ANAHEIM, Calif. — Mark Brown prefers warm climates. The Utah State point guard was born and raised in balmy Tucson, Ariz., and began his college basketball career in sunny Southern California.
Each stop featured rays of success. A state championship at Santa Rita High School was followed by a crown at Saddleback Junior College. Individual accolades, in the form of player-of-the-year recognition, was awarded at both places.
Though slight in build — standing 5-foot-10 and weighing just 150 pounds — Brown has continually found ways to increase his stature. Challenges have been conquered. Adaptation, however, has its limits. One winter in Logan can do that to a guy.
"The hardest thing for me going from Tucson to Southern California to Utah is the cold and the snow," Brown said. "That was the toughest thing for me to adjust to. I don't think I'll ever get used to it.
"But as long as we keep winning," he added. "I have no complaints."
Brown, who led the Big West Conference in assists (4.5 per game) and was named honorable mention all-league, has guided the Aggies to a 21-8 record. On Thursday, he and his teammates open postseason play at the Anaheim Convention Center against Cal State Fullerton (9:35 p.m., Aggie Radio Network). Three wins in the Big West tourney will land USU a berth in the NCAA tournament.
"I see a bright future for Utah State," Brown said while stressing the importance of playing good defense and executing on offense. "If we can depend on each other and have good practices throughout."
Having a proven winner like Brown in the line-up will help. USU coach Stew Morrill credits him for keeping everyone on an even keel.
"Mark just understands the game and has a real good demeanor," Morrill said. "What he does best is keeping us organized."
The soft-spoken Brown remains calm when the heat is on.
"He brings a lot of leadership. He doesn't talk that much, but he controls the tempo of a game," said teammate Desmond Penigar. "He does all the necessary things out there to help this team win. He'll make the extra pass. He'll knock down an open jump shot. He's a great all-around player."
Penigar speaks from experience. He faced and lost to Brown in the junior college playoffs two years ago.
"When coach told me that he was coming here I was happy," Penigar said. "Because I know what he can do. I knew that he was going to help us win."
Brown's impact was immediate. On Dec. 2, he was named Big West Player of the Week after earning Most Valuable Player honors at the Hilo Shootout.
The transition to Division I basketball, obviously, wasn't that difficult.
"It really hasn't been that big of a challenge. At first, it was just getting the system down," Brown said. "As I played more, practiced more and got used to it, I was doing pretty good with it."
Morrill credits Brown for being a pass-first guy with a very solid attitude.
"We're just delighted to have him," Morrill said. "He's a natural point guard. That's where he's comfortable."
And so, too, are the Aggies — especially with Brown running the show at tournament time. Past history suggests he and his teammates won't leave empty-handed.
AG NOTES: Sophomore center Spencer Nelson was named co-Hustle Player of the Year by the Big West office . . . USU women's coach Raegan Scott-Pebley is in Anaheim to watch the ladies tournament. The Aggies will begin play next fall . . . Saturday's men's championship game will be broadcast live on ESPN at 10 p.m. MST . . . . USU is 2-1 against Fullerton in the Big West tourney.
2003 Big West tournament
Utah State (21-8, 12-6) vs. Cal State Fullerton (10-18, 8-10)
Anaheim Convention Center Arena (7,500)
Thursday, 9:30 p.m. (MST)
Aggie Radio Network
Utah State Aggies (21-8, 12-6)
Pos. No. Name Ht. Wt. Cl. PPG RPG APG
F 2 Desmond Penigar 6-7 245 Sr. 15.2 6.6 0.4
F 5 Toraino Johnson 6-4 215 Sr. 7.7 3.6 2.0
C 32 Spencer Nelson 6-8 225 So. 10.2 7.2 0.6
G 15 Cardell Butler 6-4 200 Jr. 8.0 2.3 1.5
G 20 Mark Brown 5-10 150 Jr. 8.7 2.4 4.4
Off The Bench
Pos. No. Name Ht. Wt. Cl. PPG RPG APG
G 1 Ronnie Ross 6-1 190 Sr. 6.2 1.6 1.9
F 4 Nate Harris 6-7 230 Fr. 5.6 3.4 0.3
C 11 Mike Puzey 6-9 240 Sr. 1.8 2.9 0.1
G 13 Michael Stowell 6-3 210 So. 1.5 0.6 0.8
G 21 Calvin Brown 5-10 160 So. 0.6 0.3 0.7
G 22 K.C. Comadena 5-11 165 Fr. 1.7 0.0 0.0
G 24 Greg Patton 6-1 175 Jr. 1.3 0.6 1.1
F 44 Chad Evans 6-7 210 Jr. 1.7 2.2 0.5
Thursday's quarterfinals (in bracketed order)
Cal Poly (14-13) vs. Idaho (13-14), 1 p.m.
Santa Barbara (17-12) vs. Pacific (12-15), 3:30 p.m.
UC Irvine (19-8) vs. CS Northridge (14-14), 7 p.m.
UTAH STATE (21-8) vs. CS Fullerton (10-18), 9:30 p.m.
(All times Mountain)