuing to play intramurals as they finish their graduate degrees, in law for Brown and in human services for Tat, there will be many more opportunities for the two to meet on the court again.

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