On the Road to Seattle, where they play the SuperSonics tonight, the Jazz are following their college teams in the NCAA Tournament. Marc Iavaroni's Virginia, Darrell Griffith's Louisville and Thurl Bailey's North Carolina State are in the Sweet 16. Karl Malone's Louisiana Tech, Mark Eaton's UCLA and Bobby Hansen's Iowa won first-round games, and Jose Ortiz's Oregon State and Jim Farmer's Alabama made the tournament field.
Those teams are doing all right without them. Not so for Mike Brown's George Washington University. The Colonials were a sad 1-27 this season, tying the NCAA record for losses and making Brown a 6-foot-9 target of considerable teasing in the Jazz locker room.Brown's standard comeback: "That shows you I was a big part of my program; you were just another player on your team."
He's also contributed to the Jazz this season, shaking off early season injuries and becoming a dependable backup center and power forward. "He's given us great stability, coming off the bench," says Coach Jerry Sloan.
This summer, the Jazz will have to decide just how valuable he is to them. They'll almost certainly have to expose Brown, Eric Leckner or Jose Ortiz in another expansion draft; after that, they'll have to sign Brown as a free agent.
"If I keep playing hard and contributing on the court and we win games, everything will take care of itself," says Brown.
"We wanted a chance to see who he was, and Mike's doing things that would ensure we'll try to keep him," said general manager David Checketts. "He fits in great with our chemistry."
Considering all the other factors involving Kelly Tripucka, Brown's play has justified the deal with Charlotte. They wanted guard Jon Sundvold via the expansion draft/trade and probably would have been just as happy with him, but Brown has settled in nicely as a second choice. "I'm kind of finding my niche now," said Brown.
Brown was Chicago's starting center for two months last season before being buried on the bench in March and April. This year, he missed 16 games with complications from a thigh bruise, a case of the flu and a bbroken nose, but is now a fixture; since the All-Star break, he's played double-figures minutes in 15 of 17 games and 20-plus minutes in five games.
"I was just happy for '88 to be over," Brown says of his run of injuries. "It could have been a devastating blow if I didn't handle it right. I took it, and just kept a good frame of mind."