JFK’s Brown playing hoops in Bolivia

Nick Brown knew he wanted play basketball past the collegiate level. He didn’t think his opportunity would happen this soon.

Like most jobs, it’s always nice to have good connections.

Playing professional basketball is no different.

Brown, a 6-foot-7, 2009 John F. Kennedy High School graduate, is playing for Club Amistad Blacmar in Sucre, Bolivia – under Niles native and coach Bernie Tarr.

“It was the craziest thing,” Brown said. “I was in school and coach, I mean ex-coach, Shawn Pompelia knows Bernie Tarr. When I was done with school, Shawn mentioned to Bernie that I was looking.”

Tarr, who recently moved to Bolivia from Belize, said he had three spots to fill with foreign athletes. One is a 6-10 center from New York City, the others are Brown and Randal Holt, a former Kent State University standout. Tarr coached at the former St. Peter Chanel High School prior to leaving for Belize and knew Holt. Holt went to Bedford High School before transferring to Glenville.

“He got some strong references from those guys,” Tarr said of Brown. “I talked a little bit with the owners and they thought it was a good fit. Northeast Ohio guys have to take care of their guys.”

Brown didn’t see much playing time his first three seasons at West Liberty University, where he averaged six points, 2.8 rebounds in less than 11 minutes per outing.

Then, last season, he transferred to Point Park. Brown flourished with 19.7 points and 9.2 rebounds in starting all 28 games for Point Park.

“I learned a lot at West Liberty,” Brown said. “The difference is I was a role player at West Liberty. When I went to Point Park, I had more responsibilities – do more of the scoring, be more of a vocal leader.”

His talents on the floor brought him to Bolivia.

“There were three statistics he led his team in – 3-pointers made, 3-pointers attempted and rebounding. He has the ability to get around the arc and get to the free-throw line – being versatile,” Tarr said.

Brown’s role has changed from Point Park, where he was mainly a guard. He’s going back to the things that made him successful at JFK, where he scored 22.7 points and grabbed 12.2 rebounds. He earned first-team, all-state and Trumbull County Player of the Year honors.

“Nick really has to change his role and become more of four and five,” Tarr said.

Brown played everything except point guard at Kennedy. He played the power forward at West Liberty and guard at Point Park.

“I went back to my old ways. It’s not too hard for me to play the post. It’s not a big deal. I don’t mind,” said Brown, who averages 10 points a game in Bolivia.

Brown had to brush up on his Spanish when he went to Bolivia.

“I can say very little phrases, things that I need. I have a translator app on my phone that I use a lot,” Brown said. “I took classes in high school, but a lot of it didn’t stick. I’m trying to learn as I go.”

Brown rooms with Holt and the two are trying to muddle through with their limited knowledge of the Bolivian native language.

“I’m with him a lot. Down here, there’s not a lot of people that speak your language. Americans stick together,” Brown said. “We try to stick with the guys who speak a little bit of English and Spanish, to be on the same page and pick up things.”

Most of the guys who are playing for Club Amistad Blacmar are hoping to move up the basketball ladder.

“Here in this league, you’re either doing two things,” Tarr said. “You’re either hanging on or you have a good 9 to 5 job back in the States for you using this league as a springboard. Most of these guys want to use this league as a springboard.”

Brown said he might go back to school and get his master’s degree or head into the coaching profession. He wants to still be connected with the game, even after his playing days are done.

For now, he wants to play the game he loves.

“My plan is to play as long as I can. Wherever that door opens, I’m going to look at it and make the best decisions for me,” Brown said. “My ultimate goal would be for me to play in the European leagues. If I had an opportunity to go over there, I would definitely go over there.”