Georgia Southern’s all-time leading scoring in Division I competition will be playing his final game at Hanner Fieldhouse today when the Eagles host Georgia State. And while there are hopes for what can be accomplished at the Sun Belt Conference tournament next week, the career of Tookie Brown deserves a full stop and a hard look from every Eagle fan.
With 2,253 career points, Brown passed GS legend Julius Jenkins’ previous record of 1,870 early this season and has quickly widened the gap. Brown will also finish in second place for all scorers in Georgia Southern history and is one of only three Eagles to top the 2,000-point barrier.
But for all the consistency and volume of his scoring, Brown has a more pronounced identity as the unquestioned leader of his team. Most fans would quickly say that they want Tookie to get the ball if the team is down to its last shot, but he also tops lists of who people count on most to make any sort of play or provide the necessary winning spark at any key moment.
“Ever since my first year, I’ve just tried to work hard and get better,” Brown said. “Even now, I’m still working as hard as I can to get us where we want to go.
“It’s been easy because of the fans. It’s like one big family. I feel all of that support and I appreciate it. It helps all of us to keep fighting towards our goals.”
Brown arrived ahead of the 2015-16 season as a celebrated recruit who would be leaned on from the first minutes of his collegiate career.
Brown had initially committed to Mississippi State, but a coaching change led to him considering other offers. He credited Georgia Southern coach Mark Byington and his staff for staying in contact throughout his high school career and decided that he would play his college ball a bit closer to his Morgan County roots.
Brown’s senior year of high school that saw him commit to Georgia Southern coincided with the Eagles making it within two points of reaching the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1992. It was the most successful basketball campaign in years for the team, but the departure of five key players from the squad left the rebuilding effort squarely in the hands of Brown.
“It was tough. We knew it would be hard and take time,” Brown said. “But we did a great job of recruiting and building. It’s big that (Byington) has been here every step of the way. The coaches staying here and us players growing up together really created a great bond that helps us a lot.”
Pushed into the starting lineup in his true freshman season, Brown and his teammates - which made up one of the youngest starting lineups in the country during the 2015-16 season - endured some growing pains , but also started to surprise some Sun Belt rivals.
The surprises of Brown’s freshman year turned into a full-fledged buzz in his sophomore year as he completed a second consecutive All-Sun Belt performance and the Eagles produced a winning season. Last year brought about a 21-12 record, a run to the conference tournament semifinals and another All-Sun Belt recognition.
The conference is as competitive as ever and only next week’s tournament winner will advance to the NCAA tournament, but Brown has already led the Eagles to their first consecutive 20-win seasons in 30 years and now has his best - and final - chance to advance to college basketball’s biggest stage.
Dreams of an NCAA tournament berth are dancing through the heads of Eagle fans and many would consider it a fitting and deserved end to Browns career. As for Brown, he remains as humble and focused as the 18-year old version of himself that set about rebuilding the Eagles’ winning legacy four years ago.
“It would be amazing to make the tournament. This is a team that can do it, but have to focus on what’s in front of us,” Brown said. “Saturday’s game is going to be crazy. It will probably hit me a little more on Saturday. My main concern is just trying to leave with a win for my teammates and all of our fans.”
Tookie Brown would love to leave Hanner Fieldhouse with a win. And Hanner might be able to leave something for Brown as well.
With a big renovation scheduled for the immediate future, there’s a great argument for asking the construction crews to make a bit more room in the rafters for another number to hang.