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Brownlee helps Thiel basketball team succeed

| Saturday, April 20, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
R.J. Brownlee, a Ringgold graduate, averaged 5.5 points and nearly three rebounds per game for Thiel.

His individual statistics at the end of a game, season or even career will not overwhelm anyone, but R.J. Brownlee's contribution to Thiel College was a valuable one.

A 6-foot-2-inch senior guard from Donora and Ringgold High School, Brownlee helped the Tomcats achieve a fourth straight winning season and advance to the semifinals of the President's Athletic Conference Tournament in 2012-13.

“R.J.'s maturity level went from a 50 to 100 this past year,” said Tim Loomis, who completed his sixth year as Thiel's head coach this past season. “Not talent-wise, but I think this past year's team was our best overall team since I've been here, and he was an important factor in our success.”

Brownlee made 12 starts in 23 games played and averaged more than 23 minutes per game, the most of all the players coming predominantly off the bench. He averaged 5.5 points and nearly three rebounds per game. Brownlee was fifth on the team in made field goals (49) and also produced 31 assists, 20 steals and three blocks. Thiel's 6-0 start to the season was its best in program history. The Tomcats also upset NCAA Division II rival Clarion University in an exhibition game, 61-59.

Loomis said Brownlee provided depth, leadership and was a defensive stopper.

“He's the kind of guy we wanted to drive the ball, draw the foul, push the ball down the floor and just fit in with everybody, and that's what he did,” Loomis said.

Loomis, who has coached college basketball for more than 30 years, also praised Brownlee's blue-collar effort.

“R.J. was a leader on this team and always doing the dirty work,” he said. “He's a great defender and could defend anyone regardless what size they were. He just did what he could do. There weren't too many nights he was taking bad shots and he could wear down opponents defensively.”

Brownlee was one of four seniors on the 2012-13 Tomcats who produced Thiel's finest three-year stretch of basketball after enduring a two-win season in 2008-2009.

Over the past three seasons Thiel has compiled a 50-25 cumulative record and 36-10 conference mark.

The 2010-11 squad won the program's first regular season conference title with a 13-1 mark and reached the PAC title game before losing by seven points to perennial power Bethany (W.Va.) College. Brownlee appeared in 17 games that season and averaged 7.3 minutes per outing while producing 12 points, 15 rebounds, six assists, four steals and two blocks. Thiel finished with a 20-7 overall record, the most in school history.

In 2011-12, Brownlee played in all 24 games and averaged more than 17 minutes per game. He averaged nearly three points and two rebounds per game and was fourth on the team in assists with 38. Brownlee also produced seven blocks and 13 steals. Thiel went 13-3 in PAC play and went 16-8 overall.

“This senior group has set just about every record in the history of the school,” Loomis added. “They built the program and solidified everything for us moving forward. It's too bad that they aren't around for one more year.”

The veteran coach also said that Brownlee helped make this past season his most enjoyable one in coaching.

Loomis' assistant coach is Dave Pastorkovich, a native of Belle Vernon. He joined Loomis' staff in the summer of 2010 after serving 17 years as a part-time coach and the primary recruiting coordinator at Carnegie Mellon University.

“He's a great kid off the floor and never gave us any problems, whatsoever,” Loomis said about Brownlee. “R.J. and the other seniors were all four-year members of our program, which is exceptional in this day and age.”

Bruce Wald is a freelance writer.