CHICAGO — Bruce Brown doesn’t need any extra motivation.
The former Hurricane guard is carrying plenty of it with him during the NBA’s pre-draft evaluation process. Brown is working to prove that his surgically-repaired left foot is fully healed, which is enough to make these next few weeks leading up to the June 21 draft especially important.
But that’s not all. Brown pointed to a childhood memory as the fuel to his drive.
“One day, me and my mom and my siblings were in the house, and she had no money to get oil in the house,” Brown recalled Thursday at the NBA draft combine. “So we had to open the oven for heat, and we all stayed by the oven. That basically just stuck with me. I want to get her out of that situation.”
That moment happened while he was growing up in Boston as an 8-year-old. Brown, who has relocated to Thousand Oaks, Calif. for his pre-draft work, is now 21.
“Just the hard times my mom and my dad were going through,” he said of his motivation. “Just try to help them out a little bit.”
Brown is expected to get that chance, as he’s projected as a late first-round or second-round pick in most mock drafts. He’s already met with the Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Clippers, Miami Heat, Minnesota Timberwolves, Orlando Magic and Phoenix Suns during the combine.
A lot of the dialogue has been focused on Brown’s left foot. He missed the final 12 games of this past season — his sophomore season — at Miami because of a foot injury that required surgery to repair a stress fracture of his fifth metatarsal.
But Brown, who was in a walking boot from Feb. 1 to March 13, said Thursday that he’s been “fully cleared” and has been participating in on-court work for two weeks. Brown was limited to meeting with NBA teams and medical testing at the combine, though, and decided not to go through court work as he works the rust off his game.
“It’s really important just to show that I’m healthy and I’m ready to go,” he said of the importance of the combine. “I know my times probably weren’t my best because I just got back on the court. But just know I’m ready to go.”
Brown averaged 11.4 points, 7.1 rebounds and 4.0 assists with the Hurricanes this past season. His shooting efficiency dropped from his freshman season, though, as his 3-point shooting numbers regressed from 34.7 percent as a freshman to 26.7, his field-goal percentage sank from 45.9 to 41.5 and his free-throw rate went down from 74.4 to 62.9.
“I think I played well,” he said when asked about his two-year Hurricanes career. “I think I was just in a little slump my second year. But I think I did what I wanted to do.”
Brown came in at 6-3.5 (without shoes) and 194.6 pound at this year’s combine with a 6-9 wingspan. Many of the mock drafts point to his defense as his best quality, and Brown even said he’s heard others compare him to hard-nosed Celtics guard Marcus Smart.
“A hard-nosed wing who grits and grinds on defense, but must improve his jumper to stick around,” The Ringer wrote about Brown.
ESPN described Brown as “a willing passer, lockdown defender and gritty rebounder, and he has shown enough promise with his jump shot at times to lead you to believe he will become adequate there eventually. There’s a significant market for players in his mold, provided he has a strong pre-draft process.”
What does Brown see as his biggest strengths?
“My versatility,” he said. “I can play both ends of the ball, guard one through three and make threes.
“I just know [defense] is just what I do. Just growing up, I wasn’t always the best offensive player. So I had to focus on defense to try and get steals. I just love getting stops and helping my team win.”
That’s one of the reasons the Heat, which currently don’t own a pick in this year’s draft, were intrigued enough to use one of their 20 allotted interviews at the combine on Brown.
“It was good,”‘ he said of his meeting with the Heat. “They basically knew me because I’m right down there in Miami and they watched a lot of games. It was just trying to get to know me and my background a little more. But it was really good.”
So far, the entire pre-draft experience has been really good for Brown.
“It’s fun right now,” he said with a smile. “I always watched [the combine] on NBA TV, and to actually be a part of it is mind-blowing.”