Bruce Weber had a question for the entire Kansas State basketball team three Novembers ago.
Who is going to be our defensive stopper?
“I am,” said K-State guard Barry Brown, raising his right hand without hesitation as a freshman.
Brown, now a star junior guard, has certainly lived up to that label. He regularly defends the opposition’s top scorer and regularly shuts him down. That much has been obvious during K-State’s run to the Sweet 16.
Many expected Creighton guard Marcus Foster, a former K-State standout, to go bonkers against his old team in the first round. And yet, Brown held him to five points on 11 shots for his worst statistical game in a Bluejays uniform. Next, Brown was tasked with slowing UMBC sharpshooter Jairus Lyles, who had just exploded for 28 points in a historic upset over Virginia. And yet, he needed 15 shots to score 12 points against the Wildcats.
Brown was also strong with the ball in his hands, scoring 18 points in both victories, but no one seemed to notice because he was so good on defense.
A reporter had a question for Brown afterward. Are you the best one-on-one defender in the NCAA Tournament?
“Most definitely,” Brown answered, again without hesitation.
That’s a debatable statement, given the plethora of great defensive players that made the Big Dance. But he’s definitely in the conversation along with West Virginia guard Jevon Carter and Villanova stopper Mikal Bridges.
How did he join that group?
That’s a story that goes back to his high school days in St. Petersburg, Fla. when he played for Gibbs coach Larry Murphy.
He joined the team with a focus on offense and a desire to score 30 points every time he took the floor. That’s fine for some coaches, but not Murphy. He had a message for Brown early into his freshman season: learn to defend or watch from the bench.
“I wasn’t really a defensive player until I went to high school and he told me that,” Brown said. “So playing defense and being able to stop somebody is something I kind of grew into.”
So much so it’s now what he’s known for.
Brown has become the player opposing players hate to see. At 6-foot-3, he is long enough to disrupt ball-handlers in every direction. At 195 pounds, he is strong enough to force shooters away from the three-point line. He also scouts teams like a coach, watching hours of video on his next matchup until he knows his tendencies.
“He is tough,” K-State senior Mason Schoen said. “For starters, he does his homework. He reads the scouting report and watches film intensely every single game. He pays attention to detail really well. If he’s on the ball, he never lets his man get in front of him. When his player doesn’t have the ball, he makes sure he doesn’t get the ball back unless it’s at the half-court line. He’s tough and he’s physical. I have to deal with him on a daily basis and I can tell you it’s not fun.”
Best, or worst, of all, depending on your perspective, he never gets fatigued.
“Barry isn’t the type of defender to take go hard for a while and then take plays off,” K-State junior Amaad Wainright said. “He just really locks in. You have to take out your best moves on Barry in every practice, because he can full speed for 1,000 possessions until he gets tired.”
Weber is proud of Brown’s defensive maturity. Though he showed promise as a freshman, he was hardly an elite stopper. Veteran Big 12 players found ways to score against him, and he wore down in March. He got better as a sophomore and then blossomed as a junior.
“He knew where he was going,” Weber said.
His breakout moment came against Oklahoma, when freshman phenom Trae Young and the Sooners entered Bramlage Coliseum as one of the nation’s hottest teams.
Many expected OU and Young to have their way with the Wildcats. Instead, Brown pestered Young into a conference record 12 turnovers and 20 points on 21 shots. K-State won 87-69, setting the table for prolonged success.
Brown went on to earn second-team All-Big 12 honors and land on the league’s all-defensive team.
Which accolade meant to more him? There’s no need to ask.
“I would rather hold a top scorer scoreless than score 30 points myself – easily,” Brown said. “I know I am going to score. Maybe I don’t score 30, but if I hold my man scoreless than I did my job to the fullest.”
Brown has been active everywhere this season, also averaging 16.1 points and 3.3 assists.
“That’s what makes him so good,” K-State forward Dean Wade said. “You see a lot of great offensive players in the nation, but you don’t see a lot of great offensive players that are just as good on defense. He’s a two-way player. He has 30-point games, but his defense goes overlooked sometimes. I personally think he is a top five defender in the nation.”
Brown can further prove himself against Kentucky at Philips Arena on Thursday in the Sweet 16. Kentucky has several future NBA players on its roster, including Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Hamidou Diallo.
Both will have a size advantage. Brown won’t back down.
This is what he signed up for three Novembers ago.