The first time Green Bay coach Brian Wardle noticed a change in sophomore Alec Brown's mindset came during a youth camp two weeks ago.
Having been out-muscled by the bigger, stronger centers at the Amar'e Stoudemire Skills Academy in late June, Brown returned resolute in his desire to pack more weight onto his spindly 7-foot frame this summer. As a result, Brown approached Wardle and asked to take a brief break from running drills for the campers because he hadn't eaten in a few hours and he needed to maintain his six-meal-a-day schedule.
"I looked at him, smiled and said, 'Absolutely. You go get whatever snack you want,'" Wardle said Tuesday by phone. "That's something Alec had never really done before. He's really taking it upon himself to be really responsible in that area. That right there is a sign of why he's put on weight since the Amar'e camp and will continue to from here on out."
The five pounds Brown has gained in the three weeks since the Stoudemire camp is just one of the ways the Minnesota native benefited from the experience. Brown also gained confidence from following up a promising freshman season by holding his own against a handful of future lottery picks.
At a camp that featured 10 other elite college big men including All-American hopefuls Jared Sullinger and Thomas Robinson and top incoming freshman Anthony Davis, Brown was the lone mid-major player. Nonetheless, he overcame a jittery first day to showcase the soft touch and smooth high post game that helped him average 10.2 points and 5.6 rebounds as a freshman and earn a place on the Horizon League's all-newcomer team
"Playing against the best big guys in the nation, it helped me a lot," Brown said by phone. "The biggest thing I got out of it was something I already knew I had to do, which was gain weight and get stronger. This camp helped reinforce it in my mind that it's what I have to do and it's what I have to commit to."
A below-the-radar recruit most of his career at Winona High, Brown began drawing interest from a handful of programs after a late growth spurt elevated him from 6-foot-5 entering his junior year to 6-foot-10 by the following summer. Scholarship offers from Green Bay and Loyola-Chicago soon followed, but more established programs strung him along deep into his senior year as they waited for higher profile prospects to select a school.
In mid-April 2010, Wardle ascended from Green Bay's top assistant to head coach and instantly made landing Brown his foremost recruiting priority. He visited Brown and his family at their home, winning them over by pointing out that the raw 7-footer might develop faster by playing immediately at Green Bay rather than redshirting or sitting behind upperclassmen at a larger program.
"I could tell I fit in well here," Brown said. "Some of the bigger schools talked to me, but none of them ever fully offered me. They just said to wait while they got an answer back from somebody else. That's why I went with someone I could trust."
Brown quickly validated Wardle's recruiting pitch by earning a starting job immediately, scoring the most points of any Green Bay freshman in the past 10 years and shattering the school record for blocked shots with 66. The 7-foot-1 big man weighed just 206 pounds by the end of the season, yet he still managed to score at least 10 points in 10 of Green Bay's final 12 games.
Whereas the focal point of last season's Green Bay team was senior guards Rahmon Fletcher and Bryquis Perine, Wardle says the Phoenix will play through Brown in the post next year. In reality, Green Bay has little choice considering Brown will be one of the few proven players on a roster loaded with freshmen and sophomores.
To prepare for that challenge, Brown will attempt to bulk up to about 224 pounds by October by lifting weights 3 to 4 times per week and eating nutritious meals at least once every three hours starting at 6 a.m.. And in the gym, Wardle has Brown focused on honing his post moves, keeping the ball high and doing everything in his power to exploit his height advantage over smaller opponents.
"Our goal last year was to get him 12 to 15 touches and good things happened for us, so next year hopefully we can get even more touches for him," Wardle said. "He's a very talented young man, he's a great person and his work ethic is really good right now. People are going to really enjoy watching him grow. I think the sky's the limit for him."