Felton still coming to grips with Brophy's death
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- Sometimes you don't know how much a player, a person, meant to someone until you see it in his face, hear it in his voice, digest it with the words he uses.
Georgia Bulldogs men's basketball coach Dennis Felton was here Friday for the Basketball Hall of Fame induction ceremonies for former Georgia (and Atlanta Hawks) forward Dominique Wilkins. Felton was excited to talk about his team, one that he said is on the verge of taking a turn in the SEC East (after a 15-15, 5-11 season last year) and becoming a sleeper to make a run at an NCAA Tournament berth -- something his league colleagues have already predicted.
But as soon as you ask about guard Kevin Brophy, who died in late July in a car accident, you see how much a player who received so few headlines meant to Felton and this program.
"He was such a leader for this team," Felton said. "He was going to be a team captain. He was taking control of our team."
Remember, this is a former walk-on from Melbourne, Australia, who fell in love with the Bulldogs while spending two years as an exchange student in Savannah. Brophy played in only 18 games as a sophomore, averaging 0.9 points, 0.6 rebounds, 1.3 assists and 10 minutes per outing. Brophy was a role player at Georgia's most fortified position, with Levi Stukes, Sundiata Gaines, Channing Toney and Billy Humphrey dominating the playing time last season.
Still, that didn't matter to Brophy. Felton said Brophy put in so much time in the offseason to make himself a legitimate contributor that he was going to be someone Felton counted on this season.
"He played more as a freshman [22.8 minutes a game in 28 games] and not as much as a sophomore, but that didn't matter," Felton said.
Here was a player who came in as a walk-on and, according to Felton, had in two years become one of the locker room leaders. He spent countless hours working on his game. Felton fell in love with his work ethic.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Felton was determined to be with Brophy's family during this tragic time. Felton had to make the call to Australia to tell Brophy's parents the news. They made the trip to Athens, Ga., for a memorial service and then Felton took off the last week of recruiting to go to Melbourne and accompany the family for Kevin's funeral in Australia. He said his father spoke to the team before he left Georgia and told them to "Do it for Brophy." That has now become the team's mantra for the 2006-07 season.
Last week, Felton and administrators at Georgia met to discuss how they are going to memorialize Brophy. The Bulldogs will, Felton said, wear a patch on their uniforms, but there will be much more. Felton said there might be something on the court this season and the school is formulating a plan to endow a scholarship in Brophy's name.
The easy thing when looking at Brophy's production is to dismiss his on-court impact, but the Bulldogs will miss his leadership, spirit, toughness and will. Felton is banking on keeping that alive throughout the season and throughout his tenure at Georgia.
How the team reacts to Brophy's absence will be a big determining factor in its season. Sure, the Bulldogs return Gaines, Stukes, Humphrey, Toney and added big-time talents up front in 6-foot-8 juco transfer Takais Brown and 6-10 freshman Albert Jackson. But Brophy's death still hangs on Felton, as it likely does for many members of the team.
Brophy was not a name known nationally. In fact, he might not have been well-recognized within the SEC. Still, he left his mark with Felton and Georgia -- so much so that Felton clearly has been affected by his death. You can see it. You can hear it. You can sense it.
There are no scripts for dealing with this in coaching, or in life. Felton is trying to write his own version that best fits him and this program. Whatever it involves, Felton is not going to do anything lightly. He wants to remember and memorialize Kevin the right way, in a public way, so everyone knows and understands how much Brophy meant to him and the Georgia program.
Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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