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St. Louis Post-Dispatch
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Benjamin Hochman

Benjamin Hochman: Mizzou matters again, thanks to unflappable Kobe Brown and his offense

COLUMBIA, Mo. — That sure looked like the Southeastern Conference Player of the Year roaming Norm Stewart Court on Wednesday.

And Oscar Tshiebwe was out there, too.

Yes, of course, it’s early — in fact, only one game into the SEC season. But Mizzou’s Kobe Brown sure looked resplendent out there. After scoring 31 points in a win against No. 19 Illinois, Brown scored 30 in Wednesday’s 89-75 win against No. 19 Kentucky.

Sure, Tshiebwe is primed to have another Naismith-like season — and he scored 23 with 19 rebounds against Mizzou — but Brown’s stock is soaring as he’s pouring in points against top teams.

Few things are cooler to witness than an athlete rising to the moment of a big game. And there was Kobe Brown on Wednesday, performing at a level seldom seen by men wearing black-and-gold here.

Coach Dennis Gates’ Tigers are good. If the win against Illinois was a wake-up call for fans, Wednesday’s win against Kentucky was a statement. Mizzou matters again. Sure, Kansas kicked their butt. But Mizzou is aggressive and unafraid team that mirrors the demeanor of its top player, the 6-foot-8 senior Brown.

Asked to describe what impressed him about Brown, teammate Sean East II flashed a smile as wide as the lane and said: “Everything.”

Then pressed for perhaps a couple specifics, East said: “He’s patient. … Even in the game tonight, he should’ve had 50. He was passing it off. But he takes what the defense gives him, catch-and-shoot 3s, drives, still tries to find his teammates when he should go score. … He just plays the game the right way.”

In Mizzou’s surprise demolishing of John Calipari’s Cats, Brown finished with the 30 points along with six rebounds, two assists and two steals.

He unleased low post moves that made Kentucky’s Lance Ware wary.

He soared for multiple rim-rattling dunks.

He scored the first basket of the second half on an and-one — then stole the ball on defense and scored yet again on offense.

And he splashed four 3-pointers on eight attempts, each coming at seemingly the perfect time. Daggers, if you will.

And for fans of a certain age, his offensive dominance was reminiscent of the days of Kareem Rush, when the smooth-shooting Tiger would just take over a game, unflappably and unmistakably.

“I’ve always been a pretty good shooter — I just haven’t showed it in recent years,” Brown said. “So I just have a lot more confidence now, with the support I have behind me. It’s kind of hard to you know, miss shots when you have a great support system.”

Thirty points against Kentucky!

Still can’t believe it happened. But this is happening in real time. Brown is becoming a star.

“He was difficult last year for us to stop,” Calipari said. “And what he’s added is now you got to space out on him because he can make 3. And look, Missouri would have beat a whole lot of teams the way they played tonight — and they beat us pretty good.”

So, Kobe actually doesn’t wear Kobes.

Brown wears Kevin Durant Nikes — the KD15 Aimbot, to be specific. And he sure had some KD-like stretches out there on Wednesday. But Mizzou’s No. 24 forever pays homage to No. 24 of the Los Angeles Lakers. After all, he was named after him. But it wasn’t just a situation where a parent liked an NBA player so they named the kid after him.

Greg Brown was a high school coach in Alabama. His star player in the mid-1990s, Ronnie Braxton, was being recruited by LaSalle University in Philadelphia. The assistant coach recruiting Braxton? Joe “Jelly Bean” Bryant.

Greg and Joe hit it off. Greg joined his player on a recruiting visit. The night before the LaSalle game, Joe invited Greg to his son’s high school game. Greg was gobsmacked. He watched teenage Kobe Bryant dominate. And after the game, Greg watched as Kobe Bryant spoke in multiple languages to fans — and spoke eloquently to Greg himself.

“This kid is special, he is multitalented,” Greg told me in 2020. “I said, ‘If I ever have a kid, Joe, his name is going to be Kobe.’”

And on Jan. 1, 2000, Kobe Brown was born.

More than two decades later, Greg’s Kobe is pretty special, too.

Check this out. Since 2003, Mizzou has had 10 times when it played consecutive games against ranked teams, per ESPN 101’s Brandon Kiley. This time — Illinois and then Kentucky — was the only time Mizzou won both. Furthermore, Brown became just the third D-I player in the last 25 years with back-to-back 30-point games in wins vs. ranked opponents, per ESPN Stats & Info.

At Mizzou, Kobe Brown has grown with this program, stuck with this program and is now the face of this program.

After two 30-point showings, one has to wonder if he could become the face of SEC basketball this season.

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