Dee Brown: 'Just try to stay positive'

Dee Brown: 'Just try to stay positive'

CHAMPAIGN — Since he was hired this summer to be the special assistant to then-Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas, Illini basketball great Dee Brown has been traveling throughout the state, spreading good cheer and vibes about all things Illinois.

News of Thomas’ firing on Monday shook Brown, but he vows to continue the work he’s been doing these last few months — with a smile on his face.

“I just try to stay positive and worry about what I’ve got to do as far as what my work with the university is and making that positive impact with athletics and the community,” Brown said. “This is a great place; every institution faces its ups and downs. It’s how you respond to it and right now we just (have) to stay together as a university and a community and just stay positive.”

Brown, who starred on the basketball court for the Illini from 2002-06, said he was surprised to hear about Thomas’ dismissal Monday and though he had yet to speak with his former boss, hoped to do so soon.

“He gave me great opportunity. I’ll forever be grateful for him giving me an opportunity to come back and work for the university,” Brown said. “My connection with him, I always just say ‘Thank you’ for the opportunity he’s given me. It was tough, it’s a tough business but I’m very blessed.”

Brown has a perspective unique from many others serving in various roles throughout the athletic department in that he played at Illinois and did so at a high level. He knows what it’s like to be in the shoes of the current student-athletes and touched on how the upheaval at the top of the DIA might be affecting them.

“My focus was on getting good grades and winning championships and that should be their focus as well. Whenever you sign up for something when you’re a student-athlete, you know what you have to do. I had tunnel vision and that’s why I’m the winningest player in program history because I wanted to get a degree and make my mom proud and focus on basketball,” Brown said. “They’re coming to one of the best institutions to get a degree, be good people in the community and chase being champions.”

A few hours after the news about Thomas was announced, Brown hadn’t yet processed all of it. He’s just going to continue doing what he does best.

“All I can talk about it the positivity going on,” he said. “I commend our student-athletes for focusing on their academics as well as the athletics.”