For Winona native Alec Brown and the rest of the college graduating class of 2014, the months following the spring walk across the stage into adulthood have been filled with finding a full-time job. Unlike most college graduates, University of Wisconsin–Green Bay alumnus Brown was recently drafted to the Phoenix Suns of the National Basketball Association (NBA), as the 50th overall pick in the 2014 NBA draft.
Photo by Bailey Biggerstaff of the Winona YMCA
. Winona native and Phoenix Suns draft pick Alec Brown hanging out with kids from the Winona YMCA’s Summer ESCAPE program.
“I’m very excited,” Brown said. “It’s a cool experience for sure.”
Although the power forward/center, who led Winona Senior High School to the state basketball tournament in his junior and senior years, still has to earn a spot on the team, the future for a career in basketball looks bright.
The road to draft night
On Thursday, June 26, Brown, along with his family and close friends, watched the NBA draft in the back room of the Ground Round. “He wanted [only] family and close friends around because there were no guarantees that he would be drafted,” explained Brown’s mother, Barb Oertel.
Prior to draft night, Brown, who had a standout four-year career with the UW–Green Bay Phoenix mens basketball team, was able to meet teams at the NBA draft combine — the invitation-only, multi-day showcase that allows scouts, coaches, doctors and upper management to evaluate top draft prospects. There, Brown, who stands at 7’1”, received attention for his shooting ability as well as his height. “He did very well at the draft combine — I think he was under the radar going into it. He also did really well in the individual workouts,” recounted Alec’s father, Orrin Brown. “What we were told was that he really impressed the teams he worked out for, not only in his ability to shoot the ball, but they appreciated [his] high character and his work ethic.”
After the combine he was subsequently invited to workout with 10 NBA teams, including the Phoenix Suns, the Chicago Bulls, the Dallas Mavericks, the Toronto Raptors, the New York Knicks, the Utah Jazz, the Philadelphia 76ers, the Washington Wizards, the Houston Rockets and the Cleveland Cavaliers. All of the visits were within a three-week period. “It was pretty cool, but pretty exhausting at the same time,” Brown said. “It was a lot of travel, a lot of workouts, and not a lot of time to adjust to the different time zones.”
Despite all of the positive feedback, Brown said that he was still unsure whether he would be selected. “I honestly didn’t know,” he remembered humbly. “I was thinking it would probably be a 50/50 chance.”
But in the second round of the draft, Brown received news that he was being seriously considered by the Phoenix Suns. As his family and friends watched the television with nervous anticipation, Brown, unbeknownst to everyone in the room, received a text from his agent that informed him Phoenix was very interested in him for the 50th pick. “He sent me a text two minutes [before the pick],” Brown recalled. “I asked what the chance was and my agent said it was good, but we still didn’t really know.”
When his name finally flashed across the bottom of the television screen, the small room erupted with celebration. “Everybody was literally jumping out of their seats, jumping up and down, hugging, screaming, laughing and crying,” Oertel said. “He was caught up in the moment just like everyone else.”
The road to the NBA
Brown, who was a Kevin Garnett and Timberwolves fan growing up, still counts winning the state championship back in sixth grade with the Winona YMCA Rebels basketball team as one of his favorite basketball moments. “That was pretty fun,” he said.
Recently, Brown made a trip back to the Winona YMCA for a March Madness event held for local youngsters. “It’s always fun to work with kids,” he said. “They get super excited and think you’re the coolest thing ever.”
Tom Zukowski, director of basketball operations at the Winona YMCA, organized the event and had run into Alec’s father a few days before, and asked if Alec would mind making a small appearance. Not only did he show up, Alec judged a slam dunk contest, autographed everything imaginable — backpacks, t-shirts, bare limbs — and hung out with the participants, eating pizza and drinking soda.
“He is a great kid,” Zukowski said. “It was amazing, he was just coming from some event with his Green Bay team and he just came in and stayed the whole night, which was amazing.”
For Oertel, seeing her son volunteer to help out kids and the community is part of the person he has been and will always be, no matter how his career with the NBA pans out. “He is just a genuinely nice person. He is very modest and the success that he has had has not changed him at all. He is very good to his family and friends and he’s just the kind of person that he has always been.”
Brown flew out to Phoenix on Sunday and will be with the team for four or five days. From there, he’ll attend the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas from July 11 to 21. “Depending on how Summer League goes and who they sign, I’ll either make the team or go overseas for a year,” he said. “I’ll know more after Summer League.”
In the meantime, Brown, who has a penchant for golf and Chris Farley movies, is just excited and humbled to have come this far. “These past few days everyone I’ve passed by has congratulated me,” he explained. “[I’ve received] only good feedback. Everyone has been super nice to me and nobody has been jealous. Just super supportive and congratulatory.”
“It was one of the proudest moments of my life,” Oertel said of her son getting drafted to the NBA. “And I am equally proud of him walking across the stage and receiving his diploma. It has been a great couple of months.”