Can Gabe Brown be Michigan State's next Morris Peterson?
A few weeks ago, as Michigan State was a just really getting into the swing of preseason practice, Tom Izzo was asked about his starting lineup.
The Hall of Fame coach was going over all of the possible combinations, contemplating what sort of rotation the Spartans might have this season when he got to Gabe Brown, the junior wing with limitless athleticism and potential.
“We could do a lot of different things with Gabe,” Izzo said. “Gabe could start, he could be the sixth man, maybe the best we’ve had since Morris. So, we have some options.”
Morris, of course, is a reference to Morris Peterson, whose No. 42 happens to be hanging in the rafters at the Breslin Center. As a junior, Peterson became the first non-starter to earn first-team All-Big Ten honors and followed that up as a senior by being named an All-American, a season that ended with Michigan State winning the national championship behind Peterson and fellow Flint native Mateen Cleaves.
An 11-year NBA career followed for Peterson, who still ranks 14th in program history with 1,588 points.
Not bad company to be in, and it was a humbling comparison for the 6-foot-8 Brown. But he’s hoping to stake his own claim entering his third season in the program.
“It made me feel it made me feel special,” Brown said when he was told of Izzo’s comments. “For me to get the comparison of Morris Peterson, that's very special to me. But I always try to be myself. I always try not to compare myself to anybody because I always want to be Gabe Brown when I'm out there playing. But for him to put me in that category – because we talk a lot and he told me that, too. So for him to put me in that category it is exciting. I mean if he believes in it, that means I believe in it, too.”
There are few that argue Brown has the potential to contribute the way Peterson did, especially late in his career. The key for Brown, however, has been finding a way to do so on a regular basis.
For example, some of his biggest games are often followed by a stretch of a couple of games – or more – when he makes little to no impact. Brown has scored in double digits in back-to-back games just once in his career, going for 13 in a win at home against Wisconsin then scoring 10 in a loss at Indiana last year. Seven more games passed before Brown hit double figures again, and three games, he didn’t score a single point.
And after netting a career-high 17 in a win at Nebraska last season, he was held without a point in each of the next two games while playing a total of 14 minutes.
Brown, who scored 6.8 points a game last year while grabbing 3.6 rebounds, isn’t shying away from the knock on his game, either. In fact, it’s been his sole focus since last season ended prematurely when the postseason was canceled because of COVID-19.
“I would say consistency,” Brown said. “Consistency is the one thing I have (worked on) the most. It’s just been very, very tough for me because the (previous) years I wasn't consistent, I wasn't going my hardest, I wasn't doing things like that.”
There’s been a shift, though, and one Izzo has noticed.
“Gabe Brown has had a hell of a summer and fall,” Izzo said. “And if you look at Gabe you see him, his body looks great, he’s done a very good job working out, and he’s been one of our more diligent workout guys.”
It’s led to a more consistent effort from Brown, a more consistent jump shot and, potentially, more consistent minutes, something that has been all over the map through his first two seasons.
“I'm getting consistent, and I'm getting consistent with my jump shot, coming in every day and working hard,” Brown said. “This is one of the things I really tried to improve during this offseason.”
He’ll soon get to show everyone the benefits of his hard work. No. 13 Michigan State is scheduled to open the season against Eastern Michigan on Wednesday at the Breslin Center, and Brown is sure to play a big role.
Whether it’s in the starting lineup or coming off the bench, Brown believes fans will see a newer, better version of himself, one that will start to live up to the potential that’s always been there.
“I’ve matured a lot,” Brown said. “With this COVID hitting it gave me time to think, gave me time to realize what I need to work on during the offseason, during the season. How to get my teammates the ball, how to talk to my teammates, how to do things in a certain manner to get my teammates to rise above what they're playing.
“(Coach) has been on me heavy about that. We had a lot of meetings, a lot of talks, and I feel like it’s coming along very well for me.”