NEW PORT RICHEY — Kevin Brown is smiling a lot these days.
That's partially just who he is, but it's also by coaches mandate. The 6-foot-4 senior small forward has a buzzing personality, but if he's not showing it, Trinity College basketball coaches say he doesn't play the same way. This has led associate head coach Bobby Bowman to nickname his team's star player "Smiley Brown."
"If the kid is happy and he's bouncing around, he's pretty darn good," Bowman said. "If he doesn't have a smile on his face, he doesn't play that well. So I told him that I don't want to see Kevin Brown play. He sucks. I want to see Smiley Brown out there."
Brown's four years of college have seen him move from his native Tifton, Ga., to Hudson where he attended Pasco-Hernando Community College (now Pasco-Hernando State College) for two years. There, he met assistant coach Rob Oppedisano and — after growing close to the longtime Hudson resident — Brown transferred to Trinity along with Oppedisano, who became the Tigers' head coach.
Under the tutelage of Oppedisano, Brown has grown as a player and person. His grades have been a battle at times, his game a constant development.
"I'm just thankful to be here," Brown said. "I wouldn't trade the experience for anything. The relationship I have with these guys is special. My last year of high school I didn't know if I was going to get to play in college, so to go on and be able to do that with such a good group of people has been something I'm really proud of."
Brown's final year has tracked the most significant growth of his career as a college basketball player. Predominantly known as a slash-to-the-basket player with exceptional leaping ability, Brown took the time this year to develop a jump shot and has seen it pay dividends as he's currently averaging 14 points and 9 rebounds per game as the team's lead scoring option.
"He's a high flyer," Oppedisano said. "But as athletically gifted as Kevin is, we challenged him to be a leader. He took it and ran with it."
As he finishes up his degree in sports medicine, Brown is preparing for life after college with optimism about his skills on the basketball court. For many athletes, their final year at a small and relatively unknown school would probably mark the end of their basketball career, but Brown has bigger aspirations.
"I'd like to go overseas and keep playing ball," he said. "Right now, I'm focused on finishing school and being the best I can for this team."
His success has brought unprecedented win totals for Trinity. The school has a team in both the NIT Conference and the National Christian College Athletic Association, two small conferences comprised of Christian colleges. Brown is a part of both teams and both have posted records that surpass anything the school has done previously.
For the NIT team, their upcoming national tournament appearance is a big step forward, one that may help Oppedisano and Bowman as they recruit new players.
The success is a far cry from the program Bowman was barely holding together just a few years ago, often having the bare minimum of players to even compete.
"This program has never had a winning season," Bowman said. "A few years ago, we could barely hold onto seven guys during the second half of the year thanks to guys flunking out or transferring to somewhere else. This year, we've got a group of guys that are as excited to change the perception of this program as we are and are putting in the work to make that happen. To go to nationals is a huge step for the program and after a few rough years, it's a big deal for me, personally."