In 2002, Sergio Brown was playing a basketball game at a gym in Chicago's south side. Leaders of the iHoops First Team program were in attendance, wearing NCAA shirts.
Eventually, Sergio's extrovert father, Mario--the kind of guy who had a million friends--came down from the stands, introduced himself to the First Team staff and quickly struck up a conversation about the objectives of First Team and what student-athletes could learn from the experience. Mario himself was a former college athlete, having been the first African-American to play basketball at Texas A&M.
Mario Brown loved what First Team stood for, and soon after, Sergio was accepted into the program. After Mario's death, First Team started handing out the Mario Brown Award at the annual conference, given to the player best representing Mario's characteristics--team spirit, participation, sportsmanship, citizenship and adherence to the First Team Code of Ethics.
Even in death, Mario Brown's spirit lives on. And his son couldn't be more proud.
"It means a lot to me and my family," Sergio said. "We know what type of person he was, and for him to affect the people in First Team in such a short period of time...we're really grateful for that."
Not surprisingly, Sergio has taken his father's beliefs to heart and has become a success story of his own. He's close to graduating from the University of Notre Dame with a degree in marketing, and he was a four-year letterwinner on the prestigious Fighting Irish football team.
As he wrapped up his college career, Sergio Brown met with iHoops.com to discuss his father, the First Team program and his decision to play football in college rather than basketball.
Where did you first hear about First Team?
They were out doing their rounds. My father, he was a real loudmouth kind of guy, yelling and screaming at the game. He saw these people with NCAA shirts on and went and interrogated them. Everything came out about First Team from there.
Despite the preparation for basketball recruiting, you ended up playing football in college. Why the change of heart?
College basketball was my first love and it was my main option at first. My junior year, I had an incredible football season. And then right after that, I started playing basketball. I was doing good in basketball and then around Christmas I dislocated my ankle, and I didn't play for the rest of the season. By that time I had shoeboxes and shoeboxes of letters for football. We put together a highlight tape and I ended up going to a Nike camp. I left the Nike camp with 30 offers, so I thought maybe football was the way to go.
Did the First Team experience still help out even though you picked a different sport?
Of course. It's still gives you a lot of information and experience that you really can't duplicate. Basically, all the rules are the same between football and basketball as far as recruiting goes and everything. It's just your main focus is a different ball. I would really recommend it because it's a great experience and you get a lot out of it.
Why did you choose Notre Dame?
Notre Dame had a big name for football and for academics. It's a very prestigious school. They play on TV every week. Plus, I'm from Chicago and it's only 90 miles from Chicago so it's real close to me and my family can come to a lot of my games.
What are your plans for after football?
Marketing is my major, and after football, hopefully I can pursue my marketing career and get into something with clothing, doing market research. I want to do something with clothing.
Do you miss basketball?
I really miss basketball. In the offseason, I play with a lot of the guys on the team who played in high school. At Notre Dame, we've got the biggest outdoor basketball tournament in the springtime called the Bookstore Basketball Tournament, so I play in that.
What's your biggest accomplishment at Notre Dame?
I'm going to be able to graduate in four years at the No. 2 business school in the nation. That's going to help me the rest of my life, no matter if I can't play football or be athletic in any form or fashion.
What was your favorite part of the First Team experience?
The summer conferences, of course. We get to go some place new and we get to see people from different parts of the country. We get to interact with people and really make lifelong friends. There are people in basketball that I'm still friends with to this day because of First Team.