Marquis Blackwell enrolled at Tacoma Community College from Snyder High School in New Jersey after being told of its decorated history as one of the top men’s basketball programs in the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges.
What he didn’t know: None of its players had a minute of college experience and its interim coach, Jesse Brown, had never been coach of a high school team, let alone a college one.
“I thought about leaving,” Blackwell said.
Then he got to know Brown a little better.
“He knows his stuff,” said Blackwell, who is averaging 13 points and a team-best 9.3 rebounds. “Especially on the defensive end — you can’t tell he’s a first-year coach. It seems like this is something he’s been doing for years.”
Brown was named interim coach in August after Carl Howell, the winningest active
coach in the NWAACC (363-109) at the time, resigned. Brown played for Howell at TCC almost 15 years ago and spent the past three years as an assistant under him.
“I had my interview and they said, ‘OK, we’d like to offer you the job for the year,’ ” Brown said. “At first I was super excited and happy to have a great opportunity.
“Then after about 30 seconds, I was like, ‘I got a lot of work to do.’ ”
First practices would start in two months. There was a roster to be filled, recruits to check on, families to meet.
“I had to recruit everybody over again,” Brown said.
He met again with recruits Howell had signed and told them expectations would be high and the program’s success would continue.
“Me and Jesse had a good relationship when Howell recruited me, so it really didn’t bother me,” said Terrell Lewis, a Lincoln High grad who leads TCC (7-7) in scoring at 17.5 points per game. “I had faith in Jesse. I know he knows what he is doing and how hard he studies this game.”
Now Brown’s roster looks like one Kentucky’s John Calipari would assemble — all freshmen.
“Even Jesse,” Lewis said. “He’s a freshman coach.
“There were players that originally signed with Howell and as soon as Jesse took over they were kind of iffy. But I believe Jesse is the kind of guy who can handle everything.”
If Brown is to lose his interim tag and be hired on past this season, he’ll have to prove that’s exactly what he can do.
Then again, he’s pretty used to that.
As a sophomore at Enumclaw High School, Brown’s mother planned to move to start an extension of her mother’s business in Alaska. He grew up with his brothers at his grandmother’s home before moving to Enumclaw, where Brown had become familiar with the Hornets’ basketball team. He wanted to stay.
Their decision: As long as his grades were good, he stayed out of trouble and took care of their animals, he could stay — by himself.
So he did. His mom flew down once or twice a month to check in and go grocery shopping with him.
“It was literally me by myself,” Brown said. “I would wake up, see the horses, go to basketball, go to school, go home, feed the horses, then go to basketball practice.
“For me, it was always basketball and taking care of responsibilities. There were a lot of responsibilities and certainly a lot of pressures on me.”
Brown was a decent scorer at Enumclaw, but Howell turned him into a lockdown defender at TCC. In two years, the Titans won two West Region titles and reached the NWAACC championship. Brown then played at NCAA Division II Alaska-Anchorage University and was named defensive player of the year.
“I wasn’t the best offensive player in college, but nobody was going to score on me,” Brown said. “That’s the mentality I want our guys to have — to take defense personally.”
Since then, Brown’s coached the freshmen team at Service High in Alaska, was hired as an assistant under Howell at TCC, went back to Alaska to finish his degree and was an assistant on the Alaska-Anchorage women’s basketball team before Howell added him back to his staff at TCC in 2010.
The jobs lack glamour, sure, but Brown has made up for it by having success at all of them. He helped Anchorage get an at-large berth to the NCAA Division II tournament, and TCC won its second championship in 10 years in 2012.
“When I got the job this year, one of the previous assistant coaches called me and said, ‘Hey Jesse, you know you didn’t earn this job just now.’ I’ve known his family for a long time, so they all know my story,” Brown said.
“He said, ‘You earned this job when you were 16 years old.’ ”
Brown has handled adversity before. So fighting for his coaching career isn’t concerning him.
“Honestly, until somebody tells me, I don’t even think about it,” Brown said. “I’ve had to earn everything in life. If people want to call this an audition, whatever. I take it as I’m the coach here and it’s mine until I prove otherwise.
“I see the situation we are in,” he continued. “If our administration sees how hard these kids play, and I hold kids accountable in the classroom, those things combined will earn me the job for good. But I’m not focusing on myself. If this lasts one year and they want to bring in somebody else, I’m going to be there for these players regardless because I love these guys, they are like my family.”TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677 email@example.com @Cotterill44