Ex-Pitt star learns plenty as new pro
Gilbert Brown's basketball odyssey has taken him from Pitt to Germany to the Dominican Republic and back again.
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From Germany to Boston, Fort Wayne to the Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico, former Pitt basketball player Gilbert Brown has been around in the past year.
What his fledgling professional career has lacked in security, it has more than made up for in variety.
After being passed over in the NBA draft last summer, Brown signed with S. Oliver Wuerzburg in Germany and played in eight games there before invoking a clause in his contract that allowed him to opt out in favor of an NBA tryout.
Brown spent lockout-shortened training camp and a couple of preseason games with the Boston Celtics, but he was not offered a roster spot and was forced to look elsewhere for work. A tryout with the Phoenix Suns in late December ended when the team opted to sign a veteran free agent.
"The NBA is a league of opportunity and I just didn't get a chance to make that statement in the time that I had," Brown said. "I think [Boston and Phoenix] were more comfortable going with veteran players rather than a rookie right out of college."
But the 1,000-point scorer at Pitt landed on his feet when the Fort Wayne Mad Ants of the NBA Developmental League signed him after his workout with the Suns. Brown played in 19 games and averaged 12.2 points in 26.2 minutes before he was released in mid-February.
"It wasn't one thing or any type of negative feelings involved between Fort Wayne and I," he said. "I had a great time with the coaching staff and the players and they liked my play and my hustle and everything I brought to the team."
Fort Wayne's head coach Steve Gansey echoed those sentiments, saying Brown was a valuable contributor in his time with the Mad Ants.
"Gilbert is a tremendous athlete," Gansey said. "He came to us and he played very well, but we kind of had to part our ways with him because it's a numbers game."
Once again, though, it wasn't long before Brown was back on the court -- this time a long way from Fort Wayne.
Less than two weeks after his release from the D-League team, Brown accepted an offer to play in the Dominican Republic. The team is in the same league in which former Pitt assistant coach Orlando Antigua once played, a local tie that Brown said helped him with his decision.
His Dominican team missed the playoffs, but Brown performed well enough that Caciques de Humacao -- a club team in Puerto Rico -- signed him midway through its season. Like he did in Fort Wayne, Brown had to assimilate quickly to a new roster.
"It was tough because everybody on the team already has certain roles, but you just try to go in and stand out," Brown said. "Everybody's goal is to get called back or make an NBA team, so it's a lot of just trying to find your role. In Puerto Rico, I was actually looked at as a go-to guy and that guy who was going to make plays."
His team in Puerto Rico also fell short of the postseason, but ending the season on a strong note individually was critical for Brown. The 18 points per game he posted in Puerto Rico as one of the team's primary offensive threats will help his perception among teams that see him solely as a defensive player.
"Guys in the NBA are seeing the upside to him, and I can totally see that because of what he can do offensively and defensively," Gansey said, adding that Brown had to learn to take on different roles depending on the situation throughout his time in Fort Wayne.
"I think everybody in the NBA looks at me as a defender," Brown said. "At Pitt we were in a system that worked and made us a great team, but being a professional player you have to do more things that make you stand out and I think that just being able to show that I'm a ballhandler, scorer and playmaker alongside being a great defender really helped me out a lot."
Brown says adjusting to the journeyman lifestyle hasn't been much of an issue. Even after seeing the unpredictability involved, he has no qualms about leaving Germany to pursue a career in the NBA.
But that doesn't mean he didn't experience some culture shock.
"The Dominican Republic was crazy. They had like no stop signs, no real traffic laws," Brown said. "The traffic out there and the way people drive, it's almost like bumper cars."
Although Brown has endured a bumpy ride, he looks at his first year in pro basketball as a learning experience and one that will better prepare him for what lies ahead.
"I just became more aware of the business side of basketball and how you have to carry yourself," Brown said. "You have to have a certain mindset and a certain type of work ethic to try to secure a position in the NBA."
First Published June 6, 2012 12:07 am