Kyle Lindsted’s job was to prepare Zach Brown for Division I basketball. Brown’s job was to develop into a player who wasn’t miscast at that level.
The goals for Lindsted and Brown were similar, but they didn’t immediately find common ground.
Brown, a Wichita State freshman, played one year of prep school basketball for Lindsted at Sunrise Academy in Wichita after attending high school in Houston. Brown played alongside other high-level recruits and future college players but didn’t find his niche right away.
“He really struggled for us,” Lindsted said. “He struggled to get on the court, he took bad shots, he didn’t really know how to use what he had. I think he saw himself as ‘The Show’ instead of a piece.”
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Brown, 19, committed to Wichita State in May of 2013, so he played at Sunrise without the worries of impressing college coaches.
Except Brown tried too hard to impress college coaches, Lindsted said.
“He was in Wichita, and (Shockers) coaches were at the games now,” Lindsted said. “Wichita State fans were following him closely. I think he felt added pressure to be the man. Early, that hurt him. He was pressing so hard to be great.”
When Brown left Sunrise, Lindsted still wasn’t completely sure that Brown was ready for major college basketball. He saw plenty of moments that indicated Brown’s readiness, but those moments were trailed by regression to the player Brown was when he arrived from Houston.
A switch to point guard at Sunrise, while not a move that followed Brown to Wichita State, finally showed Lindsted a skill set that Brown believed could translate to college. While handling the ball, the 6-foot-7 Brown involved teammates, became more reliable and didn’t take as many ill-advised shots.
“I think he flourished,” Lindsted said. “He just didn’t put up huge numbers. I think he understood that he had to do whatever he could to help the team. Last year’s team was pretty good. Our worst position was point guard, so we needed Zach to come in and do that, and he did it.”
“I feel like it helped out my decision-making,” Brown said. “It gave me a reason to work on my ball-handling a lot more. It helped me along with preparing myself for Wichita State. In the position I’m in at Wichita State, I have to handle the ball some and that has helped me out a lot.”
Sunrise didn’t need Brown to be a star, and neither does Wichita State. The Shockers have stars in Ron Baker, Tekele Cotton and Fred VanVleet, so Brown can fill in the gaps.
Brown has done that in NCAA Tournament wins over Indiana and Kansas, combining for 18 points and nine rebounds. He had season-highs of 11 points, seven rebounds and 23 minutes in the round of 64 against Indiana.
Brown’s development at Wichita State has been as halting as it was at Sunrise. Brown scored 22 points in the entirety of the Shockers’ Missouri Valley Conference schedule, missing four games with concussion symptoms in February.
The breakthrough began with Brown’s eight points in the first round of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament against Southern Illinois and culminated with the best game of his young career against Indiana.
Then, against KU, he had a defining moment, beating Jayhawks freshman Kelly Oubre to a loose ball near midcourt and escaping for a breakaway dunk.
“There’s still so much positive upside with him,” Shockers coach Gregg Marshall said. “I think he’s really starting to hit his stride with his confidence.”
Brown can be a deadly three-point shooter (he’s made 11 of 23 this season) but he has made impressions in other areas. His size causes problems for the smaller guards he often defends, and Brown is quick enough to stay in front of most of them.
Defense was a development area for Brown, too, but he picks up pointers from Cotton, the Shockers’ best defender, when Cotton guards him in practice.
“He’s showed me a lot,” Brown said. “Especially from the first few months, beating me and showing me who the real veteran is throughout that time. But I feel like I’ve grown a lot throughout this year.”
Cotton sees the same progress.
“He’s going to be a big-time player to me,” Cotton said. “He’s very athletic, he can shoot the ball, he’s aggressive. He’s going to be a big-time player.”
Brown had those skills at Sunrise, too, but he needed to harness them. Changing his mentality from that of a surefire star to one who needed to contribute to team chemistry allowed him to become more well-rounded as a player and as a teammate.
“It prepared me, it helped me grow physically, mentally,” Brown said. “It helped me with my skill work. I came from going to Sunrise at 185 pounds to coming to Wichita State at 215. It helped me grow a lot through basketball and as a person.”