Basketball star Brown back in the spotlight

Steve Buffery, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:15 AM ET

Two years ago, when the Canadian men's basketball team gathered at the Air Canada Centre to prepare for the Olympic qualifying tournament, Denham Brown was a no-show.

Last week, at the senior men's development team camp, he was the show.

"Denham's been fantastic," marvelled head coach Leo Rautins.

Brown, 27, has always been one of the more talented members of the national side.

But one of the most popular? No.

"He was kind of aloof, and didn't really try to engage his teammates," said Rautins, following the development team's practice at the Air Canada Centre on Friday.

"I thought his game was self-centered and he didn't have a lot of patience with his teammates."

When Brown -- like Rautins a former Toronto high school basketball legend who went on to star in U.S. college ball -- did go missing in action in 2008, hardly anyone lost any sleep.

The general feeling was that the Toronto native, despite his vast array of skills, was lost to the program forever.

But what a difference a couple of years makes.

'Accountable'

Prior to the gathering last week of the men's development side, which embarked for Europe on Friday to play in a series of exhibition games, Brown reached out to Rautins and Raptors assistant GM Maurizio Gherardini, who is also managing director of Canada's senior men's team, and asked if he could rejoin the program.

"He did the talking and I was extremely impressed with what I heard," said Rautins.

"He reached out and communicated a lot of good things, very much being accountable for things that had happened (in the past)."

Rautins wouldn't elaborate on any of Brown's past problems, pointing out that, for the most part, the former UConn star simply got caught up in his own hype, which was considerable.

After leaving UConn -- helping the Huskies win the national championship in 2004 -- Brown was drafted in the second round by the Seattle SuperSonics.

But he only played in two pre-season games for Seattle and has since bounced around various pro teams and leagues.

This past season, Brown played in Venezuela, and then in the NBA D-League and then a month-long stint with the Barangay Ginebra Kings in the Philippines.

A cynic might suggest that Brown's reaching out to Rautins and the national team was more of a means to get a good job next season, than a sincere wish to help the Canadian team do well at the world championships in Turkey in August.

But Rautins doesn't see it that way.

What he witnessed last week at the ACC made the coach a believer again.

"It's one thing if somebody makes a phone call and says all those good things. But, honestly, he's been phenomenal," said Rautins.

"Everything he said that he'd try to do, he's done, and beyond.

"He's been a pleasure. His problems a few years ago? Denham was a young guy. We all grow, we all mature, we all make mistakes.

"There are no grudges on my part."

Brown is certainly thrilled to be back in the fold.

"I missed it. I missed playing for Team Canada and being in the gym every day working hard," he said.

'Evolved'

There are no guarantees that Brown will make the team for the worlds, but the way he's played at the development team camp, Rautins said he'd be shocked if the former West Hill star doesn't make it to Turkey.

"His game has evolved. He's a very talented guy, but he's playing with the team," said Rautins.

"He's been very unselfish, he's allowed the game to come to him. That was my hope when he came to this group -- was that he would do exactly what he's doing -- with the idea, that if it can happen here, hopefully it can translate over to our team (in Turkey).

"And he's been a leader with the young guys," said Rautins, adding that Brown could be a huge benefit to the national side in Turkey.

"He can create his own shot. He's a scorer, who also has a feel for the game -- and this is where that unselfishness comes in.

"He's picking his spots. He's playing off his teammates, but when we need a bucket, he's one of those guys who can do it. He also sees the floor really well, and with the unselfish approach, he can get his teammates shots -- because he's so good off the dribble, he can create shots for his teammates.

"And he can be a stopper defensively, because he's extremely athletic."

steve.buffery@sunmedia.ca


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