By Jeff Goodman
Jared Sullinger was there. So were the Plumlee brothers (Mason and Miles). Thomas Robinson got the invite, along with Alex Oriakhi, Mouph Yarou, Trevor Mbakwe, Aaric Murray and highly touted incoming freshmen Anthony Davis and James McAdoo.
That was the college roster for this past summer's Amar'e Stoudemire Camp.
And, oh yeah, some kid named Alec Brown.
A few years back, in the midst of his freshman season, I watched a then-anonymous player in the Horizon League named Gordon Hayward and walked away saying he would eventually become a lottery pick. I remember telling Brad Stevens after the game that he'd be fortunate to have Hayward for more than a couple years - and he didn't argue.
I’m not ready to bestow the same path and success on Green Bay’s Brown, but he could turn into the next Horizon League star.
The 7-foot-1 Minnesota native was as shocked as anyone by his near-immediate success as a freshman last season, averaging 10.2 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game.
"I was really surprised," Brown said. "I was a lot weaker than a lot of the guys and wasn't confident."
But that's changed after an appearance at the Amar'e Camp in which Brown says he played "OK" and "held his own."
Brown was a lightly recruited, skinny kid coming out of high school in Winona, Minn., and was first spotted by former Green Bay assistant Brian Wardle, now the head coach, in the state tournament when he was a sophomore.
"He was probably 6-foot-7 and was skinny, but had good skill level and moved really well," Wardle recalled. "We monitored him and then he grew a bunch and the next thing we knew he was 7-feet."
However, the high-majors never truly came hard. Home-state Minnesota never showed much of an interest, beyond the courtesy form letter. Wardle said that Northwestern and Colorado were both dabbling, but hadn't made him anything close to a priority.
So Brown went the mid-major route.
"I'm glad I picked Green Bay," Brown said. "Because if I went to a bigger school, I probably would have sat on the bench."
Instead, Brown played more than 25 minutes a game as a frosh.
"I knew he was going to be good; I didn't know how good," Wardle admitted. "Physically, he was so weak - and I didn't know how he'd hold up. One of the selling points to him was he could learn the game on the fly, get experience and confidence."
What shocked Wardle as much as anything is that Brown actually improved as the season dragged into February - instead of wearing down.
"He's a lot mentally tougher than we realized," Wardle said. "He doesn't back down."
Wardle said that NBA execs are already aware of the 220-pound Brown - although his name is still somewhat anonymous to much of the league. He's a legitimate 7-foot-1 with a high IQ, can step out and shoot the ball, run the court and also score on the block. His biggest drawback is his strength.
"That's crazy," Brown said of the NBA starting to pay attention. "I never expected that."
Those are the same words Hayward uttered to me a few years back.