Former Ohio State basketball captain Jamaal Brown gone much too soon

Former Ohio State basketball captain Jamaal Brown gone much too soon

Jamaal Brown with Ohio State in 1992 (Photo: 247Sports)

Ohio State has confirmed news that appeared earlier today on Twitter that former OSU basketball captain Jamaal Brown has died. He was 52.

Brown, a native of Arlington, Texas, passed away at his home in Texas over the weekend. There were no other details about the cause of death or any family details as well.

He was one of the few four-year starters in Ohio State history. Brown played his freshman season in 1988-89 for head coach Gary Williams. He played his final three seasons for coach Randy Ayers, an assistant elevated to the head coaching position after Williams left to become the head coach at his alma mater Maryland.

Brown, a 6-4 guard, played on three NCAA Tournament teams and helped lead the Buckeyes to back-to-back Big Ten championship seasons in 1991 and 1992. The championship in 1991 was OSU’s first regular season men’s basketball championship in 20 years.

The starters in 1991 included Mark Baker at point guard, Brown at shooting guard, Jackson at small forward, Treg Lee at power forward and Perry Carter at center. Chris Jent, Alex Davis and Bill Robinson were key backups on that team. A year later, the starters were Baker, Brown, Jackson, Jent and Lawrence Funderburke at center.

Here are more details from OSU’s release:

The Arlington, Texas native appeared in 127 games, starting 126 of those games, from 1988-92. A floor leader, Brown averaged 9.0 points per game and scored 1,139 points in his career. He led the Buckeyes to back-to-back Big Ten titles in 1991 and 1992 and served as a team captain during his senior season in 1992. Brown made a team-high 34 three-pointers in 1991 and was second behind Jim Jackson in 1992 with 41 threes.

The Buckeyes made three NCAA Tournament appearances during Brown’s four seasons, including a Sweet 16 appearance in 1991 and an Elite Eight appearance in 1992. Known as the team’s best defender, he typically drew the opposition’s best player. In the NCAA Second Round game against Georgia Tech in 1991, Brown frustrated All-American Kenny Anderson into an 8-for-28 shooting performance which helped the Buckeyes to a 65-61 victory. The highlight of his career was a career-high 29-point effort in leading Ohio State to a 93-85 victory over No. 3 Indiana inside Assembly Hall in January of 1991.

Brown was a communications major who frequently made stops at local elementary schools talking to students about life and basketball and the dangers of drug use. Teammate and fellow captain Tony White described Brown as “a guy who knew how to play the game, didn’t make a whole lot of mistakes, made jump shots, was a physical presence and a great defender.”

Brown was from Arlington, Texas and attended Sam Houston High School where he earned All-State honors in both track and basketball. During his senior season, he was the MVP of the Texas All-Star Game and then set the school record by clearing 6-10 in the high jump.

More Thoughts

I was an Ohio State student from 1986 through graduation in the spring of 1990. My last two years coincided with Jamaal Brown’s first two years at Ohio State.

And as a crazy coincidence, for his freshman year and my junior year we lived on the same hallway inside Baker Hall on south campus. I also covered the OSU men’s basketball team that season for the Lantern. That was the first of my 35 years of covering OSU basketball on a fulltime basis.

I think what most people would remember about Jamaal is his smile. He was arguably one of the best people I ever met. He’d always greet you with a smile and a handshake.

On the basketball court, he was a fierce defender and an opportunistic scorer. He was never counted upon to be the leading scorer, but was usually right there between, say, eight and 16 points most games.

ESPN commentator Fran Fraschilla, an assistant for Gary Williams at Ohio State, shared on Twitter a recollection of Brown’s arrival at OSU.

“Sad to hear that @OhioStateHoops 2-time @bigten Champ, Jamaal Brown, has passed away. It’s rare that a player writes a school to be recruited & he’s good enough. So I made a recruiting trip to Dallas to see him (but to also visit a girlfriend.) He was good enough. RIP JB”

It says a lot that Brown came in and started for Ohio State under Williams for his freshman season. I can vaguely recall that Brown’s father would routinely drive 15 hours each way from the Dallas area to Columbus to see Jamaal play for the Buckeyes.

Brown was surrounded by veterans on that team with Jay Burson, Jerry Francis and Tony White. That team was 17-6 overall and ranked 16th nationally on Feb. 13, 1989, as it went to Iowa to play the eighth-ranked Hawkeyes. Burson suffered a season-ending neck injury during that game and the team faltered without him. Instead of an almost certain NCAA bid, that team went to the NIT instead.

And, had it not been because of that Burson injury, Brown would have been one of the first OSU players on four consecutive NCAA Tournament teams.

Toledo schoolboy phenom Jim Jackson arrived for the 1989-90 season as Randy Ayers took over the reins from Williams. The Buckeyes reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament that year.

The 1990-91 and 1991-92 teams, with Brown as a fixture at guard with Jackson and Mark Baker in the backcourt, won back-to-back Big Ten championships and received No. 1 seeds for both of the NCAA tournaments. The 1991 team tied the school record for wins with a 27-4 record. A year later, the Buckeyes went 26-6.

Ohio State had not won the Big Ten in 20 years. On Jan. 21, 1991, Ohio State was sitting at 15-0 overall and ranked fourth nationally with host Indiana ranked third. In his 19 previous seasons as the head coach at Indiana, Ohio State alum Bob Knight had hardly given his alma mater much thought. In that time, OSU had only won once previously inside Assembly Hall, and that was in 1985.

That all changed on this night as the Buckeyes got a career-high 29 points from Brown in what turned out as a 93-85 win for OSU.

Of course, everyone remembers the rematch on Feb. 17, 1991, ace No. 2 Ohio State defeated No. 4 Indiana 97-95 in double overtime. Brown had 17 points and six assists in that win. Jackson tallied 30 points as well for OSU, which was on its way.

On March 3, 1991, No. 2-ranked Ohio State hosted Michigan State at St. John Arena. The Buckeyes needed a win to clinch that long-awaited Big Ten championship.

But the Buckeyes were having problems putting away the pesky Spartans. The game was tied with one second left and Brown went to the foul line to try and clinch it. He had been fouled by MSU’s Steve Smith while trying to track down an offensive rebound. His first free throw rimmed out and MSU called timeout. The Spartans tried to psych out Brown before his second attempt.

“I had everybody talking to me,” Brown said. “They didn’t think I could make it. (MSU’s Dwayne) Stephens came over before I shot it and we bet each other our shoes. He said that was all he had to bet, but I’ll take them.”

Sure enough, Brown’s second free throw was true and the Buckeyes won 65-64 and clinched that elusive Big Ten title.

The team was every bit as good the next year, even if the lineup was shuffled with Chris Jent and Lawrence Funderburke at the four and five positions in place of Treg Lee and Perry Carter. The Buckeyes won a second consecutive Big Ten championship and advanced to the NCAA Southeast Regional in Lexington, Ky.

The top-seeded Buckeyes took care of North Carolina 80-73 in their Sweet 16 game. But the season and Brown’s career ended in a bittersweet way with a 75-71 overtime loss to Michigan and The Fab Five in the regional championship game. The Buckeyes had beaten Michigan by margins of 10 and 11 points in the regular season before the Wolverines turned the tables on them in this match-up for a berth in the Final Four.

Brown went out with his head held high, scoring 16 points in his final college game.

I honestly don’t know much about the life Brown has led over the past 30 years since his OSU career ended. His Facebook page seems to indicate he was a family man and also gave young kids an opportunity to play travel basketball at different points. He was referred to as Coach Brown, and when I read that I could only smile.

Brown was a fixture at Ohio State’s annual basketball game where former captains would come back. The captains usually have had a banquet with the coaching staff and current team before being introduced at the game the next day. And, yes, Brown and his signature smile were always there.

I was sad to hear this news today and our condolences go out to Jamaal’s family, his coaches, his teammates and everybody in Buckeye Nation who appreciated watching this great Ohio State Buckeye play (and win big).

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