Most college basketball players hang pictures in their lockers. In Damone Brown's dressing room stall at the Carrier Dome are quotations from three of game's all-time greats.
"Where do you find motivation? You find it within yourself." -- Michael Jordan.
"I don't think you can teach desire. I think it's a gift." -- Larry Bird.
"You can't get much done in life if you only work on the days when you feel good." -- Jerry West.
Those pearls of wisdom were gifts from the Syracuse University coaching staff before the start of this season. Brown never lets a day pass without reading them.
"I read the words," he said, "but I try to follow the message."
Brown has become a star at Syracuse. Whether it's a slick move to the basket or a crowd-pleasing dunk, his talents are easily recognizable.
But there are some things about Brown that are not so apparent.
People can't see how he rose from a high school unknown to college stardom. They don't know how he inspires so many inner-city youths in Buffalo.
They don't know how dedicated he is to being a better person than basketball player.
"I've never seen a kid so driven to succeed on and off the court," said Stan Martin, a volunteer assistant coach at Seneca High School, which Brown attended. "It's important to him to be a well-rounded person. I think he's succeeded."
Shining in the spotlight
With the graduation of its top three scorers, Jason Hart, Etan Thomas and Ryan Blackwell, Syracuse was supposed to go through a down year. But Brown has helped lead the Orangemen (20-7) to a No. 17 national ranking. Once considered too passive and inconsistent, Brown has become Mr. Reliable this season. The 6-foot-9 senior forward is Syracuse's second-leading scorer at 16.7 points per game and its best rebounder at 8.9 per contest. He shoots 50.4 percent from the field and a team-high 79.5 percent at the free throw line. He also has 50 assists, 48 steals and 36 blocked shots.
Brown's 13 games with double figures in points and rebounds are second in the Big East behind Seton Hall's Eddie Griffin (16). SU is 12-1 when Brown records a double-double.
"He's played well all year and he's played very consistently," said SU coach Jim Boeheim. "We thought he could play, and he did play as a sophomore. He contributed and did much more last year. Anytime you can start for three years in our program, you've made a contribution."
Brown is the Orangemen's most complete and athletic player. He has a nice mid-range jumper, but can handle the ball and pass it, too. The team's lack of a true center has forced Brown to spend time at power forward and center. But he's thrived despite his rail-thin, 204-pound frame.
He had a career-high 28 points against Rutgers. His consecutive 26-point and 13-rebound performances in wins over Niagara and Notre Dame were the best two-game totals by an SU player since Billy Owens had 56 points and 26 rebounds in 1990-91.
"I just want to do whatever it takes to win," said Brown, who was named MVP of the Carrier Classic after leading SU to the title this season. "The team is looking for me to provide leadership, and I take that responsibility very serious."
A community hero
Brown, 21, hasn't let success go to his head. He remembers where he comes from.
Brown returns to Buffalo and speaks to kids at summer leagues and recreation centers about staying in school and off the streets. He visited the Erie County Youth Detention Center last summer to play ball with the young inmates and offer words of encouragement.
"He's so down to earth," said Derek Summers, Brown's uncle and an employee at the detention center. "At no point has he gotten big-headed. That's not in his character. He comes back and he gives."
To the students at Seneca, Brown is a shining example that anything is possible.
"He has never let anything stand in his way of being successful," said senior Darmel Whitfield, who plays football and basketball. "He is more than about sports. He is about staying out of trouble and doing the right things. He's a role model to us."
Being a presence in the community is Brown's way of using his athleticism to strive for more than points and rebounds.
"I believe it's important to give back," said Brown, who is on schedule to graduate this spring with a degree in the computer-based Information Management and Technology major. "If you've got something, you've got to share it. And if you share it, good things will happen to you. I just try to be a positive example."
Brown grew up on Buffalo's east side, where far too many young African-American men and women have succumbed to drugs and violence.
Brown has friends caught up in that world, some of them in jail.
But Brown was different.
"Damone was always very good about avoiding things that would get him in trouble," said his mother, Lady Hodge. "He was a child I never had to worry about."
Brown's parents aren't together anymore. He lives with his mother in Buffalo, but stays in touch with his father, who lives in Niagara Falls.
Brown is the second-oldest of 10 brothers and sisters. He expressed his affection for them by having their names tattooed on his left arm.
"Family means a lot to him," said Milton "Tuff" Campbell, the oldest sibling. "Family is his backbone."
And the reason Brown avoided the streets. He knew what he meant to his younger brothers and sisters. He was intent on providing a good example.
"People don't realize that maturity is a talent, and Damone has that," said University at Buffalo coach Reggie Witherspoon, who worked with Brown briefly in the ACE development program. "There are some kids who are serious about what they're doing, but when it comes down to giving up something they shouldn't do, they don't do it. Damone never had that problem. He was always a very focused young man."
That focus extended to his days at Seneca, where Brown was an outstanding student.
"Some kids you notice right from the jump," said Tommie Rand, a teacher at Seneca. "As soon as I saw him, I said to myself, 'He's going to make it.' Damone was one of those kids I've encountered in my 15 years of teaching that had that something special."
Brown took his lumps growing up on the neighborhood basketball courts, as guys would get on him whenever he had a bad game. The verbal abuse was rougher than anything Syracuse encounters on the road.
"If you've ever played ball in the 'hood, you know how it is," Martin said. "Damone could have gone in the tank, but he really exemplified resiliency. He said, 'I'm going to make myself better. I'm going to prove myself right more than trying to prove others wrong.' "
Playing college ball became a real possibility for Brown when he grew from 6-foot-3 to 6-7 between his sophomore and junior years at Seneca.
Still, no one outside of Buffalo knew who he was. The Big 4 schools were hoping to keep it that way.
"I thought we had him," said Canisius coach Mike MacDonald, an assistant on John Beilein's staff when Brown made an unofficial visit.
But after Brown played well at a national AAU tournament in Las Vegas and another in New Jersey, Buffalo's best-kept secret was out.
Among those who took notice was Syracuse assistant coach Louis Orr, who no doubt saw himself in Brown. Orr overcame his frail physique to have a great career at SU. He felt Brown could do the same.
"I thought Damone had all the tools necessary to be a major-college player," said Orr, who now is the head coach at Siena.
A home visit by Orr and Boeheim convinced Brown that Syracuse was the place to be. His scholarship secured, Brown went on to have a great season.
He was first-team All-Western New York and Section VI player of the year after averaging 23.4 points, 16.3 rebounds and five assists per game, while leading Seneca (23-3) to its first-ever Section VI championship and first Yale Cup title in 30 years.
Waiting his turn
Brown wasn't physically or mentally ready for the rigors of big-time college basketball. He played sparingly as a freshman, averaging just 1.7 points in 15 games.
Brown cracked the starting lineup seven games into his sophomore year, averaging 9.5 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. He even had a team-high 14 in an upset win over then-No. 1 Connecticut.
Brown raised his averages to 10.7 points and 6.1 rebounds the following year as the team's fourth option. But he drew criticism from fans, media and his coaches who thought he wasn't active enough and lacked intensity.
After averaging 14.7 points in Syracuse's first 11 games last year, his scoring dropped to 8.4 points over the last 20 games. He had just eight points in a 75-58 loss to eventual national champion Michigan State in the NCAA Midwest Regional semifinals.
"I think Damone was a little too unselfish at times," SU point guard Allen Griffin said. "Having Etan, Jason and Ryan probably had a lot to do with that, but Damone probably sacrificed his own game more than he should have."
Knowing he had to improve all areas of his game, Brown spent part of last summer in Los Angeles at a camp for college players. The experience proved invaluable.
"I learned a lot about myself," Brown said. "Playing out there helped me grow as a player and gave me more confidence that I could lead our team."
He's done just that. While SU has struggled recently, Brown has remained solid. He is averaging 18.4 points and 10.1 rebounds in the last eight games.
"It's been exciting to watch Damone Brown develop over the past four years," said ESPN college basketball analyst Bill Raftery. "He's got a huge upside. I think he's one of those kids who will continue to grow and get better when he leaves Syracuse, which doesn't happen too often."
Shooting for the pros
Brown's goal is to be on an NBA roster next season. Scouts have always been intrigued by Brown's potential, but does he really have a shot?
"Oh sure," said Ryan Blake, assistant director of scouting for the NBA. "I think he can fit in with a lot of teams. He's sort of a tweener because of his body and style of play. But what I like about him is he runs the floor, he's energetic, athletic, he works hard and has a good basketball IQ. He's good enough to play at the next level."
Blake said Brown's chances of being drafted are good, but his status can't be determined until early entries from college, high school and overseas are known.
Brown can help his cause by getting stronger and playing well in the pre-draft camps he's sure to be invited to, Blake said.
Brown has a 3-year-old son, Damone Jr., who lives with his mother in Buffalo. Brown said D.J. is all the incentive he needs to make it.
"Being a father makes me work even harder because I'm not working for myself," Brown said. "I've got a family to feed. Right now, I'm trying to bust my butt every day so I can provide them with a good life."
Buffalo is full of what-could-have-been stories about athletes with bright futures who burned out before their time. Whether it's basketball or some other profession, Brown appears to be one success story that will endure.
"One thing I've always told Damone is use basketball and not let it use you," said Hodge, his mother. "I think he has been instilled with everything he needs to be successful in whatever he chooses to do with his life."
Damone Brown's File
Season G-GS FG% FT% 3FG Reb. Ast. Blks Stls. PPG
2000-'01 26-24 .505 .792 2 9.0 49 33 45 16.8
1999-'00 31-31 .511 .671 2 6.1 69 19 31 10.7
1998-'99 33-26 .500 .750 13 5.5 26 23 28 9.5
1997-'98 15-0 .417 .500 1 0.9 1 6 1 1.7