BBQ chicken: How Kobe Brown reshaped his body to become a force in the paint
The Missouri men’s basketball forward switched from the three to the four and remodeled his game.
Mar. 19, 2021
When Missouri sophomore forward Kobe Brown was in high school, he took shortcuts on defense. Instead of moving his feet and playing man-to-man defense with proper technique, he generally allowed offensive players to go wherever they wanted.
Why? He knew he was more than big enough to meet them at the rim.
“I would always have to make him go back and do it the fundamental way because I knew it would catch up with him later on,” Greg Brown, Kobe’s father and high school coach, said.
Brown had to break that habit — and many more — for the task he would undertake once he got to Missouri.
Listed at six-foot-seven-inches and 220 pounds coming out of high school by 247 Sports, Brown was typically the biggest guy on the court at Lee High School in Huntsville, Alabama. That changed when he arrived at Missouri and he noticed the instant he stepped on campus.
“I was like, ‘We have like three or four guys taller than me,’ and at the time they were bigger than me, so it’s like ‘I can’t let them go by and jump with them because I’ll probably get dunked on,’” Brown said.
It makes sense, then, that when Missouri coach Cuonzo Martin approached him about switching positions, he suggested playing him at the four-spot and working him in the post. That contrasted Brown’s role in high school, which was playing the three-spot and working on the perimeter.
Brown played on the perimeter in high school and was under the impression he’d be doing that once he got to Missouri. It put him in a position to lead Lee to a state championship appearance and earn an offer from the Tigers.
But Martin saw a different opportunity for Brown. He said that Greg Brown put him in a position to succeed at the three, but Kobe Brown wasn’t taking advantage of the mismatches that his solid driving ability at his size would get him.
Martin compared the situation to the one Jontay Porter faced when he arrived at Missouri in 2017.
“Jontay was six-foot-11, so skilled, but his game was on the perimeter,” Martin said. “If you face up in the post, he’s kind of off the block to shoot a jump-shot. And then a year later, Kobe didn’t get a chance to see it, he dominated in the post because he was so physical and strong around the rim, and he still had the other parts.”
Missouri also has plenty of perimeter players. Guards Xavier Pinson, Dru Smith and Mark Smith locked down starting spots at the one, two and three heading into the season, which Martin believed would provide the Tigers with plenty of dribble-drive scoring and outside shooting. Javon Pickett started two games this year and most of last year — Brown’s freshman year — at that spot, too.
“We thought that he would only be at the three, two to the three,” Greg Brown said. “And maybe he’ll occasionally go to the stretch-four some. But I guess with the personnel, there’s more time available at the four-spot.”
So Martin asked Brown if he would be willing to transition to a less flashy but equally useful role.
“Coach needed someone to do the tough stuff,” Brown said. “So I was like, ‘Why not me?’”
When Brown switched positions, he first prioritized changing his habits in the weight room.
“I would say [the most difficult part of the transition was] just getting stronger,” Brown said. “Just getting my body ready to bump with the big guys.”
Much of that responsibility fell on Nicodemus Christopher, director of athletic performance for Missouri Men’s Basketball. Christopher said Brown was raw in the weight room when he arrived in Columbia, and that might be an understatement.
“When he first got to Mizzou, it’s learn[ing] how to do the basic fundamental movements,” Christopher said. “Learn how to squat, learn how to lunge, learn how to hinge, learn how to do a pull-up right, learn how to do a press right. And he was very raw, and you’d be shocked, those were things that he struggled with.”
Brown quickly impressed Christopher with his workout habits, though. He called Christopher almost every day to discuss the lifting and eating plans that he had for the day.
He also had help from his teammates. Mark Smith and Tilmon are frequently in the weight room themselves, and when Brown arrived on campus they would bring him with them.
“It became part of his routine,” Christopher said.
While many players who come in underdeveloped will suffer a learning curve in the weight room, Brown didn’t. He put on 20 pounds — he’s listed at 240 as opposed to 220 — between the end of his high school career and the start of his sophomore season.
Brown’s change in body composition regarding fat loss and muscle gain, even just in that first summer on campus, was one of the best Christopher had seen in recent years.
Lifting is a big part of that, but so is nutrition. Brown’s diet had some serious flaws in high school. Christopher said that Brown ate about five foods on a regular basis, and they were not inspiring.
“Chipotle, Chipotle, Chipotle,” Christopher said. “He wanted a chicken bowl with rice. Maybe a little sour cream and some cheese. That’s it.”
Breakfast wasn’t much better. Typically, Brown would go get Smoothie King and maybe a biscuit with bacon.
“That was his meal plan,” Christopher said. “We’re talking about a high-level athlete and that’s his meal plan.”
These days, Brown enjoys fruits and vegetables, and one of his favorite meals is steak, potatoes and green beans. This past summer, Brown proved that he was committed to eating more substantial foods fit for a Division-I basketball player.
“He went out and bought a smoker and a barbecue grill,” Christopher said. “He and Mark Smith, every Sunday, would go to Hy-Vee and they’d buy a ton of poultry and they’d barbecue enough meat for the week.”
Christopher has the scouting report on Brown’s culinary skills: He needs to season his protein better, but he makes excellent wings in his air fryer. Christopher looks forward to a prospective air-fryer wings cook-off.
With Brown switching to the four, he also needed to eat more than he had in high school. The newfound ability to cook helps.
“He was one of those guys where interestingly enough, he didn’t eat enough,” Christopher said. “So [it was] getting him to understand, ‘Hey, let’s eat a little bit more but let’s eat the right things.’”
Brown started almost every game of his freshman season, despite being underdeveloped physically. He showed flashes of the player he could be in games like a 10-point, nine-rebound performance in Missouri’s win over Auburn, but Martin still wanted more.
Even early in the 2020-21 season, when Brown put up 12 points and eight rebounds against eventual No. 1-seed Illinois, Martin wasn’t satisfied.
“I think he has to get better, especially when he had [Illinois center] Kofi [Cockburn] on him, taking advantage of that matchup, taking him off the dribble,” Martin said after the Illinois game on Dec. 12, 2020. “I thought he settled for a 3 early. Cause Kobe’s good off the bounce. He got a big guy like that on him like that, he can make plays.”
Once Brown got stronger and healthier, Martin knew that he could be both a walking double-double and a walking mismatch for… really anybody. A big, less mobile center shouldn’t be able to stay with him off the dribble and a smaller guard or a similar-height, lighter forward shouldn’t be able to contain him in the post.
Brown settled for spot-up threes too often, and Martin let him know.
“Do you understand what I’m saying? Like, look at that small guy defending you, man,” Martin would tell Brown. “Where I was from, that was considered an insult, just smaller guys guarding me around the rim.”
With many teams — including Oklahoma, who Missouri faces on in the NCAA Tournament on Saturday — transitioning to four-guard lineups, those matchups should’ve been Brown’s dream.
Martin doesn’t recall exactly when it happened, but he remembers the moment when he knew Brown had figured it out.
“He was posting up,” Martin said. “Even when Tilmon was on the floor, he was posting up, because he got an advantage, like, ‘Coach, I got it.’ That was the biggest thing, him recognizing it and him saying it. I don’t remember the game, but [I remember] him saying it from the sideline, ‘Coach, I can post this guy up.’”
Whenever announcers talk about Brown on TV broadcasts, they always go right to “This is a big, strong guy,” and they point out his height and weight. That doesn’t happen without a commitment to lifting and eating right.
Brown averaged 10.7 points per game from the Alabama game on Feb. 6 on, and the rebounding prowess has arrived, too. Brown’s 6.3 boards per game rank second on the team, just behind Tilmon’s 7.0.
“I’ve just gotten better [at rebounding],” Brown said. “That’s just a will to do that. Last year, I was trying to find my way around, just getting used to it, trying to find my role on the team.”
He’s also improved his defense — Greg Brown said that it’s gotten twice as good since he got to Missouri, which he and his son credit to working under Martin, a defensive-minded coach. Suffice it to say he doesn’t take shortcuts anymore.
“Being able to make adjustments, on and off the floor, consistency with his classes, I love what he’s doing academically, I think that’s off the charts,” Greg Brown said. “I’m just proud of him for who he is and what Missouri’s having him become.”
For everyone who’s worked with Brown, seeing his work on the court, in the weight room and in the kitchen pay off in the form of an NCAA Tournament berth is what it’s all about. Greg Brown said that Brown’s dream has been to play in the Tournament for years.
“Sometimes you gotta soil the seeds, you gotta toil the ground, you gotta water the seeds and then eventually they grow, but we all know that trees and plants and things of that nature don’t grow overnight,” Christopher said. “It’s the exact same thing with the body. The results don’t necessarily show overnight, so for him to stick with it and to show some resilience and to keep trucking, keep trucking… I couldn’t be happier for him.”
Edited by Kyle Pinnell | email@example.com