I will try to keep the intro relatively short for this one: Forgotten Buckeyes is an ongoing series which highlights and remembers certain underappreciated Buckeyes from some time ago. Those who may have been forgotten since they last donned the scarlet and gray. Other OSU fans and media types have taken a similar approach to recognition, but this is my personal way of paying homage to those who left an indelible mark at Ohio State.
This time around, I wanted to show appreciation and a fond remembrance for a certain OSU legend who is, unfortunately, no longer with us. This man sadly passed a month ago, and his passing had an oddly profound affect on me. He was one of the first Buckeyes I remember seeing in-person — and just rooting for. He wasn’t the star of his teams or the most exciting player in the world, but that didn’t matter to me. I liked his game, I liked his effort, and I liked watching him play basketball in St. John Arena.
And I like that I still have memories of attending his games with my old man. My dad and I have attended fewer and fewer Ohio State games together as we’ve both gotten older, and most of them I couldn’t tell you a single thing about. But I’ll never forget the games I watched with him in St. John — as a kid, no less! Nowadays, I can’t even tell you what I had for breakfast, but I somehow remember a vengeful Eric Montross in 1992. I remember watching Jimmy Jackson for the first time, and thinking he was the next Michael Jordan.
And I remember former OSU guard Jamaal Brown. So without further ado...
Having moved from New Jersey to Texas, Jamaal Brown was a long way from Columbus (OH) when Ohio State staffers first became familiar with the future basketball team captain. Familiarity soon developed into something more, and the rest – as they say – is history. But this relationship between player and program did not start out as some traditional recruiting courtship.
It was actually Brown who contacted OSU first, sending a letter to the legendary Gary Williams and his assistant at the time, coach-turned-analyst Fran Frischilla. He (Brown) was an under-the-radar TX hooper and high jumper, looking to get noticed, and recruiting was just a tad different in the late 1980’s. So he did what sounded reasonable at the time: took his game and his personality to coaches, as opposed to waiting around for blind luck to potentially dictate his future. And boy, did Brown’s effort and tenacity work out well for all.
That signature effort and tenacity also led to Brown’s suboptimal first appearance in front of Williams. In a humorous turn of events, the former Ohio State head coach attended a game with Frischilla – to observe Brown up close and in-person – and proceeded to watch his future guard foul out in 10 minutes. Talk about first impressions...
But despite that rather inauspicious performance, OSU maintained interest, and eventually fought off the defending NCAA champs (the ’88 Kansas Jayhawks, AKA Danny and the Miracles) for Brown’s services. He joined a recruiting class which included Chris Jent, forming the early core of what would become a very special and inarguably successful group of Buckeye ballers.
Brown joined Ohio State’s program for the 1988-89 season, and absolutely hit the ground running. He immediately earned a role in Williams’ starting backcourt, alongside super bucket-getter Jay Burson. With Perry Carter and Jerry Francis also packing an offensive punch, Brown was not asked to score much — and he never did, really. But he had all the tools, played team ball, and more importantly, began to establish himself as a rugged defender.
The Buckeyes began their ’88-89 season 17-6, earning a top-20 ranking along the way. However, Burson suffered a near-paralyzing neck injury in mid-February, halting the team’s momentum and more significantly, jeopardizing his own playing career. He was able to bounce back and eventually play 34 games for the CBA’s Columbus Horizon, but his presence was sorely missed by the scarlet and gray. OSU sputtered to a 19-15 record overall, missing out on an NCAA Tournament bid. That would be the only season – of his four spent in Columbus – in which Brown did not go dancing in March.
As a sophomore, Brown and his teammates were joined by Jim Jackson. Hailing from Toledo (OH), this incoming freshman was viewed as a can’t-miss prospect, and it’s fair to say that he panned out quite well. Jackson immediately replaced the scoring of Burson, rounding out a talented Ohio State roster. Now coached by Randy Ayers, the Buckeyes finished ’89-90 with a 17-13 record, reaching the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
They lost to the eventual champions in UNLV, but Brown helped keep the game close with his typical hard-nosed defense. He also added 11 points and seven rebounds, matching the offensive output of the Big Ten Freshman of the Year (Jackson). Onward and upward, OSU – and Brown – continued to improve, making a deep run in the tournament during each of the next two seasons.
Brown produced his most impactful scoring season as junior, pouring in 12 points per game during the ’90-91 campaign. A modest number for some, but Brown had the scoring gene — it came down to whether or not he chose (or was asked) to use it. He did so in January, tallying a career-high 29 points in Assembly Hall, and helping to knock off the third-ranked Indiana Hoosiers. He also splashed a team-high 34 three-pointers throughout the course of the season, flashing characteristics of the modern 3-and-D archetype.
The “D” referenced above stands for defense, which was always Brown’s calling card. He regularly drew the opponent’s toughest backcourt matchup, and at a minimum, made them experience 25+ minutes of frustration (Brown averaged 26.5 minutes/gm for his collegiate career). He displayed those impressive defensive chops during the second round of the ’91 tourney, when Ohio State defeated Georgia Tech in the round of 32. Brown put handcuffs on All-American guard Kenny Anderson, leading to an 8-for-28 shooting night from the latter.
The Buckeyes eventually fell in the Sweet 16, but Brown and his teammates had found something special. They finished the ’90-91 season with an outstanding 27-4 record — a win total which would not be topped until Thad Matta’s 2006-07 squad finished with 35.
A senior for the ‘92-93 season, Brown was named a captain, and again helped lead a very talented and successful team. Having earned the nickname “Mr. Dependable” from his coaches and teammates, the fourth-year stalwart provided his trademark defense and leadership, in addition to 9.9 PPG and 3.0 rebounds. The Buckeyes were loaded with experience, added transfer big man Lawrence Funderburke, and made a run to the Elite Eight. They unfortunately lost an overtime heartbreaker to TTUN (yes, that one), ending the OSU careers of Brown, Jent, Jackson, and others.
During Brown’s four years in Columbus, Ohio State won 89 games. He started 126 in total, averaging 9.0 points per. His teams experienced a great deal of postseason success, and Brown was one of their most consistent contributors. #30 did a little bit of everything, and became a beloved teammate along the way.
I was unfortunately unable to find much regarding Brown’s post-playing career, only that he was back in Texas at the time of his unfortunate passing on November 14. But you don’t have to look far to find an outpouring of love and appreciation from those who knew the former Buckeye, which goes to show just how special he was.
Rest In Peace, Jamaal Brown. You will be missed.