By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
It came to Gary Browne during the off-season following an off season.
He somehow found himself on the Puerto Rican national basketball team coming off a wasted year at West Virginia University, a season in which the team failed to reach either .500 or the NCAA Tournament and a season in which his shooting percentage fell from 43.4 percent to 32.5 percent and his 3-point shooting dropped to 20.4 percent.
It reached the point as coach Bob Huggins began reshaping his team, some wondered whether Browne would even be asked back for his junior year.
Browne knew he had to do something.
“I felt like I was working. … I just didn’t work as hard as I could work,” he said before Friday’s practice as the 1-1 Mountaineers began preparations for Sunday’s 4 p.m. game against Duquesne. “Going to the national team and watching all these pros, they made me realize if you want to make it somewhere you have to work your tail off because you only have four years.”
It is amazing how lost you can become, even when playing for a potential Hall of Fame coach like Huggins, especially as a college player who has never had to deal with failure before.
Browne needed an outside voice to intervene, to push him in the right direction.
It came from the Puerto Rican coaches.
“When I went to the national team, I was playing the point. I was playing every game; the coaches relied on me, and that gave me confidence. They said, you have to work on your game. If you don’t work on your game, you are going to be average, just like everyone else.”
That got his attention, especially as they went to China to play.
“When I came back I had a different mentality. He made me realize how blessed I am right now. I am in college. I don’t have to work. All I have to do is just play basketball … basically that is my job.” Browne said.
Browne understood what had happened to his game last year.
“I had no confidence, and I didn’t work as hard as I could, and I regret that because I lost a whole year. I had a terrible year. I can’t blame no one. It was my fault,” he said. “I came back with a different mentality. I’m not thinking about last year at all.”
This year would be redemption.
“One thing I set as my personal goal was that this would be a rebuilding year for me,” he said. “Right now the season has started and I’m excited. I ready to work, and I’m ready to win. I want to make the state proud. I feel they support us a lot; they do a lot for us, and they deserve to enjoy the season.”
And he has shown himself to be a different player.
His shooting percentage has jumped from 32.5 percent to 60 percent through the first two games, hitting 3 of 5 shots from 3-point range after making just 11 all of last season. He has averaged 8.5 points a game and done it despite being injured.
Early on he suffered a deep thigh bruise that is limiting his mobility.
“I’m not going to sit down and tell you I’m the toughest guy, but it is pretty tough. It limits me from putting pressure on the ball or attacking the basket,” he said.
But he’s playing, because this is a short-handed team to begin with.
“I’m getting better every day. Hopefully soon I can go 100 percent and can do what I do best,” he said.
And what Browne does best is play tough defense and push the ball, much the way Joe Mazzulla used to do on the really good WVU teams.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.