You may not know it yet, but Vitto Brown is a young renaissance man.
Listed at 6-foot-8 and 240 pounds before ever officially suiting up in a Wisconsin uniform, the incoming freshman forward from Bowling Green, Ohio, is one of several young players looking to fill a big void in the Badger front court this fall.
For someone who just turned 18 three weeks ago, you might expect Brown to bump Drake, Jay-Z or Kendrick Lamar on a typical afternoon. And he probably does every now and then. But when I asked Brown earlier this summer what was playing on his iPod, his response was "A Melody," by George Duke.
To be honest, I had to look that one up on YouTube. (Daily jazz fusion fix? Check.)
Yep, a renaissance man. Brown even sang in a madrigal choir in high school.
"I've been told I have a good voice," Brown said. "I enjoyed singing with my family at various events when I was in high school."
Not many big-time basketball recruits are so musically inclined. On the other hand, like many of the recruits Bo Ryan has signed over the past few years, Brown also excels academically. He scored a 28 on his ACT and was a math tutor at Bowling Green. Brown told me he still plans to major in broadcast journalism at Wisconsin. This summer he's been taking an introductory English class plus an individual and community leadership course.
Being away from home and diving into the challenges that greet a first-year student-athlete is not easy, but Brown is taking it all in stride. He's even got an early Madison favorite when it comes to grub: Ian's Pizza.
"College life is treating me very well so far," Brown said. "I enjoy the independence and also having a roommate that plays basketball as well."
His roommate is fellow freshman Nigel Hayes, another Ohio forward. Hayes starred at Toledo Whitmer, about a half-hour down the road from Bowling Green. While the two players say they arrived at their college destinations independently, Brown admits his choice might have helped tipped the scales in Wisconsin's favor for Hayes.
"Me and Nigel have become great friends in a very short amount of time," Brown explained. "It's definitely nice having someone who's also from Ohio and the same size because we can do the same workouts."
Brown and Hayes have big shoes to fill now that Jared Berggren, Mike Bruesewitz and Ryan Evans have taken their games -- and their personalities -- off campus. The first step is simply getting acclimated to their new surroundings.
Buckling down with college coursework for the first time is a little bit easier with a reduced summer workload, but there is also much work to be done on the court. Wisconsin's freshmen have had a unique opportunity motivating them this summer -- a chance to play in real games right away during the team's Canadian basketball tour later this month. The Badgers depart for Ottawa on Aug. 20, then continue on to Toronto.
"I'm very excited for the Canada trip," Brown said, "partly because I haven't been there since I was a kid, and also because it's a great opportunity to play a couple games and keep growing with the team."
* * *
Basketball is just part of what makes Brown who he is, but it certainly is a big part. His hoops story started long ago and it has been a family affair. Because Vitto Brown is not the only baller in the family.
Brown's brother Xavier will be a junior this fall at Wooster, Wisconsin assistant coach Lamont Paris' alma mater. The 6-foot guard has starred since his freshman season at the Division III basketball power. Separated by two years and eight inches, the two brothers grew their fondness for the game early on with their father. And it never hurts to get the height in the family, as Vitto found out.
"My dad would take me and my older brother, Xavier, to the rec center at BGSU back when we were kids. He showed us how to play and we loved it," Brown explained. "I was always kind of tall but I hit my major growth spurt when I grew from 5-foot-7 in sixth grade to 6-foot-2 in seventh grade, over the summer."
But what if Brown hadn't continued growing into hoops stardom? What would he be doing today?
"I'd be going to school and majoring in music most likely," Brown guessed, "because singing is my second favorite thing behind basketball."
Though basketball and music are his two passions, Brown was also smart enough to not limit himself to just one sport in the past. He doubled as a cross country runner all through high school.
"My dad said they used to have to run cross country back when he was in high school, if they weren't playing football," Brown said. "So I tried it out and I began to like the workout and I had good friends on the team that made it easier to run. I believe it helped my stamina on the court."
That stamina will be tested throughout his freshman season, but perhaps most visibly when the basketball team resumes it's annual tradition of running "The Hill" at Elver Park in September. That doesn't mean the big guy is worried about it, though.
"All I've heard so far," Brown said, "is that the anticipation of running the hill is worse than actually running it."
With the help of a runner's conditioning, Brown slowly transformed into a force at Bowling Green on the basketball court. Though he started out mostly as a rebounder and shot-blocker early in his career due to his size, Brown posted averages of 19.2 points and 11.9 rebounds per game as a junior.
Then last year, Brown followed up with a tremendous senior campaign for the Bobcats. He put in extra hours at the gym ("a lot of shots on the gun") to improve his shooting touch, successfully developing himself into a consistent 3-point shooting threat.
His old high school coach at Bowling Green, Von Graffin, even called him a freak.
"He is a freak of nature, has really worked hard and has a great touch both at the foul line and from the perimeter."
In fact, Brown's clutch free throws clinched key victories for Bowling Green throughout the season.
When all was said and done, Brown shared Division 2 Player of the Year honors in Ohio and was named a first-team All-State selection after averaging 23.7 points and 13 rebounds as a senior. He left Bowling Green as the school's all-time leader in rebounds and blocked shots.
One of Brown's biggest problems previously was foul trouble -- not an uncommon thing for young shot-blockers. And though he'll have to keep working on that aspect now that he's surrounded by bigger, quicker players, Brown thinks he's come a long way toward finding a balance between blocking shots and making too much contact.
"My junior year, I had multiple games where I fouled out even though I still had clean blocks," Brown said. "But this year, I learned to wait and time shots better and block them off the back board many times."
The all-around improvement in his game has to be a welcome sight for the Badgers' coaching staff. Brown said he has gotten much stronger and more explosive since the days when Wisconsin first started recruiting him, too.
"I'm also a smarter player on defense and am able to read the opposition better," Brown said.
Luckily for Wisconsin, the staff had wisely locked Brown up before his senior season began thanks to the efforts of its assistant coach with the Ohio ties.
"Coach Paris was the main one who recruited me throughout the whole process," Brown said, before adding, "I have great relations with all the coaches."
I asked Brown about getting his college decision out of the way before the season started, which he did last Sept. 14. He said his main reason for committing early was to help help him focus on having a successful senior year at Bowling Green.
Brown fielded numerous scholarship offers from the Big Ten, Big 12 and MAC, but unlike Hayes, who chose Wisconsin over Ohio State, a Buckeye offer never materialized for Brown. That might worry a lot of Ohio kids, but Brown was never hung up on it. In fact, he made sure to stress he was never an Ohio State fan growing up.
"Not sure why, either," Brown pondered. "But my family never had that one team we rooted for in college every year."
Even so, the young man didn't hesitate when asked which opponent he was most looking forward to playing the as he begins his college career.
"[The] Buckeyes," Brown replied, "because it'll be an Ohio team and I know there will be tons of people from Bowling green and Toledo tuning in to watch."
Badger fans will all be watching, too, waiting for Brown to make some sweet music near the rim.
Join the Badger conversation on Facebook! Go to our Facebook page and "like" us!
For more Wisconsin basketball coverage, follow Phil on Twitter @hoopsmarinara.