Virginia senior point guard Doug Browman stands apart from his teammates. He spoke to me from outside the Cavaliers’ swanky film room — in which Browman’s higher-profile teammates address the media — after Saturday’s 56-36 clobbering of Florida State. We spoke as if I had merely encountered him in the hall — a normal, humble guy with a sandwich in hand, casually telling me about the highlight of his basketball career.
Arriving along with coach Tony Bennett in 2009, Browman has sacrificed sleep, free time and many other luxuries on which the typical college student depends to be a part of the Virginia basketball program. But for three-and-a-half years, his unyielding commitment merely earned him a spot on the roster and the chance to realize his dream of playing Division I basketball as he competed without scholarship compensation. That changed earlier this month, when Bennett announced to Browman and the entire team that he would be rewarding the Midlothian, Va. native for his persistence with a full scholarship for the spring semester.
“I was excited,” Browman said. “I had no idea that coach Bennett was about to do that for me, and he just pulled everybody in the film room and kind of just announced it to us, so I’m really grateful for that.”
The announcement was welcome news for Browman’s teammates, who have witnessed his strong work ethic for years.
“We were so happy for Doug,” junior forward Akil Mitchell said. “He’s worked his butt off since I’ve gotten here, since I’ve known him. You know it’s just big for him to get a scholarship, and he’s been really working hard and praying for it.”
A three-year letterman at basketball powerhouse Montrose Christian, the D.C.-area school where NBA megastar Kevin Durant and current Cavalier wunderkind freshman guard Justin Anderson attended, Browman registered court time in only five games his senior year of high school, according to maxpreps.com. Neither the scant playing time nor offers from several smaller programs, however, could deter Browman from his lifelong aspiration to play college basketball at a prestigious program.
“That was always my goal growing up, when I was a little kid, just to play high major Division I basketball,” Browman said. “I had a couple lower mid-major offers, but I chose to come to U.Va. for the chance to play in the ACC. That’s always something I wanted to do, and luckily I was able to do that.”
After biding his time for three more years, totaling just 42 minutes and 12 points entering the 2012-13 season, Browman has finally emerged this year as a savvy option at point guard. With starting senior point guard Jontel Evans dealing with a broken right foot earlier this season, Browman split time with redshirt freshman Teven Jones and freshman Taylor Barnette running the offense and earned plaudits from Virginia supporters for his energetic, ego-less play. Browman has appeared in 10 games this season, averaging 7.5 minutes per contest.
His best game as a Cavalier came in a 74-39 victory against Wofford Dec. 30. In a career-high 23 minutes, Browman registered six assists, smothered the Terriers’ leading scorer, sophomore guard Karl Cochran, and never attempted a shot of his own as he shepherded the Virginia offense in Evans’ absence.
“With Jontel out early in the year, he brings that leadership, that calmness that we need every once and a while when we get too sped up,” Mitchell said.
Were that the extent of Browman’s journey — were he simply a perpetual reserve player who toiled to earn a spot in the rotation — his story would still testify to his dedication and resolve. Yet the story should resonate even more with basketball fans because it demonstrates the trials and tribulations that accompany the life of a walk-on in Division I athletics, as well as a bit of adversity Browman inflicted upon himself.
With recent controversies surrounding programs at Ohio State, North Carolina and Miami spawning discussion about whether college athletes in big-revenue sports should receive financial compensation, it is sometimes overlooked that scholarship athletes do receive an all-expenses paid education. But Browman entered the second half of his senior year expecting to never receive that benefit, despite devoting 20 or more hours per week to the program. And with no scholarship tying him to the team, Browman — along with fellow walk-ons, freshman guard Justin Miller, freshman forward Caid Kirven and junior guard Thomas Rogers — has had to exert maximum effort just to remain on the roster.
“I’ve thought about it,” Mitchell said of the walk-ons’ plight. “It’s a tough situation, especially those guys; they work just as hard as we do without the glory.”
When Bennett excused Browman from the team for poor academic performance in fall 2010, it appeared an unceremonious and abrupt end to a backup point guard’s college basketball career. It wasn’t.
With less hope than ever of earning playing time, recognition or some promise of financial gain, Browman fixed his grades and returned to practice the following spring. He did not need the possibility of a scholarship to motivate him to pursue his passion.
“I didn’t ever really think about that,” Browman said. “I just thought about how much I love playing basketball and lacing the sneakers up, so that’s all I really thought about. That’s what kept me motivated, kept me going.”
It became apparent that the point guard stood apart in more ways than one, as Browman patiently answered my questions a short distance from his teammates. On a roster that hardly lacks for humility or selflessness, Browman was recognized for treating the game he loves as an inherent reward and letting the rest take care of itself.
“I know good things happen to those who wait,” Browman said. “You put hard work in it, you reap the benefits.”