Former Illini Standout Dee Brown Building Coaching Acumen In Post-Playing Career
After a nine-year pro career in the NBA and abroad, Brown returned to the state of Illinois as an assistant at Illinois-Chicago.
Hear the name Dee Brown, and you’ll probably think of Illinois. And for good reason.
A standout basketball player in high school in Maywood, Illinois, Brown was named that state’s Mr. Basketball in 2002. Then he went on to the University of Illinois, where he helped the Fighting Illini reach the 2005 Final Four, along the way picking up The Sporting News’ College Player of the Year award. And now Brown, 34, is an assistant coach for the men’s at the University of Illinois-Chicago.
Along the way, though, Brown occasionally took a break representing his state to represent something bigger.
Brown twice played with USA Basketball, including at the 2003 FIBA U19 World Cup in Thessaloniki, Greece, where he scored an amazing record setting 47 points — including nine three pointers — in an 87-84 win over Lithuania.“Being able to do that with that USA jersey on and being able to perform at a high level like that and representing your country is one of the highlights,” he said. “It was great. There were so many great players, 12 on that roster and playing. It was a humbling experience to be out there and you’re one of the best players at your age in the U.S. and you’re representing it and trying to win medals. It was surreal and a very great experience for me.”
Brown also played for the U18 squad the previous year, when he scored a team-high 16 points to beat Argentina and win bronze at the tournament in Venezuela. A starter in all five games, he was part of a USA squad that featured future Olympians Carmelo Anthony, Chis Bosh, Andre Iguodala and Deron Williams. Getting the opportunity to play outside the country was a notable experience for Brown.“The first time going out the country and to see all the talent around the world and the different cultures, and to get to compete against the world, it was good times,” he said. “And definitely a learning experience and gave me a different perspective on my basketball life.”
Those weren’t Brown’s only experiences playing abroad, though. In addition to being selected in the second round (No. 46 overall) of the 2006 NBA Draft by the Utah Jazz and also playing with the Washington Wizards and the Phoenix Suns, he played professionally overseas for many years as well. From 2007-15, he played on teams in Turkey, Israel, Italy, Romania, Latvia, China and even Bulgaria.“It was interesting,” Brown said. “A lot of guys want to do it and take their talent abroad. It’s very challenging. Once you go over there to a different culture, sometimes the language barrier is pretty tough. You go over there for maybe 10 months and come home for one.
“… One of the reasons I did get so many jobs in those places was that not only was I a good player but a leader in the locker room, a leader among the players. And delivering the same message that the coach wanted, echoed everything he said. That’s the leadership. And leading my team no matter where I went. No matter the language barrier, I tried to focus on leading. That’s what I believed in.”
That experience also had an impact on his post-playing career. Brown says he has wanted to coach basketball and says playing abroad helped that.
“I knew one day I wanted to get into coaching,” he said. “So when I went to each organization, I played for different, strategic-minded guys who coached the game and believed in playing this way or being this way. So I was able to execute and travel around and get different perspectives playing for different cultures.”
Brown took on his assistant role at UIC in 2017. He had been applying for various jobs in Chicago and also helping young players when he got a call from UIC head coach Steve McClain. After two interviews, McClain hired Brown. As McClain said to the Chicago Tribune at the time of the hire, “I know he’s going to fully dedicate himself to making everyone around him better all the time.”
As an assistant with the Flames, Brown says he helps teach the players fundamentals such as ball handling, passing and footwork.
“It’s fun, it’s interesting,” Brown said. “The times have changed but you go out there and adjust and be creative. It’s basketball. It’s what I’ve done all my life. I love teaching the game and being around the guys. Sharing my knowledge. I have a wealth of knowledge from being around teams, being around different coaches and players. You can make insights into these young guys’ lives. To be able to share your stories and experiences.”
Brown also aspires to be a head coach some day. He wouldn’t mind doing so at his alma mater or even in the NBA. But he’s eager for an opportunity no matter the destination. And he certainly has the requisite knowledge.
“The one thing I continue to do is work and learn,” Brown said. “And If I have to be an assistant, or whatever the case may be, I will be the best at what I do. That’s the ultimate goal to get to that stage.
“… It’s a process and I’m just enjoying the process.”
Jim Caple is a freelance contributor to USAB.com on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.