Life as Andre Brown has known it the last 10 years ended Friday. As a youngster he played basketball on the asphalt courts of Baltimore. He graduated to the hardwood of high school and wound up on the Tartan surface of junior college basketball.
Now there probably is nowhere he can play, at the college level or above.
Brown, who once dreamed of playing in the National Basketball Association, will probably never wear a uniform again. When his Essex Community College team lost in the second round of the Maryland Junior College Tournament at Montgomery College-Takoma Park, the sophomore's career appeared finished.
He stood at midcourt, his arms at his sides, rocking back and forth on his heels for several seconds. Then he walked off the court for the last time.
Brown, at 6-foot-2 a minimally competent point guard in junior college basketball, hopes to try out for the Coppin State team next year. By his own assessment, he doesn't stand much of a chance.
"If I can't play basketball again, I'll die," said Brown, sitting dejectedly in the bleachers afterward. "All I've ever wanted to do is play--for fun, whatever. In two years of riding around on buses and eating in McDonald's, I never let it get to me. Now . . . I just don't know."
As Brown sat in the bleachers Friday afternoon trying to adjust to his new perspective, he watched Mike Sharpe getting ready for a new life.
Sharpe, a 6-foot-5 jump shooter, was tearing up and down the floor as his Baltimore Community College team routed Chesapeake Community College by 50 points. For Sharpe, basketball won't be over when the Red Devils finish the season.
Sharpe is one of the very few players--coaches figure less than 5 percent--with the chance to make a team at a major four-year school.
Actually, Sharpe has a slight edge. When he graduated from Lake Clifton High in Baltimore, he went to Towson State, where he led the team in scoring his freshman year. But the pace of Division I was too hectic, and he moved to Baltimore CC.
Charlie Moore, one of Sharpe's coaches, says he's the best small forward in college basketball.
"Just because nobody's heard of me doesn't mean I can't play with anybody in the country," Sharpe said. "I definitely feel I can play in the Big Eight, the ACC, any of those places. I just need a little exposure."
But the problem with junior college basketball--as Brown, Sharpe and others trying to use it as a springboard have found--is that it doesn't invite exposure.
With a few notable exceptions, junior college basketball is undisciplined--playground basketball with a clock. A flashy player can make an impression, but that's about all he can do. There were more college scouts at a local high school than at the first three days of this 16-team junior college tournament.
That's because the caliber of play often isn't even on a par with many college junior varsity teams. Offensive rebounds are almost unheard of, and turnovers abound.
Allegany Community College in Cumberland, Md., is an exception. The Trojans (27-3)) are ranked 13th in the national junior college poll. Four of their five graduates are expected to play on NCAA Division I teams next season. Some recent Allegany players include American University center Juan Jones, George Washington guard Dave Hobel, George Mason reserve center Mike Hanlin and Lewis Lattimore, who backed up Ralph Sampson at Virginia.
"The opportunities to use junior college as a way to move on to bigger and better things just aren't there anymore," said Jerry Phipps, something of an elder statesman in junior college basketball. His Community College of Baltimore teams have won 12 state championships in 14 years.
"There aren't a lot of big guys in JUCO now, and I think the talent has really fallen off a couple notches," Phipps said. "The four-year schools are recruiting like crazy. You're talking about a very picked-over strawberry patch. As a result, there isn't much left for a Division I school to get after two years."
Players looking for bigger and better things must confront the fiscal realities of buses and Big Macs. They must play in tiny gyms before crowds of about 100; most fans are friends and relatives. A typical high school game generates more excitement.
"If you succumb to the facts that you don't have the money, don't have the facilities, don't have the support, then it can really get frustrating," said Essex Coach Rod Norris. "Then it just becomes wasted effort."
Cecil Coach Kevin Moran knows about financial constraints. He carries eight players on his team because he has eight complete uniforms. Every day of the five-day state tournament, his team made the four-hour round trip in a van.
"Sure, it would be nice to stay in a hotel and have all those other advantages, but maybe with things the way they are, it means kids are playing because they really love the game and really want to," Moran said.
Sharpe, bound for the big time, and Brown, bound for who-knows-where, think so.
"These guys really want it. If you just gave some of them a chance, they could play with anybody," said Sharpe.
"It wasn't everything I wanted," Brown said, "but it was a chance."
Md. JUCO tournament: Brian Waller scored 23 points and Jeff Churchwell had 22 points, 11 rebounds and nine steals to lead Allegany over Hagerstown, 86-58, in the championship game of the tournament at Montgomery-Takoma Park. Allegany is 30-3; Hagerstown is 17-12.