Washington's Kevin Brown finds strength in coaching through chemotherapy
WASHINGTON – Hall of Fame coach Kevin Brown wants to win now more than ever.
The 50-year-old Washington boys basketball coach had surgery on Aug. 10 to successfully remove a brain tumor. Brown has completed his radiation treatments and is in the midst of chemotherapy, he said.
Through it all, he remains head coach of the Panthers, having attended open gyms, running practices after his treatments and roaming the sidelines during games.
“It’s what I do and I’m healthy enough to do it,” Brown said. “It was tough. There was probably a good six weeks in there that I didn’t know if I was going to come back or not. I know I never ruled it out.
“I came to workouts and would sit there and wouldn’t say a word. Every day when I left, I felt better than when I got there.”
Saturday was a perfect example for why Brown decided to return to the bench. Mid-Illini rival Morton wore grey shirts, the official color of brain cancer awareness, that read, “No one fights alone,” on the front and “KBSTRONG,” on the back in support of Brown.
“There’s so many people that have what I have that can’t get that strength and I walk out of my locker room tonight and see 15 high school kids that I compete against and go to war against a couple times a year and they’re wearing shirts like that,” Brown said.
Morton (8-1) ended up winning 42-23 but the young Panthers (2-6) battled for one half before wearing down.
Washington starts three freshmen and two sophomores. Highly-touted freshman Gus Lucas has been assertive early on, earning all-tournament honors at the Washington Tournament of Champions after averaging 15.3 points and 9 rebounds per game.
The 6-foot-5 wing was “shocked but relieved” when he learned of Brown’s battle. It’s been a dream of Lucas’ to play for Brown and feeds off of his coach’s work ethic.
“Coach shows up for us every day no matter how he feels so we want to show up for him and he inspires us everyday,” Lucas said.
For a young team, it’s about improving to be better each day. The Panthers should progress to be a tough out come postseason time but they have the luxury to build for the next two years to become special. The process of getting better requires a daily approach.
“It makes you realize your life can change at any given moment and you need to make the most of every day and every opportunity,” Lucas said.
For the first time in his 26 years of coaching, Brown has had to sit in a chair for practice, though he admits it didn’t last long. He has completed one round of chemotherapy, which requires five treatments in a span of 28 days. There are five more rounds scheduled but Brown said it could extend to a full year.
He finds strength in the support of the basketball community, which can be as simple as talking with longtime friend and Lincoln Coach Neil Alexander after Saturday’s game.
“God puts so many people in your life and they’re there to help you, but this game of basketball introduced you to a lot of those people that He’s putting back in your life,” Brown said. “I think that’s a big part and I truly believe that I feel like I do because God wants me to teach these kids, and that doesn’t mean put my arm around them and coddle them all the time because life doesn’t do that to you, obviously.”
Brown is thankful for his coaching staff, which has been by his side for 14 years, and his players, which he said, “some day they will, but they have no idea right now how powerful they are in my life.”
Winning games isn’t easy as is, but throw in chemotherapy treatments and living day-to-day and all Brown wants to do is win.
“I told the kids this, ‘If you think I’m in here and don’t want to win, it’s worse because anybody that says winning isn’t everything, they’ve never had cancer.’ Winning means everything now to me than it was in life,” he said.