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Reality is sometimes better than the dream.
That was the happy case last weekend for North Dakota State sophomore guard Kory Brown, who two years ago this month was still an uncommitted Elgin High School senior yearning to find a Division-I roster spot, let alone fulfill his childhood dream of competing in the NCAA Tournament.
Yet, there was Brown last Thursday night on national television, dancing in the locker room with his teammates after No. 12 NDSU upset No. 5 Oklahoma 80-75 in overtime in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. It was the first NCAA Tournament victory for the Bison since making the jump to Division-I in 2004-05.
"It was something that we grew up talking about, getting to the NCAA Tournament and doing the best we can once we get there," Brown said by phone this week. "Even just getting there would be great. But we ended up there and actually won a game as well, making school history for NDSU at that. It was awesome."
Everything has worked out well for Brown, who was one of those "tweeners" you always hear about, a talented high school player who fell through the recruiting cracks because he didn't fit one metric or another.
There was no denying his athleticism back then. A lightning-quick defender, he was named honorary captain of the Daily Herald's All-Area team in the Fox Valley in 2010-11 and 2011-12, the first player so honored since Jacobs' Johnny Moran a few years earlier. It was an easy choice both times. The Elgin Courier News, likewise, honored Brown.
The Elgin star still heard the criticism, though. They said he wasn't tall enough at 6-foot-4 to play forward at the more-physical Division-I level and that his shot wasn't consistent enough to be considered as a two-guard.
Though Brown finished his senior season averaging 16.9 points and 8.9 rebounds, it wasn't until he excelled in a well-scouted AAU showcase in St. Louis a month after his senior season that the offers started coming. He shot the lights out at that event while playing the same kind of tenacious defense that made him such a difference-maker for an Elgin team that finished 26-4 and reached a sectional final his senior year, when it took Rockford Auburn -- led by future Wichita State star Fred Van Vleet -- to eliminate Brown and teammates Dennis Moore, Arie Williams and Cortez Scott.
Suddenly, Brown had offers to visit NDSU, Western Illinois, Eastern Kentucky, South Dakota State and Nebraska-Omaha.
First, he visited Fargo, N.D. He loved it. Bison coach Saul Phillips told Brown he not only wanted him to play in Fargo, Phillips said he envisioned Brown playing a major role right away. A courtesy trip to Macomb was made a few days later, but his mind was made up. Brown committed to North Dakota State on May 12, 2012.
He took the court less than six months later as a starting guard in NDSU's season opener against Valley City State, scored 8 points and led the Bison in minutes (27). He went on to start 32 of 34 games as a true freshman, logged the fourth-most minutes of any player, averaged 4.9 points and 3.1 rebounds and led the team in steals (71).
This season he upped his contributions to 7 points and 4.2 rebounds per game. Oh, and those critics who said he couldn't shoot? Brown shot 58 percent from the field as a sophomore (88 of 151).
The Bison won the Summit League regular season and tournament titles, but their magical season ended with a 63-44 loss to San Diego State in the third round in Spokane, Washington. Brown, who was "dared to shoot" by San Diego State, according to the color commentator, led the Bison with 13 points on 4-of-7 shooting from the field, 4-of-4 from the free-throw line.
But Kory Brown will always remember his sophomore season for that first tournament win against Oklahoma.
"It felt good," he said. "Everyone was like, ‘Hey, the 12 always beats the five,' so going into the game we figured we might as well beat them because that's the thing. We went in with a straight mindset. Everyone was hyper and eager to step on the court and just play on such a big stage."
Brown's tournament debut hardly went unnoticed back in Elgin.
"I heard from quite a few people back home," he said. "Some of my teammates called me from Elgin, congratulating me on such a good year. Some guys who even graduated before I got to high school called me, wishing me the best of luck before my games and telling me I had a great season afterward."
Like Moran -- who in 2010 played for a Northern Iowa team that upset Kansas to advance to the Sweet 16 -- Brown reached the NCAA Tournament in his sophomore season. He hopes to differ from Moran in one regard, however: Moran never made it back to the big dance.
"We're graduating six seniors, three of which were key seniors for us, but we're still headed in a good direction," Brown said. "We're going to bring in a good class and the guys who are still here, we have a lot of high expectations.
"It's going to take a lot of hard work. We have at least five guys coming back who have all been there, who have all seen it. There is something within every single one of us that wants to get us back there because we know the feeling and the feeling is awesome. Anything less just wouldn't feel the same."
Another NCAA Tournament appearance before Kory Brown graduates from NDSU?
That would only further enhance the reality of a dream already come true.