Clovis News: Sports

Central High's 'Rocky,' coach reflect on ride

A basketball is also referred to as a "rock," and because Rakim Brown often was seen with one at a young age, he earned the nickname "Rocky."

Now it brings multiple meanings, for there is no other way to describe the Central High star's three-year relationship with coach Loren LeBeau.

"Quite honestly," Brown says, "after some games when he'd yell at me, get in my face and sit me, I'd go home and say, 'Mom, I don't want to play anymore; it's not fun.' "

There were many games in the regular season and summer that LeBeau didn't allow Brown to play at all because of a poor attitude.

"I sat a total of 15 games as a sophomore and I think 13 as a junior," Brown says.

Imagine that: A 2009 Bee All-Star and leading candidate for this season's Player of the Year keeping score.

Today, it's all about keeping score of Brown, who, in the past two weeks, linked one of the most impressive scoring series in recent Central Section history, given the competition.

At then-No. 2 Buchanan on Feb. 2 -- 24 in a 79-72 win.

Home against No. 4 Clovis West on Feb. 5 -- 39 in an 85-77 win.

At then-No. 1 Clovis East on Feb. 9 -- 24 in an 85-82 win.

Today, it's about LeBeau reflecting on a 19-year coaching career in high school, junior college and major college and separating Brown from the field: "No player has come as far. He's my greatest success story."

Further, LeBeau says: "We are having the best season this school has ever seen in large part because of Rakim Brown."

Big words considering this comes a year after the Grizzlies placed second in the section's Division I playoffs -- and that by a 66-65 margin on a last-second miracle shot by Edison at Selland Arena.

This season, Brown is averaging 20.5 points, 7.4 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 2.6 steals and 1.5 blocks for a 20-4 team ranked No. 1 in the section and tied atop the Tri-River Athletic Conference with No. 2 Clovis East at 7-1 with two games remaining.

In the TRAC -- clearly the section's premier league and represented with the Nos. 1-4 in The Bee's rankings -- Brown is averaging 23.0 points.

"When you up your numbers in league -- especially in our league -- that's pretty special," LeBeau says.

Brown is doing so with an athletic, strong and quick 6-foot-7, 195-pound body that can play any position on the floor, offensively and defensively.

"He's very challenging to prepare for," says coach Eric Swain of Buchanan, which will close the regular season Friday at Central. "He's got the ability to face the basket and make plays off the bounce, and he's strong enough, when he gets into the paint, that it's awfully tough to contest where he wants to go.

"I'm surprised he hasn't had [college] offers."

That appears to be changing.

In fact, it was following the performance at Buchanan -- counting also 12 rebounds, six steals and five assists -- that Eastern Washington coach Kirk Earlywine pinned down LeBeau for about 20 minutes near midcourt, expressing interest in Brown.

Earlywine offered a scholarship to him Wednesday, an Oral Roberts coach is expected to scout him Friday, Cal State Fullerton may also be represented and Fresno State has requested Brown's transcripts, Brown and LeBeau say.

LeBeau, who assisted Jerry Tarkanian at Fresno State and Vance Walberg at Pepperdine, is convinced Brown is fit for major college competition, and eventually will be an impact player:

"I think he'll be an all-leaguer as a junior and senior if his progression keeps going."

Progress is all-encompassing for Brown, who felt LeBeau once benched him routinely because he didn't care for him.

Today, Brown reflects with appreciation for the discipline: "At first it was hard to see, but now I understand. He was preparing me. I don't know where I would be if he didn't make me sit."

Carl Goodman, Brown's stepfather, says he was never overly concerned: "I knew Rocky would be fine. It was just a matter of getting used to LeBeau and his system. Actually, they have similar personality types -- a passion for the game, competitive and hate to lose. A lot of coaches would have written him off. We're thankful LeBeau stuck with him."

No one's more thankful than the coach.

"Like life," he says, "coaching basketball can be messy and sometimes unpredictable. But seeing how much Rocky has grown has brought me real joy."

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