OSU freshman Markel Brown shines on court, in life
BY JIMMIE TRAMEL World Sports Writer
Monday, March 07, 2011
3/07/11 at 6:11 AM
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STILLWATER - You can call Oklahoma State basketball player Markel Brown a hero for what he did in a homecourt finale against Baylor.
Brown blocked five shots, one shy of the freshman school record. Consecutive late-game blocks helped transform a close game into an 11-point victory.
But Brown knows better than to categorize someone who plays games as a hero.
Want a real hero?
In February 2007, Southern University student David Eggins made a weekend trip to his hometown of Alexandria, La.
A house in Eggins' neighborhood caught fire. He attempted to rescue two people - 79-year-old Annie Guillot and 106-year-old Edna Carr - trapped inside the burning home.
Imagine being in that predicament.
Do nothing, people die.
Do something, and the price could be your life.
"That's what makes him a hero," Brown said. "He wasn't scared. He just did it."
Eggins failed to survive his own bravery. He kicked down a door and was swallowed by flames, dying at age 21.
Brown knows about this not just because he was four houses down the street when the home was ablaze.
Eggins was Brown's uncle.
You can't do justice to a relationship in one sentence, but Eggins taught Brown how to drive a car, loaned his car to Brown when the kid needed a set of wheels and offered advice when they talked after every one of Brown's basketball games.
In fact, Eggins came home that tragic weekend so he could watch Brown play in a late-season game. Brown said Eggins was excited to watch the game, but maybe he also knew Brown needed as much support as possible.
Two months earlier, Brown's 33-year-old mother, Antoinette, died of cardiac arrest.
Death heaped on death left Brown wondering if his world was coming apart. He was fortunate he could rely on two things - the family business, alias basketball, and a backup mom, alias grandmother Jerrie Mae Eggins.
Brown talks as if every male and female in his family tree played basketball. An uncle, DeAndre Eggins, played at Arkansas-Little Rock and Washburn University in Kansas. Brown's dad, Dameon Markel Pinkston, played at a Mississippi junior college and Southern University.
It was Brown's birthright to hoop.
"I think it was my brother who gave Markel his first basketball at 3 years old," Jerrie Mae said. "And I mean he was dribbling all through his legs and stuff at that age. My brother looked at me and said, 'He's going to be somebody.' "
Brown became this person: He was voted Mr. Basketball in Louisiana after a senior season in which he led Peabody Magnet School to an unbeaten state title season.
If basketball seemed to offered few obstacles, life offered plenty.
Brown's mother suffered an aneurysm and spent the last 11 years of her life in a nursing home. Though physically impaired, she was able to communicate with her son.
"Any chance that I could get, I would try to go see her and talk to her," Brown said. "Just seeing her was a good thing."
Brown said he has a good relationship with his father. But dad wasn't always around, and he's not ashamed to admit why. He was tempted by the opportunity to make a quick buck and spent time in jail for drug-related offenses.
"That's something I don't want Markel to have to deal with or go through in his life," Pinkston said. "I have no problem with him using me as an influence, like the negative things I have done in my life, if he can use that as something positive to learn from."
Pinkston, 35, said he was one month shy of his 16th birthday when his son was born. He was still a child himself and who, at that age, is ready to raise a child?
Filling a parental void was Pinkston's mother, Jerrie Mae, who also took in Brown's little sister. Brown said his grandma is the most important person in his life.
"She has done a lot for her other grandkids, too," he said. "She sacrificed a lot. Like, when bills needed to be paid, she was always thinking about us more than the bills."
Jerrie Mae said she focused on making sure Brown went to school and graduated. She also wanted to help him mature into a man.
"I feel I did that," she said. "But he's still a baby, because he's my baby. I have to give myself credit. I did the best I could."
"She did a wonderful job," Pinkston said. "Thank God he turned out the way he did."
But the problem with being raised in a basketball family is everyone is equipped to critique. Jerrie Mae said her grandson has done an "amazing" job to start college games as a freshman. "Sometimes in certain games, I feel he can do better," Jerrie Mae said. "But I love him to death."
Charles Smith, who has helmed the Peabody basketball program since 1985, has called Brown the best player he ever coached.
At the end of a recent interview, Pinkston said he wanted to thank Smith, OSU assistant Butch Pierre (the point man during Brown's recruitment) and OSU head coach Travis Ford for their roles in getting Markel to Stillwater.
"It's kind of hard to believe sometimes, seeing your child on TV," Pinkston said. "It's a reality check, you know? I'm very happy with what he has done so far. I just tell him the sky is the limit."
Brown averaged 8.5 points and 3.7 rebounds in his first 10 games after cracking the lineup. He came off the bench the last two games and produced a stat line (10 points, six rebounds, a career-high five blocks, a career-high four assists) against Baylor that Ford described as "off the chart."
"Markel's going to be an elite player here someday," the coach said. "It just takes time. But he's got the physical tools to do it. And five blocks is just incredible."
Brown leads OSU in blocks despite being a 6-foot-3 guard.
Possible reason No. 1: Brown is, according to teammate Marshall Moses, a "freak athlete."
Possible reason No. 2: Perhaps Brown is listening to his father, who reminds him that everybody on a college team was a high school star.
"There are going to be ups and downs," Pinkston said.
"You've just got to stick with it. As long as you play defense, that will keep you on the floor at all times, regardless of what your offense is doing.
"Like I tell him, if you mess up doing 100 percent, the coach will know you are trying. Nobody wants to see you half-doing something and messing up. You will never get back on the floor. But as long as you are playing defense and hustling, you will be all right."
Brown is all right in a bigger sense because he is carrying himself in a manner that would make his mother and his heroic uncle proud. He said he easily could have given up on everything after they died - but he's glad he didn't.
"It changed me," he said, "because I know that I can fight through things if I really want to."
Original Print Headline: He knows heroes
Jimmie Tramel 918-581-8389
Freshman Markel Brown had to overcome a tough childhood, including losing his mother, on his road to OSU. ZACH GRAY / Tulsa World
Markel Brown (right) celebrates with teammate Marshall Moses after the Cowboys' win over Baylor. JAMES GIBBARD / Tulsa World