As college career ends, St. Joe's Aaron Brown ready for final March

usa-aaron-brown-stjoes.jpg

As college career ends, St. Joe's Aaron Brown ready for final March

There were times when Aaron Brown felt alone.

Not only was he 300 miles from home and missing his family and friends, but he also wasn’t quite sure why his playing time with the West Virginia men’s basketball was drying up.

But whenever he felt that way, Brown knew exactly what to do: Call his father, William Brown.

“It was tough, man,” said the younger Brown, now a senior at St. Joe's. “There were nights I would call him frustrated. He always had the right thing to say. I’d like to thank him for that.”

These days, the elder Brown goes to every one of his son's home games and takes long car rides for most of the road contests, too. But back then, when the Darby native and former Penn Wood High star played for West Virginia during the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons, Brown’s father couldn’t get to as many games as he would have liked. Instead, he tried to lift his son's spirits as often as he could on the phone, telling him to work hard and keep his head up.

And even though Brown had some good moments with the Mountaineers, including getting the starting nod in their 2012 first-round NCAA Tournament game vs. Gonzaga, they both agreed it was time to move on and try something else after two seasons in Morgantown.

"When he wanted to transfer, he said, 'Dad, I want to come back home,'" William Brown recalled from the Hagan Arena lobby during halftime of the Hawks’ win over Saint Louis on Sunday. "I said, 'Fine, pick a school you want to play for, talk about it and find a good fit for you.'"

In many ways, that school was always going to be St. Joe's, which recruited him hard while he was at Penn Wood, where he won a state title in 2010. And it’s definitely fair to say that picking the Hawks worked well as Brown is now a veteran fifth-year senior on a surprisingly dominant SJU team that will go for its 25th win of the season Wednesday night vs. St. Bonaventure before coming home to face Duquesne in its regular-season finale Saturday — Brown’s final game on Hawk Hill.

"I've been through a lot of ups and downs in my career,” Brown said. "To finish my college career on top, having a very good season, with the chance of doing some good things in March — that’s all I can ask for."

Brown might not be the star player he was in high school anymore but he doesn’t have to be. DeAndre’ Bembry and Isaiah Miles, two of the best players in the Atlantic 10, handle that just fine. Like everyone else on the Hawks, Brown understands his role, emerging as a very solid third option (he’s third on the team in scoring at 9.1 ppg). And unlike his rocky tenure at West Virginia, Brown feels secure in his place in the rotation, having started every game this season while providing valuable leadership, on and off the court.

“He’s handled his business like a senior — and I mean his business here on the court and his business on the hill,” St. Joe’s head coach Phil Martelli said. “He’s driven to get a degree, and that’s watched by everyone here because for a long time you would have identified him as a guy that’s just into basketball.

“And he’s been willing to sacrifice. As Isaiah’s game has taken off, Aaron’s opportunities have become a little less frequent. But he fits. From a very young age, he’s been driven to win, and he has brought that winning approach to our locker room and on the court for us.”

Brown got his first taste of winning at St. Joe’s during his transfer year two seasons ago.

It hardly mattered that he couldn’t play in games because of NCAA transfer rules; he still felt like a big part of the team because of the fierce battles he had against ex-Hawks star Langston Galloway in practice, among others. And Martelli still marvels at how quickly Brown got onto the court from the stands to celebrate the Hawks’ 2014 Atlantic 10 Tournament championship.

"I would say this," Martelli recalled. "I don’t think anyone was more excited."

Perhaps that shouldn’t have been too surprising. How could he not get excited when his hometown team booked a place in the NCAA Tournament? And that excitement only increased when Brown began to suit up for the Hawks the following season, playing in front of many family and friends, just a few miles from where he grew up, where he likes to return every Sunday for a home-cooked meal.

Of course, the homecoming also came with its share of challenges with Brown admitting he had to "block out some people" and focus on those giving him the "right advice," like his dad. But Martelli thinks those issues are all in the past, especially as Brown has grown and matured.

"I think early on it was hard because the people at home were telling him certain things — out of love, not out of disrespect," the St. Joe’s coach said. "And I think that he heard the noise and kind of didn't know which way to turn. But I think certainly this year he's been very zeroed in on what I have to say to him about academics, what I have to say about handling his business in the community and what I have to say to him about basketball.

"And the people that have been closest to him have been very supportive because they want success for him."

This season is already a success as St. Joe’s already has matched its best win total since the famous 2003-04 campaign. Did Brown think that was possible after the Hawks sputtered to a losing record last season, his first one playing for them?

"We always thought that if we worked, we could be as a good as anybody," Brown said.

"Everyone asked me, 'How are you guys gonna be? How are you guys gonna be? I was always like, 'Listen, we’re gonna surprise a lot of people.' I’ve been saying that since Day 1 and that’s what we’re doing."

Given their regular-season success, many hope the Hawks will continue to surprise people in the Atlantic 10 tourney and then the NCAA Tournament, where it increasingly looks like they’ll finish their season.

For Brown, that would naturally be a great bookend to his college career — one that proved to be tumultuous but also, in the end, extremely gratifying.

And he’s ready to feel the madness of March one last time as a college basketball player.

"The experience was great," Brown said of his appearance in the 2012 NCAA Tourney. "I enjoyed every minute of it. That’s why I try to stress how important these games are — because that feeling of the NCAA Tournament is like no other. I would like everyone to feel that."

Drexel's Chris Crawford soaks up tradition at U.S. Open

usa-chris-crawford-drexel-golf.jpg
USA Today Images

Drexel's Chris Crawford soaks up tradition at U.S. Open

ERIN, Wis. — The U.S. Open is all about tradition. This week is the 117th playing of golf's national championship and this event more than most celebrates those golfers who play the game as amateurs. 

Soon-to-be Drexel graduate Chris Crawford has been soaking up all the traditions this week at Erin Hills. Playing in his second U.S. Open after qualifying through both local and sectional competition for the second straight year, an extremely difficult feat, the 23-year-old fifth-year senior enjoyed the amateur dinner put on by the tournament organizers with the USGA. Crawford and his fellow amateurs, a stout list including Texas' Scottie Scheffler, who shot 3-under Thursday to seize the early low amateur lead, were celebrated the entire evening — one of Crawford's early highlights in a long week here in Wisconsin. 

Crawford produced a 3-over par 75 Thursday during the first round to tie for 102nd out of a field of 156 players.

"I played OK (Thursday)," Crawford said. "I'm going to take more positives than negatives out of the round. I played really well for 14 holes and just had a few bad swings on the other four holes."

Indeed, Thursday morning started nervously for the former Drexel golf standout. On the opening par-5 first hole, he snap-hooked his drive into the weeds out of bounds to the left, resulting in a double bogey. Three holes later, he chipped one shot over the back of the fourth green and took another double-bogey, placing him 4-over through four holes. 

Although bogeys might keep many of us alive in our weekend matches, it doesn't cut it in a U.S. Open. Crawford responded well in the ensuing 14 holes, going 1-under in that stretch.

Crawford's coach Mike Dynda, who teaches him at LuLu Country Club in Glenside, Pennsylvania, said he makes a big point to prepare Crawford's mind for his big rounds.

"I texted him last night and said, 'When you got to sleep, imagine that you're on the 18th hole and you have a putt for 9-under,'" Dynda said. "It's important to go to sleep and dream like that."

On the other side, Dynda — who taught the golf team at Drexel from 2003-2015 — also told his pupil to stay away from expectations. When you're 23 and you're playing in your second consecutive U.S. Open, one might think it would be easy to get ahead of yourself. Not so with Crawford, according to Dynda.

"I've taught him to not have any expectations for the five years we've been together," Dynda said. 

Crawford had a superstar practice round on Monday, playing with Jordan Spieth, Jim Furyk and Wisconsin's own Steve Stricker.

"It was a lot of fun playing with those guys and just watching them strategize about learning a brand new U.S. Open course," Crawford said. "I think that's the biggest thing I was impressed with, was the way they talked about strategy on this golf course.

"They were all very nice with me and were very specific to ask about me and they wanted to learn a little bit about my life, so I appreciated that."

For Dynda, talking with Furyk brought back a fond memory. Furyk's father, Mike, actually sold Dynda his first set of golf clubs, Tommy Armor 845s, back in Philadelphia years ago. 

With one round in the books and the forecast calling for rain this weekend, Crawford was looking forward to having the proper mentality as he headed into Friday's second round.

"I want to go out there and just not get ahead of myself," Crawford said. "I'm going to think positively and appreciate that I'm playing in the national open."

Crawford teed off at 2:31 p.m. local time off of the 10th hole.

"This week is so cool because I never do something like this," Crawford said. "Playing in front of such large crowds is a treat and I just love the interaction with the fans before and after the rounds as well."

Last year at Oakmont, dozens of friends and family made the drive down the turnpike to see him play in his first U.S. Open. This year, Crawford estimates that he has around 15 friends and family out in the galleries cheering him on. Though coach Dynda caddied last year, those duties have gone to current Drexel golf coach Ben Feld.

It's a party this week of Drexel golf proportions.

Atlantic 10 reveals 2017-18 schedule pairings

Atlantic 10 reveals 2017-18 schedule pairings

Philadelphia basketball fans will be getting a double dip of one of the Atlantic 10 conference's best rivalries once again next season.

With the league's 18-game regular season format in place for a fourth straight year, it was revealed Wednesday afternoon that Saint Joseph's and La Salle will battle twice — once in North Philly at Tom Gola Arena and a second time at the Hawks' home just off City Line Avenue. Each team in the 14-member conference will play eight teams once and five teams twice.

The full pairings for the Explorers and Saint Joe's are listed here:

La Salle
Home: Dayton, George Mason, St. Bonaventure, VCU, Fordham, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Saint Joseph’s, Saint Louis
Away: Davidson, Duquesne, George Washington, Richmond, Fordham, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Saint Joseph’s, Saint Louis

Saint Joseph’s
Home: Dayton, Duquesne, Saint Louis, VCU, Fordham, George Mason, La Salle, Massachusetts, St. Bonaventure
Away: Davidson, George Washington, Rhode Island, Richmond, Fordham, George Mason, La Salle, Massachusetts, St. Bonaventure

It was also rumored earlier in the day that the Hawks have added a Big Five matchup at Temple for Dec. 9.