Deering’s Nick Langella tries to keep up with Edward Little’s Austin Brown during the Class AA North regional final in February at Cross Insurance Arena. Brianna Soukup/Portland Press Herald Buy this Photo

Austin Brown’s importance to Edward Little’s success often flew under the radar in 2019-20, before the senior guard’s performances in the Class AA tournament made everyone take notice.

Brown did not fly under the radar among his coaches and teammates, though. Whether it was assigning him to shut down the opposition’s top player or drawing up a play for him to hit a big shot, the Red Eddies knew Brown would deliver. Some even let him know that they knew.

“(Senior point guard) Cam Yorke was always hyping me up,” Brown said. “But the week leading up to the (state) championship game, he stayed on me, saying, ‘You’re the best defender in the state.'”

“I think that’s ultimately where the team relied on me the most, was as a defender,” he said.

Brown more than lived up to the hype, shutting down two of the state’s most explosive offensive players while also making clutch shots in the regional and state championship games to help the Red Eddies win a second state title in three years.

A three-year starter, Brown was the lone remaining starter from the 2018 Edward Little team that ended the school’s 72-year gold ball drought. His experience as well as his expertise and execution of coach Mike Adams’ system brought a talented, senior-laden team together and earned him the distinction of being the only player in the school history to start on two state championship teams.

“He’s not your typical player of the year or all-conference guy, where all you need to do is look at the numbers and they pop out at you,” Adams said. “But when you see him play… he does all of the other things, everything else. He believes in his teammates and he puts them in situations where they can succeed.”

For his outstanding all-around performance and leadership, Brown is the 2019-20 Sun Journal All-Region Boys Basketball Player of the Year.

“There was a lot of luck,” Brown said, reflecting on his unprecedented varsity career, “but there was also a lot of preparation and a lot of hard work. I’m really proud of what we were able to accomplish.”

Losing to eventual state champion Bangor in last year’s AA North final motivated Brown and EL’s senior nucleus to give one last run at a gold ball their best shot.

“Austin had experienced what it was like to lose in a regional final and what it was like to win it,” Adams said, “and he wanted another one.”

Edward Little’s first objective for winning basketball games is winning the paint. No one was more committed to that philosophy than Brown. It didn’t matter whether it meant he was going to score two points or 22 points, as long as the Eddies won.

“It was huge having a senior guard who had been up on varsity for four years, and recognizes it’s his team for the most part, to buy into our philosophy that ‘paint wins,’ and making the sacrifices to do that,” Adams said.

The Eddies’ inside-out offense thrived with sophomore center John Shea surrounded by a bevy of skilled playmakers such as Brown, Yorke and Max Creaser, who were all capable of shooting from the outside and getting to the basket. Having a host of options and a trust in those options that has been developed though nearly a decade of playing together made buying in easy for Brown.

“It really came down to stuff off the court,” Brown said. “We’re so close as friends that we just know we can rely on each other.”

Adams and the Red Eddies knew they would have to rely on each other even more at the defensive end this season. With the graduation of one of the most intimidating defenders in recent memory, Wol Maiwen, they went into this year without the major advantage they had in the paint in virtually every game over the previous two years.

Without Maiwen’s presence near the rim, Adams said, the Eddies needed their perimeter defenders to make getting to the rim more difficult this year.

They had several fine defenders to do that, including seniors Yorke and Storm Jipson. But when it came to stopping the opponent Adams thought could do the most damage by getting to the basket, the coach invariably gave the 6-foot-2 Brown the assignment.

“He has the length. He has the ability to cut off the driving lanes, and just his over basketball IQ was big for us,” Adams said. “Sometimes you want your best defender to not cover their best player because maybe he can be more effective helping out. But we wanted him on their best offensive player every time because he proved he could do it every time.”

Brown saved his most suffocating defense for when Adams turned him loose on opponents’ top scorers and/or playmakers in the tournament. In the regional final, the Eddies’ fourth in a row, Brown limited Deering guard Askar Houssein, who exploded for 29 points in the Rams’ semifinal win over Bangor, to zero field goals and four points overall.

In the state championship game, he held Thornton Academy guard Payton Jones, who led the Golden Trojans during the season averaging 16 points per game, to four points.

Driven by a sense of urgency that comes with being a senior, Brown did everything he could to keep himself between those ultra-quick guards and the basket. Yet in typical fashion, he passed the credit off to his teammates for having his back.

“It’s easy to look back and say I knew I was a good defender and I was sure I was going to shut them down. But I knew at the time, we as a team need to stop them,” Brown said. “There were parts of the season where we showed we could play that kind of defense. We just didn’t really have it click until the playoffs.”

Brown’s offensive game clicked in the playoffs, too. After averaging less than nine points per game during the regular season, he poured in a game-high 20 against Deering (before being named the tournament’s MVP) and 15 against Thornton. In the two games, he finished with as many 3-pointers made (eight) as Houssein and Jones’ combined point total.

The last of those 3-pointers came with 25 seconds left and ended up being the winning shot in the Eddies’ 54-53 state title game win over the Golden Trojans.

As big as the shot was, Brown, who scored 12 of his 15 points in the second half, realized his ultimate dream a few moments later.

“My goal was always to win one my last year,” he said. “I wanted to have a good career, but the thing that I really wanted was to win a gold ball my senior year.”


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