Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
Xzayvier Brown’s college pick came down to two drastically different options: stay home and play in the Big 5 at Saint Joseph’s, or go across the country and carve an entirely new path at Southern Cal.
The appeal of PAC-12 and USC was undeniable, but so was family.
“Just the more and more I thought about it,” he said, “will I find another coaching staff that just wants me as much as St. Joe’s and will allow me to grow as a person and a player, and just be myself?
“And they also know me the best, the whole staff, because of my family ties to the program.”
Xzayvier Brown (above) helped Roman to the PIAA 6A title as a junior. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
At Saint Joseph’s, he’ll play not only for head coach Billy Lange, but also assistant coach Justin Scott — his step-father, who married Xzayvier’s mother Amber three years ago, their relationship beginning back when Xzayvier was “10 or 11.”
Thanks in part to that family connection, St. Joe’s was Brown’s first scholarship offer, back in January 2020, midway through his freshman season at Roman Catholic. But it was actually Lange who led the push there, after seeing Brown play with his son, Will Lange, on the K-Low 14U squad going into his freshman year at Roman.
“It was the first time he’d ever seen X play,” Scott said, “and Billy was like ‘this kid’s going to be terrific, I want to be the first one to offer him.’ I wasn’t there, I was like ‘eh, I dunno Coach,’ and he was like ‘I’m telling you, I want to be the first one to offer him. But I won’t do it until you and your wife are comfortable with me doing it.’
“And for me [...] I’d just gotten to St. Joe’s and I didn’t want people to think X was getting stuff because of me. He hadn’t played the high school game yet, this is 8th grade basketball, let’s see how his 9th grade year goes.
“It was probably like the Camden game — they beat Camden, the game was at Cherry Hill East I believe — as a freshman, and Xzayvier played really really well, might have had 15 or 16 points. And Billy asked me, ‘Is it okay now?’”
Over the two-plus years since, Brown added offers from USC, VCU, Marquette, Fordham, FGCU and several others, though the decision ultimately came down to the Hawks and Trojans. California held its own family connection. Brown’s biological father, Dwayne Brown, lives in Southern California with Brown’s step-mother, Kahlana Brown, and works in the insurance industry; the appeal of playing at the high-major level was certainly a factor as well.
On Sunday, after playing with K-Low Elite at the Adidas event in South Carolina, Brown told Scott he’d made up his mind.
“It was just a gut feeling that I had,” Brown said. “There definitely were pros and cons to both, but I just felt like St. Joe’s was the best place for me as a basketball player and as a person, off the court, because eventually one day I’ll stop playing basketball.I just felt like this was a place where it was just a great situation for me.
Scott said he wasn’t surprised by the commitment, only by the fact that Brown didn’t wait until after July to finalize his decision. Not that he was complaining.
“Oh man, it’s really exciting,” the former Arcadia head coach told CoBL. “[It’s] something that I always hoped would be a possibility at some point, even dating back to my Arcadia days; didn’t necessarily know at that point how good he would be. But as years progressed and you realized what level he was, and I got to a level where he was good enough for that level, something in the back of my mind, I thought ‘it would be great to coach your son.’”
A 6-foot-3 point guard, Brown has been an impact player on the varsity level since the first couple games of his freshman year, when he scored 10 points and dished out five assists, hitting four clutch free-throws in the final minute of a December 2019 showcase game against Methacton at Archbishop Wood, showing the maturity and court awareness which has been standout aspects of his game ever since.
Those are traits Brown had even back in his younger days, according to Scott, who first saw Brown at his Arcadia camps when he was not yet in middle school. (He and Amber, who attended the same church, were connected by some mutual friends not long after.)
“He was super-competitive, but also super-polite and a great kid,” Scott recalled of Brown. “It was the perfect balance between listening to directions and not acting out and just doing what’s asked of him, but within drills and game settings, just competitive and a hooper.”
Brown (above, in June at Philly Live) and Anthony Finkley will both go from Roman to Hawk Hill next year. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
He averaged 10.1 ppg, 6.9 apg and 4.2 rpg as a sophomore, according to the Catholic League’s official stat-keeper, shooting 49.5% overall and 33.3% (11-of-33) from 3-point range in the 12 games the Cahillites played during the COVID-shortened year.
Last season, as Roman (24-4) captured the PIAA Class 6A championship, he averaged 14.0 ppg, 6.2 apg and 4.7 rpg, shooting 54.2% overall and 31.3% (15-of-48) from 3-point range. He scored 16 points in the title game, with eight rebounds, four assists and two steals.
“X is our leader and our floor general,” Roman coach Chris McNesby said in a text. “St. Joe’s is picking up one of the best Philly guards in the city. We are happy he’s staying home!”
Brown is the second member of Roman’s senior class who’ll be headed to Saint Joseph’s next year, joining wing forward Anthony Finkley, who committed in mid-June. The two haven’t played an official high school game together, as Finkley transferred from Huntington Prep (W.Va.) back to the Catholic League — he began his high school career at West Catholic — midway through the 2021-22 season.
They’re plenty familiar with each other, however, from playing on the same K-Low squad the last few summers,
“He wasn’t in my ear, but I already know that he wants me to go there,” Brown said. “He’ll just joke around, but it wasn’t constantly, like ‘c’mon, c’mon.’ We both enjoy being with each other and playing with each other.”
The Hawks are coming off an 11-19 (5-13 A-10) season, Lange’s third on Hawk Hill since replacing longtime St. Joe’s coach Phil Martelli after the 2019-20 season.
The roster’s undergone a fair bit of change this offseason, with the departures of Jack Forrest (Bucknell), Dahmir Bishop (FGCU) and Rahmir Moore (Wagner), though the addition of a four-man class — including Gilman School (Md.) point guard Christian Winborne and Camden’s Rasheer Fleming, plus Harcum College transfer Louis Bleechmore — provides a nice influx of talent alongside Erik Reynolds II and Ejike Obinna.
Brown’s hoping that by the time he and Finkley arrive on campus, they’ll be joining a team brimming with young talent that’s ready to take a big leap up the A-10 standings.
“The players that are there now, Rasheer and Louis and Christian, they’re going to get a lot of experience this year,” he said. “So they might be young, but I always feel like, if you’re playing, throughout the time you play, you’ll just learn from your mistakes. [...] Technically they’ll still be young, but the way they’re playing, and how much they play, it’s definitely going to help us.”