LAS VEGAS — On the surface, Troy Brown Jr. didn’t appear different during his second run at the NBA Summer League in his hometown. He looked as lean as he did during his rookie season with the Washington Wizards, thanks to an offseason workout and diet plan. But there still was something new about Brown as he prepares for his second season.
He thought differently, no longer concerned about turning Thomas & Mack Center on the UNLV campus into his proving ground. He also sounded like a new man, often counseling first-year teammates who may have been as overwhelmed as he was a year ago. These changes are part of Brown’s plan for the 2019-20 season — to emerge as a leader in the Wizards’ locker room — and the first step in this maturation process started in Las Vegas.
“Last year, I was so caught up in me, me, me and trying to prove that I’m the 15th pick,” Brown, who turns 20 on July 28, said of his professional debut at summer league. “But this year, I kind of realized it’s not about me. It’s about helping the young guys and talking to Rui [Hachimura, this year’s No. 9 overall pick] and being more of a leader. . . . With Rui, I just want to make it as easy as possible. I went through it last year and how much I struggled mentally. I just want to let him know it’s bigger than basketball; don’t put pressure on yourself and make it more than what it is.”
In three games of the tournament that ran from July 5 to 15, Brown blossomed as a floor leader. Although he did not find his shooting rhythm (12.0 points per game on 41 percent shooting), Brown averaged a team-best 8.3 rebounds. In the Wizards’ opening 84-79 win over the New Orleans Pelicans on July 6, Brown pulled down 15 rebounds and contributed a late three-point play that helped seal the victory. Even more than his statistics, assistant coach Robert Pack was impressed with Brown’s voice.
“Troy’s been great. His leadership. He’s been talking these last two weeks to guys; it’s been good,” said Pack, a former NBA player who coached the summer league team. “There’s going to be situations where he’s going to have to take control. Maybe not in a shot but maybe making the right play. Talking to a player on the sideline. Talking to the whole unit. Maybe coming over to me and telling me what he’s seeing on the floor — ‘Coach, can we do that?' — and then you start to see guys take that next step.”
Before the Wizards selected Brown with the 15th pick in 2018, he spent months refining his body and skills at Impact Basketball, where NBA players such as DeMarcus Cousins and Kristaps Porzingis rehabilitate and train. Brown returned to Impact about three weeks after his rookie season, and trainer Joe Abunassar, who operates the facility, immediately noticed a difference.
“I’m thinking to myself: ‘I’m talking to an NBA guy. This is not a rookie anymore,’ ” Abunassar said of Brown, who started the Wizards’ final 10 games. The player apparently felt it, too: Abunassar said Brown realized, “I’m not the little brother anymore.”
The facility was overrun by the 2019 draft class this spring, rendering Brown the elder of the bunch who was tasked with being a leader of every workout. Brown may be respectful and ready to listen to veterans — as the youngest child in the family, he instinctively has a baby brother demeanor — but Abunassar wanted to see more of his other side.
“Every pickup game you play here at Impact, you’re the leader; your team’s expected to win,” he told Brown.
“When we talk to Troy, we say, ‘Look, you’re the leader of the workout; you’re the one [who is] talking to the other guys,’ " Abunassar said. “For him, it’s a whole mentality shift from ‘Oh [expletive]! I’m in the NBA’ to 'I’m the leader.’ ”
Brown maintained that mentality throughout the summer league as he pulled players together for huddles and encouraged the younger guys, including Hachimura, who is actually a year and a half older than Brown. Now, Brown’s newfound leadership has a chance of coming with him to Washington.
“Last year, I was so caught up in my own emotions and just trying to prove everybody wrong,” Brown said, referencing some criticism of his draft position. “But this year, it’s more about coming out and winning games and showing that the young guys are here and we can definitely make a staple in D.C.”