Before, during, and after the game… no matter the situation… regardless of the stakes… Xzayvier Brown kept smiling.
“It’s fun,” said Brown, who earlier this year reached 1,000 points for his career. “I still feel like I’m four years old just playing basketball.”
En route to the program’s Catholic League-best 33rd title, a 57-52 overtime win over Neumann-Goretti, the Cahillites sped to leads of 16-11 after one quarter and 22-11 halfway through the second. They maintained their edge until 1:26 remained in the third quarter when Neumann-Goretti junior Amir Williams (eight points) drilled a three to put the Saints ahead, 32-31.
From that point, it appeared as though Neumann-Goretti would defend last year’s championship. Behind the offense of junior Robert Wright (13 points, seven in the third), senior Sultan Adewale (13 points), and a outstanding second half by senior Bruce Smith (all 12 of his points in the second half), the Saints led 46-39 late in the fourth quarter and 48-42 inside the final minute. It would take a near basketball miracle for Roman to pull out a win.
“We’ve been through a lot of adversity this year,” said Brown. “When you’re on the biggest stage, you have to be the team that fights back.”
In the closing seconds, three free throws by Brown cut the deficit to 48-45. Neumann-Goretti then missed the front end of a one-and-one, and Roman raced down the court with a chance to tie. But Brown’s attempt hit the front of the rim, and the Saints rebounded and went to the line for two free throws. Incredibly, both missed, and Roman had yet another chance at redemption.
Everyone knew who was going to get Roman’s last shot, but this time, a confident Brown dribbled up court, stopped, set himself, and with the clock about to hit zeroes, banked home a three-pointer that tied the score at 48-48 and set Roman’s adjacent student section below the basket into boisterous delirium.
“It’s composure,” said Brown, who next year will play at St. Joseph’s University. “I believe in myself, so I just try to calm down. I missed the first one; it was short. I wasn’t panicking because I believe in my work and I believe in my teammates. All my teammates believe in me. I think it was God’s plan.”
Cahillites coach Chris McNesby, who captured his third title in 10 years at his beloved alma mater, deflected all plaudits to his players, including senior Anthony Finkley (13 points, including key three-pointer in fourth quarter), senior Jermai Stewart-Herring (10 points, three-point shot to start off overtime), senior Erik Oliver-Bush (six points, bucket in OT), sophomore Shareef Jackson (six points), and junior Robert Cottrell (two points and lots of energy off the bench).
But the orchestrator of this win was clearly Brown, who struggled early yet still finished with a game-high 20 points and seven assists.
“To have him make that shot . . . he deserves it,” said McNesby. “That moment was his – a four-year guy at Roman who has been through it all. Around school everyone loves him. Great student. Great ambassador for the program. He embodies what a Roman Catholic basketball player should be.”
Despite playing for the city’s most successful program, Brown said he has always enjoyed the lofty expectations.
“It’s great,” said Brown. “I like the extra motivation. It makes you work hard. It’s fun.”
Then . . . that trademark wide grin.
Some things never change.
Contact John Knebels at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @johnknebels
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