Whitehall man reflects on career on, off the court

| Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Former Keystone Oaks assistant basketball coach Rick Tilves still remembers when he met a gangly freshman named Robert Brown.

“When he was in ninth and 10th grade we never thought he would be a Division I player,” Tilves said. “He just didn't have those abilities.

“Skip took it upon himself and working with the coaches at Keystone Oaks really developed in the long run to be an outstanding high school player.”

Focusing solely on basketball, “Skip” as he's affectionately called, worked relentlessly under the tutelage of highly successful head coach Rick Keebler.

“He was not an easy coach to play for,” Tilves said. “He was old school. He was rough. Skip took every butt of it.”

By his senior year, Brown was a 6-foot 10 center/forward and played in the 1978 Dapper Dan Roundball Classic as a highly sought-after college recruit.

“It was the second-largest crowd ever at the Civic Arena,” Brown said of the 13,676 fans in attendance for the ‘78 Classic.

Brown had 200 Division I scholarship offers, including one from Army, which was coached by Mike Krzyzewski at the time.

“I was deciding between Davidson, Army and the University of Connecticut,” Brown said.

As Mother Nature would dictate, Brown visited Davidson's campus in North Carolina after the season during winter, and fell in love not only with the weather, but the close-knit atmosphere at the liberal arts school.

“We were having a winter like we were right now, and I went down to Davidson in late March. Everything was green and blooming,” Brown said. “Plus, I liked the fact that it was a smaller school. It was the right fit. I got to play D-I ball and got to go to a great academic school.”

During his playing days for the Wildcats, Brown continued to develop as a player on the court, but more importantly off of it in the classroom.

“I learned to balance my priorities,” Brown said. “It was a challenge but it made me a better person in my life.”

The highlight of Brown's playing career at Davidson came during his senior year when the Wildcats battled the Digger Phelps-coached Notre Dame Fighting Irish to a 54-51 overtime victory.

“It was in the Charlotte Coliseum,” Brown said. “The Charlotte Coliseum at the time held a little over 10,000 people and it was sold out whenever we played Notre Dame.”

Moving back after graduating in 1983, Brown wanted to fill the void left by being done with basketball. After working for his father's grocery business, he decided to join the Castle Shannon Fire Department as a volunteer firefighter.

“Whenever you are done playing sports at a high level you sort of miss that,” Brown said. “I decided to try something different.

“What I found is firefighting is very similar in someways to basketball. You're dealing with a team of guys. You develop lifelong relationships. You work together as a team to protect lives and property.”

Brown moved to Whitehall in 1989, joining the Whitehall Fire Company, where he continued to be an outstanding firefighter in the community just as he was a basketball player a decade earlier.

“Skip as a firefighter, he was always involved with something no matter what it was,” Whitehall Fire Company chief Lee Price said. “He was always there to help someone or his community out.”

Retiring last year after 25 years due to an unexpected blood clot in his leg, Brown now spends his days as secretary for the company, while continuing to work for CA Technologies.

His son, Trey, currently swims for Baldwin, and Brown enjoys seeing him develop through sports as he did.

“I'm very proud of him,” Brown said of his son. “There's a lot of life-long lessons you can learn within athletics.”

Justin Criado is a freelance writer.

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