Justin Brown sets the tone on both ends of the court for USF men

The Bulls are 17-4 since the start of last season when the 6-foot-6 junior scores in double figures.
In USF's four conference victories this season, junior Justin Brown (13) has averaged 10.5 points and 7.5 rebounds.
In USF's four conference victories this season, junior Justin Brown (13) has averaged 10.5 points and 7.5 rebounds. [ OCTAVIO JONES | Times ]
Published Feb. 11, 2020

TAMPA ― As much as he delighted in sharing his team’s exuberance after its recent win at Tulane, Brian Gregory’s truly gratifying moment occurred in a different postgame scene.

Moments after USF’s 66-52 triumph two weeks ago, the third-year Bulls coach was approached by the father of junior guard Justin Brown, who had been yanked from the starting lineup that very contest after consecutive scoreless games.

Yet instead of a sneer, U.S. Army veteran Paul Brown came at Gregory with a smile.

“Gives me a big hug,” Gregory said. “I just took his son out of the starting lineup, and all he cared about was the fact of how well we played. … How refreshing is that in this day and age.”

Related: Robert Herrion's speech Friday inspires USF men on Saturday

Perhaps Paul is among the dissipating breed of well-grounded parents, or knew the oldest of his four boys eventually would turn things around, or both. At any rate, that hug was a harbinger of sorts.

In the two weeks since, Brown indeed has turned things around, and the Bulls haven’t lost.

“I feel like when I’m playing as confident as I can, when I’m playing with the flow of the game and everything, it makes me more versatile on the court,” said Brown, whose team (11-12, 4-6 American Athletic Conference) has won three in a row. “And I guess it gives us a better chance of winning as well.”

Looking for an X factor when the Bulls host No. 20 Houston on Wednesday? Look no farther than the first signee of the Gregory era, a 6-foot-6 swingman who chose USF over a handful of mid-major programs with the belief he could help forge a winning tradition at a place that had precious little of it.

Though USF’s offense hinges on the dribble penetration of guards David Collins (14.0 points per game) and Laquincy Rideau (12.4 ppg), Brown provides another dimension when his shots are falling, and rebounding tenacity even when they’re not.

“He does a lot of things that kind of complement (others), David and Laquincy in particular,” Gregory said.

Since the start of the 2018-19 season, USF is 17-4 when Brown (7.9 points, 5.2 rebounds) scores in double figures. In the Bulls’ four AAC victories this season, he has averaged 10.5 points and 7.5 rebounds, including a career game (14 points, career-best 16 boards) in Saturday’s 75-73 win at Memphis.

In their six AAC losses, he has averaged 5.5 points and 4.5 boards. His 37 3-pointers lead USF, and his 49 offensive rebounds rank second.

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“His ability to knock down shots stretches that help defense,” Gregory said.

“A lot of times his man is the gap defender when Laquincy or David have the ball where we’re trying to open up some driving lines. … Having that other perimeter threat, not just scoring but obviously defensively and rebounding, really helps us.”

Another Brown anecdote Gregory loves sharing: As the final seconds ticked off the Bulls’ 64-48 romp of rival UCF on Feb. 1, Brown — who totaled 14 points and eight rebounds that night ― nonetheless dove 12 feet for a loose ball.

With the game in hand, he got it. Somewhere, Paul Brown likely beamed.

“That’s who he is, that’s what we are, and we can never forget that,” Gregory said. “He sets the tone and tempo for that all the time.”