What’s most unusual about Brown’s accomplishment is that he achieved it during a game in which he scored just one point. He didn’t make a single field goal in 18 minutes of playing time.
In a way, those numbers are a microcosm of the culture that’s allowed the Wolverines to start this season 14-1 and rise to the top of the best conference in college basketball.
To explain, let’s start with Brown’s pre-Michigan basketball resume.
Coming out of high school, Brown was a four-star recruit and the No. 36 player in the 2017 class. He had offers from Kansas, Florida, Indiana and others. He was a big deal.
Then, at Wake Forest, he started 29 games as a freshman, averaging 7.6 points on 7.1 shots per game. He scored 11.9 points on 10.2 shots per game as a sophomore and 12.1 points on 9.3 shots per game as a junior.
A former top-50 recruit who scores at such at a high volume in the ACC could easily have an “I’m gonna get mine” attitude, but that couldn’t be further from the truth for Brown.
The first sign of Brown’s mentality was his decision to prioritize winning and transfer from Wake Forest, where he would have been the go-to option once again this year. When he landed at Michigan, he must have known the ball would be out of his hands much more than in the past.
As a senior, Brown is playing the fewest minutes and taking the fewest shots of his career. His scoring average is down well below his career numbers, and after starting 74 games for the Demon Deacons, he’s started just once in Ann Arbor.
How has Brown responded? He takes full advantage of his 20.4 minutes per game, becoming one of the elite perimeter defenders in the Big Ten. His volume of shot attempts is way down from a year ago, but his quality has improved, as he’s shooting the best percentage of his career.
In an era of players who opt out to prepare for better individual opportunities or transfer to places where they can improve their stats, Brown is a breath of fresh air.
When Brown isn’t in the game, he’s jumping around with the bench mob, cheering on his teammates. When Juwan Howard calls his number, Brown is more often than not picking up ball handlers full court, battling through screens and helping Eli Brooks and Franz Wagner anchor an exceptional defense.
Michigan doesn’t have any superstars. Sometimes, like on Sunday, Isaiah Livers takes the reins. Other times, it’s Wagner or Hunter Dickinson. Even Brown has taken his turn, like when he dropped 19 points on Bowling Green and 18 points on UCF.
But overall, Michigan is a team without one big name. There isn’t a Luka Garza, Ayo Dosunmu or Ron Harper Jr. on the roster. So how have the Wolverines climbed above all the teams that do have those stars?
The answer: Players like Brown, who are willing to embrace their roles and flourish in them, even if it means deferring the spotlight to others for a game, or even a season. Howard has an incredible ability to identify what a player does well and put him in a position to take advantage of his strengths.
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The result is a more balanced team that moves its emphasis to whoever can help it win on any given day.
Livers, the team’s leading scorer, has had six games with single-digit shot attempts. Brooks plays 30 minutes per game and has only scored in double figures once over his last five. Wagner, a future first-round pick who came back to Michigan for another season, is taking fewer shots while improving his rebounding, passing and defensive numbers across the board.
Howard is getting a lot of credit for what he’s done with this team, and still that credit is not enough. It’s rare to see a unit come together as seamlessly as this Michigan team, especially during a pandemic-altered season that includes a 23-day layoff. Oh yeah, and Michigan welcomed in two transfers and four new freshmen, too.
On Sunday, after Michigan completed a 14-point comeback on the road to beat Wisconsin, Howard gave Brown the game ball even though he finished with one point, one rebound, two fouls and three missed shots in 18 minutes.
Take a look (and excuse the language):
Officially, Brown got the game ball because of his 1,000th point, but the true underlying reason is because he embodies what makes this Michigan team special.
“When you talk about all-in teammate, Google that s***, Chaundee Brown Jr. comes up,” Howard said.
He’s not the only one, either. The reaction from his teammates says it all.