Brown, just beginning, has come so far

With the help of his grandmother, Markel Brown overcame the death of his mother and his uncle to make his way to the NBA. Fernando Medina/Getty Images

Shortly after learning he had been drafted by the Brooklyn Nets, Markel Brown shared an emotional moment with the woman who raised him, the woman he calls "mama."

"I just started shedding tears," Brown's grandmother, Jerrie Mae Eggins, said in a recent telephone interview with ESPNNewYork.com. "He told me, 'Mama, I made it.' And I told him, 'You have to thank the lord. You thank the lord, and you get to wherever you gotta go. Don't ever give up on God.'"

Two picks before his name was called, Brown, who overcame the tragic deaths of his mother and uncle as a teenager, received a call from his agent, Andy Miller. The Nets had dealt for the 44th selection in the second round of the 2014 NBA draft -- and they were going to take him.

"I had to call [Miller] again to make sure what he was telling me was correct," Brown said. "It was a crazy feeling."

Brown, who is from Alexandria, Louisiana, had hoped to be drafted sooner. He says he felt "overlooked." Still, this was the news he had been waiting for.

“It’s great to be able to make it through all the adversity and all of those things that could’ve stopped me," Brown said. "It's a blessing. I feel really fortunate.”"

Brown, an explosive 22-year-old combo guard out of Oklahoma State, impressed the organization during Summer League in Orlando and received a multiyear contract from the Nets. The first year of his deal is fully guaranteed.

Brown's NBA career will begin shortly. But he has already come so far.


In a span of two months, when he was just 15, Brown lost two loved ones.

First, his mother, Antoinette, who had been sick his entire life, died in December 2006 due to complications from a brain aneurysm. Then, in February 2007, his uncle, David Pinkston, was killed while attempting to save two elderly women from a house fire.

"That was very difficult, because we had just buried his mom," Eggins said.

Eggins started taking care of Brown when he was just three months old.

Antoinette spent nearly 11 years in a nursing home while she battled illness. She saw Brown and his two sisters on weekends and holidays, Eggins said.

Brown's biological father, Dameon Pinkston, spent time in and out of prison, so David emerged as a father figure for Brown. The two played basketball together. David attended most of Brown's games and taught him how to drive.

"They were really close," Eggins said.

Still, Eggins was there for Brown. She was always there from the very beginning.

"She played a huge role in my life," said Brown. "You can't ask for much more than that."

Brown endured through it all and eventually graduated college. Now, a professional basketball career awaits.

"I am very proud of Markel," said Eggins, who plans to see Brown play when the Nets make their southwest road trip next season. "He's been my baby for a long time."


Brown was always going to play basketball. It was in his blood.

His father played two years at Southern University in Baton Rouge. David played as well and so did his other uncle, De'Andre Eggins, who was a key contributor for Arkansas-Little Rock in the mid-2000s.

Jerrie Mae Eggins said she had a sense Brown was going to be something special when he was shooting on a mini-hoop at the age of 3.

Charles Smith, Brown's high school coach at Central Louisiana powerhouse Peabody Magnet, first noticed Brown when he was in middle school.

"Markel broke his right wrist in the eighth grade, and he was so dedicated to basketball that he started shooting the ball with his left hand. He became as great a left-handed shooter as he did a right-handed shooter," Smith said. "So that let me know that this kid was determined to be a basketball player."

Brown started all four years at Peabody Magnet -- a rare occurrence, according to Smith. During that span, the team lost just five games. They won two state titles, going 41-0 in Brown's senior year.

Brown, who was named "Mr. Basketball" by the Louisiana Sports Writers Association in 2009-10 (32 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, three blocks and three steals per game), wanted to attend LSU, but the school wasn't interested. Oklahoma State was.

Butch Pierre, who coached the likes of Tyrus Thomas, Glen Davis, Stromile Swift and Anthony Randolph at LSU for 11 years before moving on to OSU, had a good relationship with Smith and thought highly of Brown.

"Markel has always been a gym rat, a competitor," Pierre said. "He's used to winning, and we felt like he was a good kid that stayed out of trouble and was willing to learn and get better."

Brown's shooting percentages increased across the board (field goals, 3-pointers, free throws) in each of his four years with the Cowboys. As a senior, he flourished playing alongside Marcus Smart in the same backcourt, averaging 17.2 points and shooting 47.3 percent from the field.

"I think he'll play 10 years in the NBA," Smith said. "He doesn't have any bad habits. He doesn't smoke or drink. He's very coachable, he wants to improve, he'll accept any challenge and he loves to win. He'll do whatever it takes."


Brown first dunked in ninth grade.

"It was crazy. I wasn't even expecting it," he said. "I was just going up there for show and ended up dunking it."

There was plenty more where that came from.

Brown's best dunk at Oklahoma State was one that got him ejected. Late in the second half against Missouri this past season, the 6-foot-3 Brown skied along the baseline, caught an alley-oop pass with one hand and posterized Tigers guard Matt Pressey.

The crowd went ballistic. Brown then stared down Pressey as he began going back on defense and received his second technical foul of the game.

Brown still doesn’t agree with the call. It’s hard to blame him.

"When the ball went in the air, I didn’t think I could get to it," Brown admitted. "It's a good thing I went up and got it."

Brown’s 360 slam on the fastbreak against West Virginia wasn’t too bad either. (Nor was this. Or this.)

At the combine in Chicago, Brown posted a 43.5-inch vertical -- tied with Andrew Wiggins for the highest of any prospect in the draft.

Brown's athleticism will be a welcomed addition to the Nets. He showed as much during the Summer League.

He said he’d welcome the opportunity to participate in the NBA Dunk Contest at All-Star weekend in the future.

Next season’s dunk contest will be held at Barclays Center. Hmm ...


Brown doesn't expect to be handed playing time in the pros.

He knows he'll have to earn it.

"I take pride in my defense and being a lockdown defender," Brown said. "I hang my hat on that end of the court."

Brown has always guarded the opposition's best wing player.

"I did it almost every game at Oklahoma State," he said. "It's something I take pride in, and hopefully I can carry it over to the next level."

The Nets, who reportedly had Brown rated No. 22 on their draft board, liked what they saw from him at Summer League in terms of his playmaking ability.

"I didn't really surprise myself," Brown said. "But I guess I surprised others."

In five games in Orlando, Brown averaged 10 points, 4.6 rebounds and 3.2 assists, while shooting 53 percent from the field.

"I learned a lot about the speed of the game and playing against bigger and faster athletes," he said. "It's the biggest stage, the toughest competition, and I learned a lot from the coaching staff."

Brown has high expectations for himself. He believes he can be a "Russell Westbrook-type player" in the NBA.

He certainly doesn't lack confidence.

"Just being a ballplayer you have to always have that swagger about yourself," Brown said. "When you compete at the next level, you're going to have to compete every night against the best athletes, and I need to have that confidence because I'm going to be playing against the greatest players in the world."

Brown feels he needs to improve his ball-handling and point guard skills. He'll certainly have the time.

He's also looking forward to some sight-seeing in New York City, playing in Brooklyn and immersing himself in the big-city lifestyle.

"I should be able to manage," he said.

And why not?

Brown has already overcome so much. And as long as he has his family by his side, he'll be equipped to get wherever he wants to go.