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Rookie lessons: Longtime pals Troy Brown Jr., Collin Sexton start NBA careers on separate paths

Dwight Howard was encouraging fans on the baseline to cheer for free chicken, and Bradley Beal was working his referee impression by signaling a travel call.

In the fourth quarter of the Washington Wizards' 119-95 thrashing of the last-placed Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night, things were getting goofy — the time when starters transform into cheerleaders because the game has long been decided.

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That meant it was time for rookie Troy Brown Jr. to finally take off his warm-ups.

The Wizards' No. 15 draft pick last June. Remember him? He’s the kid with the chin-strap beard but otherwise fresh face sitting at the end of the bench. The teenager who was advertised as a versatile wing on the night he became a Wizard, although his potential also came with an asterisk.

In June, both Wizards President of Basketball Operations Ernie Grunfeld and Coach Scott Brooks strongly hinted at how unlikely it would be for the 19-year-old to crack the rotation. Everyone within Brown’s circle, his parents and business advisers, readied him for this situation. And although Brown was the team’s featured player during summer league, in the regular season he has only shown his game during garbage time.

The Wizards (5-9) are taking their time in developing Brown. While most of his NBA playing experience has come in practice, the greatest lesson he has learned so far in his rookie season has been patience.

“Honestly, it’s just one of those things where, like, you’ve got to remember the things you said before it happened,” Brown said about staying positive while not playing. “You got to stick to that even though sometimes . . . it gets difficult. You just got to stay the course and trust that God puts things in your place to make opportunities pop up.”

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While Brown didn’t play until the last four minutes of the final quarter, Cavs rookie Collin Sexton, who’s also 19, worked another long night in the NBA.

“I have to watch more film to make sure everybody’s in the right spot and stuff like that,” Sexton said about the biggest lesson learned at the start of his professional career. “I feel like as a team we’re coming together a lot better than we did at the start of the season.”

The Cavaliers-Wizards matchup revealed the great contrast between a rebuilding team and one that still holds playoff aspirations. Brown doesn’t play because the Wizards need to win games now and because the team has an excess of wings in Otto Porter Jr., Kelly Oubre Jr. and Tomas Satoransky. Sexton, however, has to help lead Cleveland (2-12) out of its post-LeBron James haze without the help of injured veterans Kevin Love, George Hill and Kyle Korver. It’s a difficult task for anyone, let alone a first-year point guard.

“It’ll be a good test for him,” Cavaliers Coach Larry Drew said before the game, referring to Sexton taking on all-star John Wall. “It’s part of the learning curve playing against guys like this. I know Collin, I know he’ll come out and take the challenge.”

Sexton and Brown are friends and met as most elite amateurs do — on the summer circuit. While Brown had a profile, as well as an Division-I offer from UNLV at 14 years old, Sexton was a bit of an unknown and only ascended in the rankings after several strong showings in AAU.

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“[Sexton’s] team was terrible. It’s like, ‘The kid’s not that good. His team is just trash,’ ” Brown said. “Then he goes for 40 one game."

Both players earned invitations to the USA under-17 minicamp. The camp followed the classic high school social structure, so when Brown spotted Sexton, the new guy and a shy kid, sitting alone, he made a point to sit next to him. A friendship began, which almost led to Brown choosing to go to Alabama because Sexton had already committed there.

This season, however, the rookies have taken separate paths.

Sexton has started each of the Cavaliers' first 14 games. Brown ranked 33rd among rookies in total minutes played before Wednesday’s game.

Against the Wizards, Sexton finished with 24 points and led his team with 16 field-goal attempts. Brown has taken just 13 shots all season.

Before the game, Sexton sat two stalls away from J.R. Smith in the visitors' locker room, neither acknowledging the other. Around the same time, Brown relaxed in the home locker room, phone on his lap, before Beal told him they were late for 6 p.m. chapel.

“Oh snap!” Brown exclaimed before following Beal out the door for their game-day routine of bible study.

During his apprentice year, all the Wizards' veterans have been “hella cool,” Brown said. He’s learned by going against Beal in practice and watching Wall on the court. And when Brown needs honest advice, he has turned to veteran Jason Smith.

“I asked Jason on how he kind of dealt with the sitting on the bench stuff,” Brown said. “How he stays patient and stuff like that.”

On the morning of the Cleveland game, there was no time for Brown to practice patience. He got up his shots but quickly left the Capital One Arena court.

“I’ve got to get to G League practice,” Brown politely responded when a reporter requested an interview.

Brown went to Southeast D.C. to get meaningful practice time. If the Capital City Go-Go had upcoming home games, Brooks said Brown would have taken his first G League assignment. The Go-Go, however, have only one game scheduled this week, and it’s in Wisconsin. So, for the time being, the only playing time that Brown will receive is when the game turns loopy and Brooks empties the bench.

While his friend may be growing up through the Cavaliers' trials, Brown understands that his own development will need time.

“I feel like I’m good. I mean, I feel like I’m still the same me that I was, you know, I’m getting better,” Brown said. “But at the same time it’s more about understanding the game and making reads and stuff like that, so I feel like I’m learning a lot.”

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