Kilian Brown sported a black and blue St. Francis boys basketball jersey when he recently saluted his coach.
Brown just as easily could have been wearing one of the Spartans’ “In Ward We Trust” spirit T-shirts, as he makes no secret about his fandom of second-year coach Bob Ward.
On the surface, Ward is easy to like because he’s the one who summons Brown from the bench. Still, Brown credits their interactions from last season – before the junior forward from Geneva even played for Ward – for his biggest inspiration.
“He would talk to me throughout the year and just say get ready for next year, because we’re going to be using you a lot,” Brown said.
At 6-foot-4 and 205 pounds, Brown holds the distinction of stockiest Spartan in his first varsity season.
St. Francis (22-7) figures to benefit from Brown’s size when it faces Bartonville Limestone in the 3A DeKalb Supersectional at 6 p.m. today at Northern Illinois University’s Convocation Center.
While the Rockets (23-9) tout the guard play of Hank Mathews and transfer Terence Shelby, junior centers David Anderson (6-3) and John Ortman (6-5) also can score. That proposition could be tougher should either player draw a spirited Brown in the Spartans’ man-to-man defensive scheme.
“From being a guy that struggled defensively, he is one of our better defenders right now,” Ward said. “Comes out, can play defense on the perimeter, can play it inside. He’s really, really improved.”
From his early time in the program, Brown proved himself as a force on the offensive glass and as an inside scoring option off the bench.
Commitment to conditioning and essentially trusting in Ward – like the T-shirt says – contributed to Brown’s defensive surge. When Ward says Brown has “been a load for us in these playoffs” or sharpshooting senior guard Andrew Kimball calls his fellow Genevan “just a beast down low,” they aren’t talking about a guy who’s unable to move his feet and simply takes up space.
Brown, whose Irish first name is the middle name of his father, often spells starting forward Kevin McShea. He maximized his minutes Friday, contributing nine points and seven rebounds in the Spartans’ 63-60 victory against Rockford Lutheran in the 3A Freeport Sectional championship.
“That’s what our coach demands of us. He demands that we get in the practice gym each day,” Brown said. “We run our butts off and we put it at our hardest. I think if we try our hardest, then we get what we work for.”
Many St. Francis players were reserves on the team that advanced to last season’s sectional final before losing.
Brown may only have been a sophomore, but he still identified with the group. There was Kimball, a longtime friend from their time together during youth camps, and also Ward, who is glad he saw Brown’s development coming.
“We’re not here without him,” Ward said. “Put it that way.”