It took the persistence of one of his high school teachers at the Christiana High School in Manchester, Jamaica to get Nicholai Brown to consider playing basketball. He had the built for it, as at 16-years-old he was already towering over most of his classmates at 6’7’’. But he was hesitant to join the basketball team as according to him he was not a “sports person”.
“I didn’t like playing contact sport. I was the type of kid that just locked in my room and played video games, go to school, and that that was it,” he said.
But after learning the rules of basketball it did not take long for the sport to grow on him.
“When I just started out playing I didn’t like it because of all the rules so it was kinda hard for me. But after a few months I gradually caught on because I used to work out like 3-4 times a day, I started loving the game and loving the competitiveness,” he said.
His dedication to the sport grew in tandem with his love for it, and Brown became co-captain of his school’s under 19 basketball team. He also stood out as a valuable defensive player and would be awarded for this every year.
His skills on the court improved consistently especially after he joined the Manchester Pythons Basketball Club while still in high school. This gave Brown the opportunity to train with older and more skilled players, but more importantly, it gave him a chance to play in the National Basketball League.
The club played a pivotal role in his basketball development and he remained a player even after he went on to the Knox Community College and joined that school’s team. He only played with the Knox Community College for a year, but it was quite memorable as he was awarded player of the year.
That was 2013, and his club was also performing exceptionally well. They won the Manchester Conference and went into Kingston to challenge urban teams. His team lost in their second game, but Brown secured a big win for himself as he was offered a scholarship to play at the Trinity Valley Community College in Texas.
This was a difficult transition for Brown, but luckily he had brought with him his dedication to the sport and was determined to continuously get better at it.
“Playing in Jamaica and playing in America is a different ball game so I had to adapt and it took a time,” he said. “I trained with the American football players for a couple of months while working on my strength and my fitness. I used to work out like four times per day, and I’d train with the footballers in the morning time and then I’d have like three workouts after. I remember giving up my summer- two summers to stay and work out so I can be able to compete.”
He added: “I’m a competitor, I don’t like to see anybody making me look small on the court.”
This commitment to getting on par with his American counterparts was successful as after his second year at Trinity Valley College, he was getting offers to play at a host of different colleges. Brown took Jackson Ville State University up on their offer, unfortunately, he realized that he needed some additional classes in order to qualify to attend.
So he went on to the Lindsey Wilson College in Kentucky. He did not play in his first year as a result of a broken jaw. But he made up for it in his second year when he played and was awarded defensive player of the year, and copped three player of the week awards.
In his final year at the college, he tore his hamstring and was told by his doctor that he should not even be able to walk because it was the worst hamstring tear he has seen. For Brown, it was the worst he has ever been.
“I’m a competitor, I don’t like to see anybody making me look small on the court.”Nicholai Brown
“I was really frustrated. I used to lock myself away in my room, I didn’t talk to anybody, and sometimes I wouldn’t even go to practice. Mom would call and give me words of encouragement but in the midst of all that encouragement, the pain that you’re going through and watching everything unfold before you, it makes you want to quit,” he said.
Thankfully, he did not quit. And miraculously with a bone marrow transplant, he was able to compete again. His team won the conference that year and went on to the Nationals, but they lost in the first round.
However, Brown’s performance at these games caught the eyes of scouts. He was asked to participate in a combine in Los Angeles but with his nagging hamstring injury, and the fee required to participate, he had to pass on that offer.
His injury also had him missing out on an opportunity to play in Spain.
“I couldn’t move like I wanted to move, jump and do certain things anymore, I didn’t think my leg was up for it,” he said.
As the now 28-year-old reflects on his journey thus far and those missed opportunities, he chooses to do so with optimism. “Some days I wished things worked out better, but when I look back on it, I know I wouldn’t be where I am today, knowing the good people who are in my life now. I met some wonderful people since I got home so I’m not gonna say I regret it.”
He’s been back home in Jamaica since 2018 and is now a member of the P.H.A.S.E.1 Men’s Pro Development Team. His new goal is to play for a European team, and he is confident that with his dedication and coach Wayne Dawkin’s guidance, this will become possible.
“He definitely finds the weakness in my game and he will point it out and let me know that I definitely have to work on this. He gives me that freedom to want to play to my full potential,” he said.
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