While attending Christ Chapel Academy in Woodbridge for the past several years, Stephen Brown has wondered if he would need to transfer to a larger high school to earn a chance to play at a Division I college.
He would not have been the first Christ Chapel athlete to blossom elsewhere. All-Met girls’ basketball player Breyana Mason left the school, with 114 students in grades nine through 12, to star at Forest Park and earned a scholarship to Virginia. Guard Tre Campbell, a former middle school teammate of Brown’s, plays at St. John’s. The second-team All-Met, has committed to Georgetown. Other former Christ Chapel students have gone on to play at O’Connell and Riverdale Baptist and other schools.
Brown, a 5-foot-10 guard, got his answer. He found out late last month that he indeed could land a Division I opportunity without transferring. Bucknell offered him a scholarship, and Brown eagerly accepted, even though he might have picked up even more suitors this summer or during his senior season.
Christ Chapel touts the 2,000-point (and counting) scorer as the first male athlete in school history to receive a full athletic scholarship.
“Going into high school, my dad and I talked off and on would this be a good fit to get offers or looks, because we saw a lot of other kids went on to other schools and got looks,” said Brown, who lives in the Osbourn Park attendance area.
“People were telling us here and there to go to a bigger program and there will be more exposure. But there were always a few people who had trust in us and believed if you stay the looks will come to you. It was a blessing in the end.”
Bucknell learned of Brown through an AAU coach about two years ago, and coaches from the three-time defending Patriot League regular season champions saw him play on a number of occasions, both in games and in open gyms. Brown has attended camps at the Pennsylvania school, and it was after one last month that Bucknell Coach Dave Paulsen extended the offer.
Navy, Cornell, Howard and Lamar had shown some interest in Brown, but Bucknell was the only Division I school consistently recruiting him. The Bison went 28-6 last season, posting a school record for wins, before losing to Butler in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Brown, who this summer is playing for AAU team Higher Level and is likely to play point guard in college, decided to commit to Bucknell for many of the same reasons he has stayed at Christ Chapel. Most notably, it just felt like where he should be. The Lions reached the Virginia independent schools Division III semifinals last season.
“Me and my family talked about if it was too early to commit or not, but we just felt that overall in every single aspect [Bucknell] just fit,” said Brown, who this year went on a school-sponsored mission trip to Albania. “It was the school and academic-wise and the relationship with the team and how comfortable we felt around the coaches. It’s just a comfortable feeling.”
Christ Chapel Coach Clinton Simmons was the middle school coach when Brown arrived at the school in seventh grade, and after the first time he saw Brown play, he told the boy’s parents that he would earn a Division I scholarship.
Simmons stuck with that assessment, but he cops to some creeping nervousness in the past year-and-a-half because he thought by that point more colleges would have taken notice of Brown. Some recruiters, he believes, are scared off by Brown’s height, a mistake in his view because of how Brown defends, scores and challenges taller players.
On the varsity since eighth grade, Brown will enter his senior season with 2,029 career points.
“Stephen has been kept under the radar because our school was so small, but anyone who’s ever seen him play knows that he can play at the Division I level,” said Simmons, who appeared in 17 games for Connecticut in the late 1980s.
“A couple of private schools in the D.C. area tried to lure Steve away, but Steve is a very loyal kid and likes the small kind of atmosphere, so he decided to stay with us. He basically put us on the map.”
The Lions are trying to unfold that map even wider next season. Their opponents in the Northern Virginia Independent Athletic Conference are other small private schools or home school teams, so Simmons is trying to fortify the schedule. Virginia AAA state tournament qualifier Battlefield and St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes are penciled in as 2013-14 opponents, he said, and he is trying to secure a date with St. John’s so that former teammates Brown and Campbell can play each other as seniors.
Instead of Brown transferring out, his choosing to stay at Christ Chapel, which is across the street from Gar-Field High School on Smoketown Road, could bring talented players into the program. Simmons said there are five public school players in the Woodbridge or Stafford areas who plan to enroll at Christ Chapel for the coming school year.
Brown is pleased he has shown that his school can be a long-term destination, not just a stop en route to athletic glory elsewhere.
“If you’re at a school where they’re developing and nurturing you and doing the best they can for you, then the school shouldn’t really matter,” he said. “As long as you’re playing and doing the best that you can, they’ll come find you.”