When his left knee started bothering him in the pre-season of his freshman year (2010-11) at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., little did Craig Brown know he would conclude an odyssey that few college players can claim and at the same time add an exclamation point to a coach's career as one of best at his craft.
After five seasons and four schools at Lynn (NCAA, Division ll), Broward (junior college/2011-13), Rutgers (NCAA, Division l/2013-14) and now Kent St. (NCAA Division l) – thanks in large part to Kent. St. assistant coach Bobby Steinburg – Brown has seen the good, the bad and everything in between because of different expectations, different systems and different head coaches at each stop. “It might seem like an unconventional path,” said Brown, a 6-5 wing from Miami, Fla., “however, looking back I wouldn’t change a thing. I have been blessed with so many wonderful opportunities, I’ve made great friends and mentors, and I'll leave college with a master’s degree.”
The decision to transfer has long become a popular way of getting re-recruited and it wore on Brown. “I've had to go through that too many times,” he said. “It wasn’t easy to make a choice the first time and so it certainly wasn’t easy the fourth time. But I have so many friends from all over the country and have had the opportunity to learn from different coaches at each stop.”
At Broward JC he flourished under Coach Bob Starkman, one of the premier unheralded coaches in the two-year school ranks. “Once I earned my keep during my freshman season, I became the team leader,” said Brown, At Broward he was the No. 7 scorer (20.5 points a game) among all NJCAA players in his freshman season. Two years at a JC more than did its job for Brown. He became a smarter player. He matured. He became a much better player. Most importantly, it paved his way to a much better future. Said Brown: “Junior College made me hungry to get to Division I.” Yes, his family was only 15 minutes away and got to see him play, but like most JC athletes he wore the same uniforms that players on several Broward teams before him wore. He played in front of only a few hundred fans. He ate a lot of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and put away more than his share of ramen noodles. Most importantly, his name moved up countless four-year school recruiting ladders. Once a so-so recruit he turned into a must-have four-year school player. Schools who once wouldn't give him the time of day – some in the Big East, Pac 10 and SEC – suddenly came around. He eventually committed to Rutgers/Coach Mike Rice. Prior to the spring signing period, Eddie Jordan replaced Rice but Brown honored his commitment to the Scarlet Knights.
Things were different at Rutgers, which helps to account for a 25-pound weight gain – “I ate like a Division l student-athlete,” chuckled Brown. Early that season he also fractured three facial bones, including a broken orbital bone under his left eye in a game against Drexel. He was sidelined several weeks. “The combination of the weight gain and the injury and normal growing pains adjusting from JC to Division I made for a trying junior year for Craig,” Steinburg said. “He needed a fresh start. His weight is now back to normal and he is in the best shape of his life. We expect good things from him this year.” Now he's primed for a breakout season at Kent St. while in graduate school academically.
Brown may not have concluded his college career at Kent St., had he not been re-recruited by Steinburg, considered one of the country's masters – a magician if you will – at finding and recruiting non-traditional/out-of-the-box student-athletes. Steinburg is a former JC Coach, at Motlow St., Tenn. (2006-08). “Most of the guys we have recruited like this have been spearheaded by Bobby, “ said Kent St. Coach Rob Senderoff. “He has really done an excellent job at finding outside-the-box recruits which has allowed us to remain competitive even when we sustain big graduation years. Bobby has a great pulse on kids who are under-the-radar. They are looking for another opportunity or have whatever obstacle in their path. He knows how to get it done.” Kent St. has two other non-traditional student-athletes (Derek Jackson, 6-2, and Jimmy Hall, 6-7) with another (Deon Edwin, 6-3) enrolling this spring.
Steinburg's recruiting prowess has drawn the attention of some of the nation's elite coaches. Said Virginia Coach Tony Bennett: “Coach Steinburg doesn’t leave a stone unturned when it comes to recruiting. He works all the angles. He has an eye for talent and finds guys who can play no matter where they are.”
“I guess I’ve always had the 'where there’s a will, there’s a way' attitude,” said Steinburg. “Having spent much of my career at programs with limited budgets and other hurdles, I figured out there are many routs to get to the same destination.” Steinburg says recruiting a non-traditional player generally includes a path that might include eligibility issues or career gaps. “Recruiting unconventionally is more problem-solving and creative thinking about how to get the athlete to trust you because in many cases you are dealing with a vulnerable individual who has experienced more than his fair share of snags.”
A journey for Brown that began in Boca Raton after an excessive fluid buildup in a knee that had to be drained one too many times and ended his only season at Lynn after five games (and a medical red-shirt) will finally conclude after this season. “All of those moves,” said Brown, “and I still have the opportunity to finish my career with a (Mid-American Conference) championship ring and a trip to the NCAA tournament.” And that, after all, is why players pull on the sneakers and jersey for any team.