In four rocky years with sweeping changes, Terrell Brown embraces role in Pitt’s rebuild


Pamela Smith | Staff Photographer

Senior center Terrell Brown plays against NC State on Feb. 17.

By Ben Bobeck, Senior Staff Writer

Senior center Terrell Brown stepped onto a court as a Pittsburgh Panther for 117 games. Nearly 60% of the time, the team he played for lost.

Yet through 72 defeats, a revolving door of 27 different teammates, two coaches and two Pitt color schemes, Brown is still here.

Among it all, Brown has stood as a soft-spoken 6-foot-10 figure among the Pitt men’s basketball program, working quietly to serve as a brick in the foundation laid by the coach who did not recruit him.

“[Terrell is] one of the guys on our team in our program that’s really tried to believe and buy into the stuff we’re doing and the way we’re trying to change this,” head coach Jeff Capel said.

Brown had seen the worst. He would do his part, no matter how large or small, to change that. In seeing his commitment through, Brown demonstrated the low-key manner and loyalty that would endear him throughout his time at Pitt to friends, teammates, coaches and others.

Brown arrived on campus from Providence, Rhode Island, in fall 2017 as a face in the crowd — quite literally. The Tilton School product was just one member of the 11-man recruiting class that then-head coach Kevin Stallings had assembled in his efforts to rebuild the team’s roster and jumpstart a stagnant program.

Those efforts failed miserably, and the Stallings rebuilding project ended before it had a chance to translate into any sort of success.

In his first season as a Panther, Brown logged about 17 minutes per game in 31 appearances, adding negligible stats to a team who failed to win a single conference matchup. The team finished 8-24 in 2017-18, with the zero in the ACC win column to become a forever stain on the program.

Amid the never-ending chain of losses, Brown turned to his roommate, Parker Stewart, another member of that first-year class. The two had grown close taking trips to the Forbes Avenue Dunkin’ Donuts while living in Towers during their first summer camp.

Brown reflected on one particular conversation he had with Stewart following a loss to NC State in late January 2018, the eighth straight in conference play to that point.

“We were just talking about how the year was going at that point,” Brown said. “We were just talking about college and everything else.”

Stewart elaborated on how the tribulations of that eight-win season drew the two friends closer.

“It was a rough year mentally, for all of us,” Stewart said. “Nobody wanted the year to go like that, but I think that’s how me and [Terrell] became close, we would talk all the time trying to figure out what we could do or what was wrong.”

Pitt promptly parted ways with Stallings at the end of the season, and Brown was left with the fork in the road that would come to define his collegiate career — whether to join the exodus of players into the transfer portal and find a new place to play basketball, or stick with Pitt.

Other parties became intertwined in the two roommates’ conversations now. In particular, coaches who wanted to recruit the pair together as transfers.

Brown said one unnamed coach wanted both him and Stewart, and Brown seriously considered his options, along with many of his teammates who had asked for their release following the change at the top.

“I was leaning more towards going with Parker,” Brown said.

Instead, Brown decided that he had started at Pitt and may as well see things through with the new staff.

“[My grandfather] told me to make a decision that I feel comfortable with,” Brown said.

That grandfather — Victor Soares — would routinely drive the nine-hour, 1,110-mile journey from Brown’s native Rhode Island to Pittsburgh to see his grandson play.

Brown and Stewart faced adversity off the court together more recently as well. Much like former teammate Au’Diese Toney, Brown faced the shock of unexpected loss following the death of Anthony Stewart, Parker’s father and coach at University of Tennessee at Martin, where Parker had transferred to from Pitt.

“I feel for him,” Brown said. “I’m real close with his family.”

Stewart talked about sharing meals at his aunt’s house with Brown and how, after not speaking with anyone in the days following the loss of his father, Brown was one of the first people he called.

“I’ll always appreciate him being there when I needed him and he knows I’ll be there if he ever needs me one day. We always say we’re locked in for life,” Stewart said. “That’s my brother and I’m proud of what he has accomplished at Pitt, and how he’s stood there through everything even when it wasn’t going his way.”

The two still text or talk nearly every day, according to Stewart, who has since transferred again to Indiana.

Capel also expressed a sense of pride in the center he inherited in a conference call prior to Brown’s Senior Day win over Wake Forest.

“I feel for every one of those guys that had to experience that,” Capel said. “But I’m proud of Terrell for sticking it out. There’s something about the University of Pittsburgh that made him want to continue to be here. And I think he’s gotten better because of that experience.”

Things on the court rarely did seem to go the center’s way, but there have certainly been moments where the frontcourt “athleticism and skill” that Stallings espoused over the then-recruit Brown shone brightly. He showed those abilities earlier this month, racking up his first career double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds in a season-high 33 minutes during Pitt’s loss to NC State.

“It was cool and all, but we didn’t get the win,” Brown said postgame. “I was just trying to do whatever Coach told me to do, and he just says step up … Turned out I got a double-double. I didn’t plan it, but it just turned out I got a double-double.”

Rim protection has always proved a specialty for Brown, who finished the regular season tied for third in program history, alongside Sam Clancy, with 170 career rejections. But he’s focused on getting better at blocking things out off the court as well, practicing meditation on the advice of his grandfather.

“I realized doing it twice a day, when I wake up and before I go to bed, or before or during games … it helps to take 20 seconds to cleanse yourself,” Brown said.

An increased focus on a healthy mind has also helped Brown on the court, as coaches and players expected him to fill a leadership void. Despite being the team’s eldest statesman, Brown never sought the spotlight or a more vocal leadership role, but following the roster turnover and departures of Toney and Johnson, he has looked to step up out of necessity with a lack of veteran experience and voices around the team.

Capel specifically praised that aspect of Brown’s game as an area he’s improved in the last few weeks.

Brown described himself as a hesitant leader, someone who needed to “get out of [him]self” to fill the need.

“This year I had to be that guy that’s vocal during practice,” Brown said. “I would have to take it upon myself to be vocal.”

With all he has seen and been through in his four-year journey at Pitt, it is fitting that the team has needed his voice. Brown’s dedication to the program and the team never wavered as he quietly embraced the change.

Running through a royal blue tunnel of his teammates in front of a sparse yet energetic Petersen Events Center crowd as the team’s only player honoree on Senior Day, Terrell Brown was finally rewarded. The relieved smile on his face as he was mobbed said it all.

“I’m happy for him that he’s been able to play well over the last couple of weeks but I’m really proud of him for how much he’s grown,” Capel said. “Take basketball away, [I’m proud of] how much he’s grown as a man.”