SAN DIEGO — Markel Brown stayed on the court as long as black-pullover-clad NCAA types would allow.
First, he posed for pictures with all the Oklahoma State coaches and fellow senior Mason Cox at midcourt of Viejas Arena. Then, Marcus Smart joined the group. Then, all of them scattered, and buddies Michael Cobbins and Brian Williams joined Brown and mugged for the camera.
Brown wanted some mementos to remind him just how far he’s come.
Yes, the world knows that he’s made amazing strides on the basketball court, from a forgotten about reserve a few years ago to a SportsCenter Top 10 regular and an NBA Draft prospect. A reminder of that evolution could come Friday afternoon in OSU’s NCAA opener against Gonzaga. With top defender Gary Hall Jr. keyed on Marcus Smart, the Zags might not have anyone who’s able to stay close enough to Brown to keep him from hitting jumpers without getting blown by on drives to the basket.
But Brown’s long journey to this one shining moment wasn’t just on the hardwood. Several family tragedies could’ve derailed his life, much less his basketball career. A network of family stepped forward and provided structure when stability in Brown’s life went missing.
“I feel like it made me stronger as a person, especially going through so many things,” Brown said. “Maybe a person only goes through one, but having it all on my back, I think it made me stronger. It made me fight hard to get where I am.”
His parents separated when he was a toddler, and his mom, Antoinette, moved him and his sisters from Louisiana to Georgia. They returned to Louisiana for a family funeral when Markel was 3, and while they were there, Antoinette took sick.
She went to the hospital.
She never came out.
In a matter of days, Antoinette lost the ability to walk or talk or care for herself. A brain aneurism was to blame. She was eventually moved to a nursing home in Alexandria.
Markel and his sisters moved in with Jerrie Mae Eggins, their grandmother.
She would have it no other way. She was broken up when Antoinette initially moved with the kids to Georgia, so she couldn’t pass up the opportunity to keep them close. Yes, it meant more mouths to feed and backs to clothe — and Jerrie Mae didn’t have the fullest bank account or the biggest house — but she always found a way to help folks who needed it.
Even today, it’s normal find her house full of children.
“You walk in there, and there’ll be about 13 little kids,” her son De’Andre Eggins said. “Everybody in the family drops off their kids at my mama’s house. She’ll clean up and do it all again the next day.”
De’Andre and his brother, David, were in elementary school when Markel came to live with them, and being basketball players, it wasn’t long before Markel was tagging along for practices and games and trips to the park to play pick-up. Even though he was often the youngest, he held his own.