One of the most divisive prospects in the draft, Jaylen Brown goes by the beat of his own drum. And not in one of those wacky Dennis Rodman ways. No, Brown is an intellectual, well-spoken alien of an athlete, that is just as likely to take you down in a game of chess as he is to lockdown the other team's best scorer.
"I kind of compare chess to the game of basketball -- making the right reads, making the right decisions," Brown said. "I kind of consider myself the king and everyone else [are] pawns."
The confidence in which Brown exhibits in himself is palpable when you share a room with him; he has clear ambitions, and does not shy away from voicing them.
This kind of disregard for "saying the right thing" certainly will -- and already has -- rubbed people the wrong way. But man, is it refreshing to speak to an athlete that does not retort scripted answers, does not appear robotic and sheepish when speaking to the media, and is passionate about other interests that do not hold an orange leather ball to the highest power.
Brown is wise beyond his years, and it shows even after being around him for only a brief period. Following a stealthy recruitment, Brown elected to go away from the power programs (Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina and Kansas) and steer towards the University of California not only because of his relationship with coach Cuonzo Martin, but because of the academic pursuits Berkeley unlocks.
The 19-year-old forward sought out a graduate-level course during his first semester on campus that required a nod from the dean in order to be enrolled. Master's degree coursework is strenuous in its own right, but to compound it with the schedule of a Division I athlete is a preposterous venture for most. Yet for Brown, it was a necessity -- he made sure to find a way to balance his time while the course ultimately culminated with a 20-page paper on how institutionalized sports impact America's education system. (Ouch.)
It is quite evident that Brown relishes in the eye of a challenge. He is one of the few prospects that is going through the draft process without the assistance of an agent, and has had to face questions about his character head-on. In the linked SF Gate piece above, Chad Ford reported a bad showing for Brown at the combine.
"‘He was the worst interview we had this week,’" ESPN’s Chad Ford reported that one NBA general manager told him. "‘By far, the worst interview. I know he hasn't hired an agent yet, but he was arrogant and didn't show a real feel for the game when we asked him basketball questions.’"
Again, where some see "arrogant," I see confident. Beauty is always in the eye of the beholder.
From a Suns perspective, Brown figures to be a target for Ryan McDonough with the number four pick if he wants to shoot for the stars. The 6-foot-7 forward is versatile, uniting brute force with desirable length.
"I feel like I can come in right away and contribute... The way the NBA is moving, it is kind of position-less and I feel like my versatility is key," Brown said. "I can play one through four."
There is no doubt that he will fit within the realms of today's NBA if he develops a more consistent outside shot -- which was an obvious focus of today's workout for assistant GM Pat Connelly.
"[Brown] shot the ball really well from three... He got through a tough workout without really losing his shot," Connelly said. "He is a really strong kid -- I think that helps him keep his shot up over the course of the workout."
Brown also chimed in on his shooting prowess.
"I can shoot it a lot better than people think," Brown said.
Extending beyond the specific details of the workout, Brown glowingly spoke about the demeanor of the front office and coaching staff towards him. This is an important thing to note as Brown seems less focused on what pick he is selected with and instead on playing in a destination that provides a mutually beneficial fit.
"I think everybody is cool. Everybody is on the same page," Brown said. "With Coach Watson being a player, as well as a coach -- he can relate. He understands it. He gets involved in the workout. I saw Devin Booker working out and [Coach Watson] was in the workout pushing Booker ... That kind of goes a long way."
As the workout wrapped up, Watson and Brown were seen having a lengthy conversation that crescendoed into a thunderous hand clamp at the end. There was an obvious respect forming between the two of them. It was by far the most I had seen Watson interact with a player up to this point. Perhaps this was in part to Brown undergoing the workout on a solo basis, but my spidey sense was tingling.
All in all, it is difficult to not be impressed by Brown from both a physical and mental standpoint. As a subject, it is clear that the California product has a lot to say and will not shy away from it. There are layers that were unable to be uncovered within the scrum setting. I hold out hope that the team that drafts him will let him be himself and properly flourish into the kind of player he aspires to be.
"I am not concerned about being a top five pick in the draft," Brown said. "I want to be a top five player in the league."
Last time I checked, the Suns are definitely in need of one of those.