Adjusting to life as a freshman at Penn is a difficult task. Adjusting to life as a student-athlete is even more challenging. But making the transition as the son of one of Philadelphia’s most recognizable sports figures? Nearly impossible.
Yet, Penn men’s basketball freshman guard Sam Brown has found a way to not only survive, but to thrive, as he prepares for his first game in a Quaker uniform. Sam is the son of longtime NBA coach Brett Brown, who is best known for his time as head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers from 2013-2020. Brown piloted the 76ers to three straight playoff appearances and was in place for the acquisition of several franchise cornerstones, including 2023 NBA MVP Joel Embiid.
Despite his father’s stature in the basketball world, Brown is out to form his own legacy.
“I’m so used to the label. It doesn’t affect me at all,” Brown said of his father’s reputation preceding him. “At the end of the day, I plan to make my own name.”
Brown is one of four freshmen for the Quakers this year, a class that coach Steve Donahue says is “more mature” than most he’s coached in the past. At Penn, it is common for freshmen to take a secondary role on the roster – the last two freshman classes have each averaged under 10 minutes per game.
But thus far, Brown says he’s amazed by how much of a place he and the other first-years found.
“The team has done a great job of allowing us freshmen to develop, allow us to make mistakes, and take a legitimate role on the team already,” Brown said. “Which I didn’t expect to this extent. … I’ve been watching Ivy League basketball since I was in eighth grade, and I wasn’t really surprised with what I was coming into athletically.”
Being the son of such a successful coach has also informed much of Brown’s identity as a player. Before taking the helm with the 76ers, Brett Brown spent six years as an assistant for the San Antonio Spurs under the NBA all-time coaching wins leader Gregg Popovich. As a result, Sam has spent nearly his entire life in and around the highest level of basketball in the world.
That upbringing has made Brown a highly intelligent player, both in the way he plays and the way he approaches the game. Donahue says Brown has been the beneficiary of “a world of knowledge,” while Brown himself lauds the experience of watching pro players up close.
“Growing up I would be in these high-level gyms, watching high-level players, and you would pick up on things,” Brown said. “Every pro, every high-level player has similarities in their work ethic. They take what they do very seriously, and it’s cutthroat, and it’s efficient.”
That cutthroat approach is what Brown hopes to bring during his time at Penn, and it will be invaluable in his quest to make his own mark on the city of Philadelphia. Brown has already left a legacy at nearby Lower Merion High School — which also produced NBA legend Kobe Bryant – where he set a program record for made three-point field goals.
The Brown family’s familiarity with the city also made for an unorthodox recruiting process. As two of Philadelphia’s most prominent coaches, Donahue had a relationship with Brett long before Sam was involved. When Brown was coach of the 76ers, he allowed Penn players to participate in practices and team meetings. But when it came to recruiting Sam, Donahue knew he had to divide the two worlds.
“What I tried to do during the recruitment was kind of separate Brett and I’s relationship, and try to deal with him as a parent, as I would any other family,” Donahue said. “First I had to figure out, ‘Is he the right person for our program?’ and then sell it the same way I would. He wouldn’t be here unless I felt strongly that this was the right place for him and us.”
When Brown logs his first minutes for Penn, many will know him solely as Brett’s son. But if the freshman has anything to say about it, when all is said and done, they will know him by another name: Sam.
“Who he is isn’t who I am,” Brown said. “All the work I put in is to make myself better [and] to help the team win in whichever way.”