EACH WEEK, WE'LL TAKE A LOOK BACK AT A MEMORABLE MOMENT IN ILLINI HISTORY, THANKS TO THE WORDS OF THE NEWS-GAZETTE
This week: Meyers Leonard is headed to the NBA predraft camp. Let's hope he avoids what happened to then Illinois junior Dee Brown during his first workout for the pros.
Headline: Foot injury puts Brown's pro plans in jeopardy
Date: June 9, 2005
By BRETT DAWSON
CHICAGO — As the NBA predraft camp dawned, Dee Brown stormed in, focused and energized, a bundle of energy ready to make his move.
This morning, he hobbled into Moody Bible Institute's Solheim Center on crutches, head hanging and his mother, Cathy Blocker-Brown at his side.
'I'll be all right, man,' Brown said. 'I'll be all right.'
For now, though, everything's going all wrong for Brown.
During his first camp game Wednesday night, the Illinois junior broke the fifth metatarsal in his right foot, an injury that will hold him out of basketball action well beyond the June 28 NBA draft.
'I just rolled it, man,' Brown said this morning. 'I ran up and down the court on it a couple times, but I knew.
'I didn't know it was broken, but I knew something was wrong with it.'
Brown left camp this morning after a short visit to the trainer's room. He was headed to the hospital afterward, Illinois assistant Tracy Webster said. Webster wasn't sure if Brown planned to have surgery immediately.
Regardless, Brown's camp experience is over. His NBA dream might well be deferred.
'I thought (going back to Illinois) was always his best option,' NBA consultant Chris Ekstrand said. 'It's unfortunate for Dee, because of the experience that he could have gained ... if he'd been able to play throughout the whole camp. He's a good kid, but he's a guy who probably couldn't work his way into the first round, particularly now. For a player of his talent, I don't see a reason to stay in the draft when you're not going to be in the first round.'
That decision isn't made, and rest assured, it won't be discussed with Brown anytime soon. For their part, his coaches at Illinois are supporting Brown now, not pressing him on his basketball future.
'I talked to Dee last night, and Tracy went to see him in his hotel room,' Illinois assistant Jay Price said this morning. 'What we're telling Dee is that the most important thing now is for him to get healthy. Whether he comes back or not is still his decision, and he has enough people around him advising him that he can make that decision. Right now, our only concern is his health.'
Illinois coach Bruce Weber, vacationing with his family in Mexico, was unavailable for comment this morning. Price said he planned to fax Weber a note asking Weber to call him today.
'We all support him,' Price said. 'We always will, no matter what he does, because he's one of our kids, and he'll always be one of our kids.'
Because he hasn't signed an agent, Brown is free to return to Illinois for his senior season if he withdraws from the draft before June 21. He also has the Illini medical staff at his disposal.
A break of the fifth metatarsal could require six to eight weeks of recovery time, Illinois trainer Al Martindale said today.
'You'd usually put a screw in that, and then you're looking at six or eight weeks, with maybe another four weeks to get yourself back into shape,' Martindale said. 'Kendall Gill did the same thing in 1989, we put a screw in it, and in five and a half or six weeks, he was back.'
But Brown doesn't have that kind of time.
His best shot to play his way into the first round of the draft was with an impressive performance here in front of NBA scouts and personnel staff, who wanted to see Brown play more point guard, a position Deron Williams usually handled during their three seasons together at Illinois.
But with so little time to make an impression on scouts here, Brown isn't likely to get a first-round look, Ekstrand said.
That probably means a return to Illinois.
'If you look at his situation, that's for the best for him anyway,' Ekstrand said. 'It's not as if he's going back to a situation that's bereft of talent. He has a great coach and plenty of talent around him at Illinois to come back, make a good run and maybe play his way into the first round next year.'
That was always a possibility for Brown, who caused a stir this week when he said he didn't feel Weber was supporting his pursuit of his NBA dream, but said in the same interview that he'd have no hard feelings if he returned to Illinois.
Still, Brown is clearly — and understandably — disappointed with the outcome of this week.
'He didn't say much,' said Martindale, who spoke to Brown on Wednesday night. 'Knowing Dee for the last two years, I know that when he's feeling disappointment, he doesn't have a lot of words.'
Roger Powell Jr., Brown's Illinois teammate and his roommate at the predraft camp, arrived at camp this morning on crutches as well, still unable to put pressure on the ankle he sprained Wednesday.
'I'm blessed, at least, that it isn't broken,' said Powell, who nonetheless will miss the remainder of this week's camp.
Brown wasn't as fortunate, and Powell was doing his best to provide support.
'It's tough,' Powell said. 'But we prayed on it together last night, and he's going to be OK.'