On January 14 the High Point Panthers were dead in the water. Star big man Allan Chaney had not only been lost for the year in November, but his career was over. The Panthers had lost nine straight Division I contests and their only win over a ten game stretch was squeaker against Division II Lees-McRae. To compound on head coach Scott Cherry's issues was another injury to starting guard Dejuan McGaughy going into the Panther's January 15 game against Longwood.
McGaughy's injury forced Cherry to mix things up a bit. Freshman Jorge Perez-Laham was inserted into the starting lineup and it seemed as if the Panthers finally found that ball-handler they needed so desperately in their offense. Somewhere in the second half of HPU's 83-75 win over Longwood that night they found a spark. Devante Wallace became a secondary scoring option beyond John Brown and as we fast forward to today the Panthers are now 10-4 in the Big South and have won 10 out of their last 12 games.
High Point will host VMI tonight, a team they lost to 82-80 in Lexington last month. Tonight's game will be for sole possession of first place in the Big South's North Division and could lock in the top seed for the Big South Tournament. While the emergence of Perez-Laham and Wallace is a huge story only one name comes to mind when you examine High Point...John Brown.
While some Big South high flyers like Reco McCarter, Andrew Smith, and Tristan Carey have made their mark on SportsCenter this year, John Brown is a staple. Brown is the Big South's single most dominant force and he's just a sophomore.
A year ago Brown beat out Longwood's Michael Kessens, who transferred to Alabama, for Big South Freshman of the Year. During that campaign Brown posted 16.4 points, 6.1 rebounds, 1.7 steals, and 1.2 blocks per contest. This year Brown has upped his game even more and is the favorite for Player of the year with 19.6 points, 7.9 rebounds, 2 assists, 1.5 steals, and 1.5 blocks per game. O...did I mention he's shooting 54.5 percent from the field?
Brown came to High Point as a partial qualifier and redshirted his first year on campus. Scott Cherry was one of the few coaches that stuck with him after he attended three high schools and two prep schools and did not have the proper course load to be immediately eligible for NCAA play. Cherry's gamble has certainly paid off and the fact that Brown is only a sophomore has to make ten other Big South coaches cringe every time they see High Point on the schedule.
If you YouTube "John Brown, High Point" then you'll be treated to plenty of highlight dunks, but Brown brings a complete game to the Big South. If you slow him down on the paint and on the boards (good luck!) then he has a mid-range game that he can burn you with. It's a ways off but some Panthers fans have to be thinking what the next step is for the Florida native. Does Brown have NBA potential? The short answer is yes. Brown has a skill-set that isn't matched in the Big South and one that you'd be hard pressed to find anywhere else in mid-major basketball. Sure he doesn't have the typical body of an NBA small forward in terms of bulk, but that can come.
Professional dreams aside, Brown's focus has to be on VMI tonight and getting his Panthers to their first Division I NCAA Appearance ever. While last year the Panthers cruised to the Big South Tournament and lost Brown due to late season injury right before the tournament, this year's edition of the Panthers has gone through a lot more adversity and has grown through it.
You can check out tonight's pivotal game between the Keydets and Panthers for free on the Big South Network. Tip-off is set for 7 PM.