By R. Alan Richardson
Most people in Madison might not recognize the name Brown in the title. However, the mere mention of “Tookie” will immediately get a reaction from those who have followed Morgan County High School athletics over the past ten years. Tookie Brown was instrumental in bringing home the first high school state basketball championship in school history in 2014, before chasing his college hoops dreams to Georgia Southern. He is now continuing to live out his dreams of playing professional basketball in Belgium this past season while he is still working daily towards an opportunity to one day play for an NBA team.
Brown was asked to speak at the monthly meeting of the Madison Kiwanis Club this past week by business owner Joe Cardwell about his basketball and life experiences from high school to the professional ranks of European basketball. The group discussion was led by Cardwell’s question and answer session that spurred some interesting responses from the young man many consider as “Mr. Basketball” of Morgan County.
Cardwell’s introduction included how he came to invite Tookie to join the club meeting, “I ran into Tookie at Madison Fitness one morning at 6 a.m. (no surprise there) and thought he would make an excellent guest speaker for this month. It’s not often you can get a professional athlete to speak at our meetings. He told me, “Yea, I can do that.’” From the first time I saw him play in high school, there was just something about him that caught my attention. He wasn’t the biggest guy on the court, but he had that “IT”. You know that “IT” factor. Other athletes like Emmitt Smith were the same way. They weren’t the biggest, fastest, or strongest guys out there. They were just special. That’s what I saw and still see in Tookie Brown. I already have a title for his biography called ‘Soft off the Glass’. He was so good at using the backboard after a drive to the basket.”
Cardwell went through some of the Brown resume from Georgia Southern. The list of accomplishments for the Eagles includes, but is certainly not limited to: He is the only player in Sun Belt history with over 2000 points and 500 assists, the all-time career leader at GSU in points (2,290), games played (129), games started (125), and free throws (608). He also ranks in the top 10 in career field goals, assists, steals, free throw percentage, three-point percentage, and three-pointers made. If that isn’t enough, Brown is the only player in Sun Belt history to be named as a first-team All-Conference player four times. In his final season at GSU, the senior was name as the Sun Belt Conference Player-of-the-Year. That’s just the tip of the iceberg folks.
Tookie began by answering questions about his teammates. The quiet-spoken Brown said, “Those guys like Jailyn (Ingram) from high school will be lifelong friends. We still play ball together and talk a lot. It’s the same with my teammates from Georgia Southern. We stay in touch and will always be close friends.”
Cardwell asked him about the jump from high school to college. “It was tough. You might work out in high school for 45 minutes, but in college we worked out twice a day for two and a half hours some days. The competition was much better. We played Duke on TV my freshman year. Everybody knows Duke and Coach K, and everybody wants to get a chance to play teams like that (Brown had 20 in that game). Coach K even said something about how good a player I was after that game. We also played NC State, Wake Forest, and the University of Central Florida with 7’6” Tacko Fall. The classroom was different too. You might have a class with 16 people in it or a class with 250 people. Unlike high school, your classes are spread out. It doesn’t matter if it’s raining or if you have an umbrella. You have to go anyway.”
Asked why he chose GSU, he grinned when he answered, “My recruitment started with me deciding to go to Mississippi State, but when the coach got fired, I opened it back up. I really wanted to go to Georgia, and thought they were going to offer me, but that didn’t work out. Tennessee was high on my list, but Southern had stayed in touch through it all. When I visited there, it was like a big family. Everybody on campus was nice and would speak to you and welcome you to Statesboro. It just seemed like a good fit, and it was. It’s a small school with a nice academic and athletic feel. Georgia didn’t offer me for a reason. I guess it did put a little bit of a chip on my shoulder to prove something. It all worked out for the best. The only thing I didn’t like about Georgia Southern were the gnats!”
After trying out for the NBA and not getting drafted, Brown’s agent found him a new home to play professionally in Belgium. He was asked about the transition from college to professional basketball and if living in Europe proved to be culture shock. He said, “It was difficult. The opportunity to play there was a last-minute thing, so I took it. After the virus hit and the season was cancelled, I don’t know if I’ll be playing there again next season or somewhere else. I hope that something with the NBA or a better league in Europe will open up. When I first got to Belgium, there was no way to charge my phone, the TV didn’t work, and they had gnats too. I was wondering if this was for me. The refrigerator was small like one you would find in a college dorm room. They have small cars and the language is Dutch. I don’t speak one word of Dutch, but most people there speak pretty good English. The game attendance is pretty good. If you play hard, they’ll show up and support you. Many of the players there are very young, but they have a high IQ for the game. I think we had seven or eight Americans on our team, with seven guys from Belgium, and one from Canada and one from Cameroon. They made me comfortable.”
The conversation with Brown ended with several comments after questions from the crowd. “We didn’t have to travel much to our games in Belgium. It’s a small country (about the size of Maryland) so our longest charter bus drive was about three hours, but most games were only about 30 minutes away. The game is different in some ways and the rules are too. It’s more organized and the fundamentals are better. The big guys can all shoot. We decided to come home after the season was cancelled on Mar. 13, and we were one of the last flights to get out of there. It was OK there. I have some good memories and will remember my teammates who helped me out there.”
So, what’s next for Tookie? “I’m just trying to stay in the best shape I possibly can working out at the fitness center, running a lot, and playing ball as much as I can at the Rec. Department in Greene County. I want to always be ready to chase my dreams of the NBA if that happens. Right now, I’m just playing it one day at a time.”
Brown was accompanied by his girlfriend and Madison native/MCHS graduate Briana Smart.