OLIVE HILL —
John “Hop” Brown cherished his only son.
Known as Kyle, John Kyle Cleveland Brown is named after Hop himself, former Kentucky basketball great Kyle Macy, and Hop’s favorite professional football team.
Growing up, Kyle was in Hop’s “back pocket,” as Kyle put it, whether it was in the gym, on the golf course or wherever.
Eyes brighten and ears perk at the mention of his dad’s name.
When, in August 2003, innocent Kyle lost his loving (and widely adored) father at the age of 9, the boy wept the saddest kind of tears. Hop, an area legend, had died of brain cancer.
“I remember seeing Kyle sitting on the driveway bawling,” said Comets statistician Chris Perry. “That’s an image I can’t shake.”
On Thursday, Kyle played his final game as a Comet on John “Hop” Brown Court. He put on a grand show for friends and family, and even his dad, who Kyle knows is watching.
“He sees everything that goes on,” Kyle said.
Kyle is licking the envelope and sealing shut a magnificent career. His 32 points on Thursday lifted him to No. 1 on the school’s all-time scoring list, at 1,868. He also owns school records in steals (224) and games played (124), a record which was previously held by head coach Jeremy Webb. Also, he’s just four made 3-pointers short of another school mark.
While West Carter has struggled this season with a ton of youth and inexperience surrounding Brown, he has excelled. His rebounding numbers have skyrocketed to just fewer than 10 per game. The 6-foot-2 guard even grabbed a career-best 16 rebounds in a game this season. His scoring average is 23 points.
“In the past, he's been a spot-up shooter that could play off the dribble a little bit,” Webb said. “This year we post him a little bit, he spots up and shoots, he plays off the dribble, he plays point guard, he's the power forward or the center. He's just stepped in and filled any role that we've asked him to do.”
On Tuesday, Brown and the Comets (8-18) travel to East Carter to take on the Raiders in the first round of the 62nd District tournament. So far, a district title has proved to be elusive for Brown.
As sisters Kim, Karla and Kandi did before him, Kyle wears No. 41.
Of course, Hop did, too, back in his playing days.
Kandi is second on West Carter girls’ career scoring list with 2,599 points — Penny Gearhart is first, with 2,711. As a senior, Kandi starred on the 2000 Lady Comets state championship team, coached by Hop.
Kyle was just a 5-year-old waterboy, but he still retains a vivid memory from the captivating run.
“One thing I remember, for some reason, is Penny Gearhart driving baseline and the ref called her out of bounds,” he said. “I remember screaming and telling Dad that she didn’t step out.”
Kim achieved a 16th Region tournament made 3-pointers record, with seven treys in a game.
Gary Brown, Kyle’s uncle, owned the school’s scoring record from 1973 to 1993.
Kandi shared a few tips to help Kyle harness his game.
“I used to like to sling (the ball) a little from the side and I remember Kandi helped me work on my shot and got my form down a little better,” he said.
Now, Kyle is teaching the game to his nephews, Dalton Brown and J.T. Johnson, who are in eighth and seventh grade, respectively.
What would the Brown family have been like without basketball?
Sharon, Kyle’s mom and Hop’s wife, didn’t have an answer.
“I don’t know what we would’ve done to fill our time,” she said. “We spent every free minute we had with sports.”
Said Kyle of the West Carter High gym: “It feels like I’ve been in that gym for 40 years,” he smiled. “But now that it’s winding down, it seems like I just started, like I just got there. It’s kind of a two-way feeling.”
Picking Up the Clubs
Transylvania University basketball/golf coach Brian Lane has already contacted Kyle about the possibility of playing both sports at the Lexington-based college next year.
While Brown is uncertain of his future schooling plans, he is just as confident in his golf game as he is in his basketball skills. He regularly places high in both high school and EKJGA (Eastern Kentucky Junior Golf Association) events.
Taught by his father, also a golf coach, Kyle has always possessed a natural ability with the clubs. As a youngster, though, he couldn’t carry his bag while playing. So, he had to ride a cart.
No big deal, right?
Well, it was to Hop. He loathed golf carts.
“He said that was the laziest way to play golf,” Kyle grinned. “He hated riding on a cart, but he had to with me. He said that hurt him.”
A Hop-like Impact
As the list of accomplishments unyieldingly grows, showers of praise are inevitable.
Kyle is moved most, though, by comparisons to his father.
“Chris Perry will tell me that he thinks he’s talking to (Hop) sometimes when he’s talking to me,” Kyle said. “My sisters tell me all the time that my feet look just like his.
“The biggest compliment anybody could give me is that I looke like my dad or act like my dad.”
When he glances to the wall inside West Carter’s gym containing the words John “Hop” Brown Court, Kyle doesn’t necessarily succumb to the pressures of following a mere basketball legend. Hop was more than that. His impact permeated the region for several reasons.
“That’s the toughest thing to live up to, not really the basketball, but just the kind of man he was from what everybody tells me,” Kyle said. “All the great stories that I hear about him ... I mean, I can come to Ashland, Morehead, Grayson, anywhere. Everybody knew him and what a great guy he was.”
Hop had a gift for whipping out witty one-liners. Sometimes, he could have an entire room rolling.
Kyle’s more laid-back and reserved, but that infectious sense of humor is a passed-down trait.
When asked what it was like to be surrounding by women — three sisters and mother — all the time, Kyle came up with a gem.
“I’m just glad I didn’t turn out gay!” he said. Then he paused. “I’m serious!”
Then he admitted, “I’m just babied, pretty spoiled to be honest.”
With 23 years separating Kim and Kyle, and 12 between Kandi and Kyle, Kandi was the only sibling living in the house when Kyle was young.
In 2000, Kandi began dating Gerad Parker, a Lawrence County football standout who went on to play at Kentucky. They’re now married, and he’s an assistant coach at Purdue.
Gerad was one of three brothers in-law who helped fulfill that all-important father figure role in Kyle’s life.
Gerad and Kandi were in attendance when West Carter played at Ashland this past Tuesday.
Prior to leaving for his newly acquired job in West Lafayette, Ind., Gerad told Kyle, “I’ll be sending you a letter,” since he couldn’t be there for Kyle’s Senior Night celebration.
An excerpt from that letter:
As I look back and reflect on the 13 years I've known you, I can only muster up smiles for the great memories of watching you grow as a man and then cry for the same reasons. All the talks, the tears, the vacations, golf rounds, shooting sessions and a couple butt-chewings have got you all here to your moment.
You've battled the tough times of becoming a man and you've done it with your father not being here with you. You didn't ask for a handout, you didn't use an excuse, you took who you were and who he was and blended it into becoming a great man. This night is about you and your family and celebrating your accomplishments. All I can say is you've reached everything I expected you would.
In what was a fitting end to a storybook four-plus years as a varsity Comet, Brown was recognized prior to Thursday’s game at center court.
The game was paused when he poured in a 3-pointer to surpass Casey Lowe as the greatest scorer in Comets lore.
John “Hop” Brown Court, as its known today, will be taken up and replaced during the offseason.
One of the last pairs of sneakers to ever grace the surface belonged to John Kyle Cleveland Brown. And Son did Dad proud.
What would Hop think now?
“He would be everything he ever wanted,” Sharon said.
AARON SNYDER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2664.