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Brownsword ’18: The Brown community can't miss the chance to impact men's basketball history

Friday and Saturday night mark perhaps the most important Brown men’s basketball games in over a decade.

It has been 11 years since Brown finished in the top four of the Ivy League standings. That was four years before the Ivy League created Ivy Madness, in which the top four teams play in a single elimination tournament for a berth in March Madness. Tonight’s game against Harvard and tomorrow’s Senior Night against Dartmouth is a chance to perhaps — emphasis on perhaps — seal Brown’s first berth to the Ivy League’s postseason tournament. 

For the thousands of Brown alumni that were not alive for the Bears’ last two meaningful postseason games in 1939 and 1986, this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to witness history being made. I’ve seen the hardest-working seniors play in empty gyms in their last opportunity to win a championship. Brown students have an obligation to show up this weekend and will this team to victory.

In the seven years of Ivy Madness, Brown has tied for fourth place three times and lost a berth via tiebreaker each time. Last year resulted in the same misfortune, as the Bears ultimately finished in fifth place. With three games remaining, Brown finds itself in a familiar position this year: tied for fourth. 


Things looked bleaker in mid-February when Princeton’s 13-0 run left the Bears with must-win away games at Penn, Columbia and Cornell. In the decade of Brown men’s basketball I have witnessed, these games are historically hard to win. Brown is 8-10 on the road against those three opponents in the last six seasons. My true Brown men’s basketball fans will remember the Bears’ six-game losing streak in 2018 that included two losses at Columbia and Cornell to seal Brown’s tragic fate. 

This team won not one, not two, but all three of these games — including a gutsy win against first-place Cornell to move into fourth place, for the time being. This team is unique and has the best chance of any Brown men’s basketball team in years. I hope that the University community appreciates these players with an increased fervor this weekend. 

In my decade-plus experience with Brown Athletics, the empty stands far outweigh the full ones. The appreciation for our athletes does not come close to the uncompensated hours they put in for the benefit of our University community. So far, the home crowds this year have been great, contributing to a formidable home atmosphere. But this weekend, with Harvard and Dartmouth coming to town, Brown students must make sure that the Pizzitola Sports Center is the loudest gym in New England. This team deserves it.

In a changing college sports landscape, I want Brown to continue to appreciate what these players have done for our University. With an open transfer portal and the monetization of college sports, the outlook for athletic programs and teams in smaller leagues is not positive. Within the Ivy League, Brown is the underdog against schools like Yale, Princeton and Harvard, and probably always will be. So players may think the path to an Ivy League men’s basketball title is an improbable four-year goal at Brown. And after the loss at Princeton, I could hardly blame them for questioning the possibility this year. I know I did.

But in a world of Leland Kings and Desmond Cambridges, there is one Kino Lilly Jr. — the best basketball player this school has seen in a long, long time. We also have Kimo Ferrari, Malachi Ndur and Felix Kloman, who, after losing a season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, have worked hard to become integral members of this team. Ferrari in particular has dealt with a multitude of injuries and still comes off the bench, working harder than anyone on defense. His countless efforts yielded one of the most impressive individual performances of the season: 18 points on 6 threes to lead the Bears in their February victory over Columbia. The win also wouldn’t have been possible without junior Aaron Cooley nailing two clutch free throws and coming up with the blocks of the season on back-to-back possessions with under a minute left on the clock.

But the talent doesn’t end there. In recent games against Princeton and Cornell, Lyndel Erold, Alexander Lesburt Jr., Kalu Anya and Nana Owusu-Anane all played pivotal roles. Anya and Owusu-Anane in particular outworked a Big Red team that seemed more interested in the referees than effort. Maybe we’ll see them later.

With longstanding Head Coach Mike Martin at the helm, this roster features more than ten players ready to contribute meaningfully toward Bruno’s success. We have seen them with their backs against the wall throughout this entire season; some players have played with that uphill challenge for their entire careers here. This team has responded to the adversity unlike any other I have seen. These seniors, juniors, sophomores and first-years deserve to be celebrated for their past, current and future accomplishments. 

This group has the best ever chance to do what no Brown men’s basketball team has ever done, and that starts this weekend against Harvard and Dartmouth. I don’t want to see an empty seat in the house. It is the student body’s time to step up and be the final piece that Brown needs to get over the hump and into Ivy Madness. For our seniors. For Kino Lilly and Nana Owusu-Anane. For our winningest coach of all time. And for this historic moment.  

If the Bears reach Ivy Madness for the first time, they will undoubtedly be a four seed without the home court, as heavy underdogs, and with their backs against the wall. A notice to Brown students and alumni and the rest of the Ivy League: I would not count them out of anything.

Matt Brownsword ’18, a former Herald senior editor and sports editor, can be reached at Like the last seven years, he'll be on the edge of his seat, heart racing yet again when the score in both games is inevitably tied up with five minutes to go. Hopefully, this time, with thousands of others.


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