WASHINGTON — Intense. Demanding. Passionate.
Those who knew Kevin Brown best used those words to describe the Washington High School basketball coach, who died Tuesday night at age 50 after an 11-month battle with brain cancer.
A Lexington native and Eureka College graduate, Brown coached at Central Catholic from 1997 to 2002. In his last year, the Saints opened 1-9, but wound up in the Elite Eight.
Chris Hawkins met Brown in kindergarten. Forty-five years later, on Monday to be exact, they were baptized together. They grew up when friends had to memorize each other's phone number if they wanted to organize pickup games. Hawkins still knows Brown's old number.
"I always knew he was going to be able to play," said Hawkins, Normal West's baseball coach. "We always wanted to make sure we were on the same team because no one wanted to win more than the two of us. We just took it seriously whether we were playing in the backyard or in an all-star game."
Hawkins won't forget one of Brown's coaching tools. He'd ask players to raise their hands as high as possible.
"Then he'd say, 'raise them an inch farther' and they realized they could," Hawkins said.
Memories of Brown flooded social media on Wednesday. Former Washington player Dyricus Edwards wrote to Brown on Facebook: "You saw things in me that I didn't know existed like you had X-ray vision for my potential."
Critics considered Brown too intense. In May of 2017, some players' parents wanted the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Famer fired. They failed.
"It wasn't always comfortable to be coached by Kevin," Hawkins said. "I would let my son, if I had one, play for him. It wasn't always comfortable because he was digging them deeper than they thought they could go."
Former Illinois Wesleyan standout Sean Johnson, now an Illinois State assistant athletic director, eloquently wrote on Twitter about the times Brown's coaching made him cry. The first time, Brown berated Johnson for not taking basketball seriously.
As Brown built Johnson into a star, their goal became the state tournament.
"We never made it," Johnson wrote. "It killed me. The team the year after went, and before the game, when he should be prepping, Kevin texted me to come to the tunnel. He gave me a hug and told me he wished I was there (playing). It made me cry."
In a phone interview later, Johnson added, "He was an incredibly passionate person. He was passionate about the process in which you became a good basketball player. He never cut corners in life."
Brown also took a Washington baseball team to the state tournament. One of those players, Mason McCoy of the Baltimore Orioles organization, recently sent his first professional bat to Brown as a show of thanks.
Brown is survived by his wife, Jodi. They had no children, but they treated his players like sons.
"They've been to visit him," Hawkins said. "He had a lot of loving friends and family around him last night."
Jeff Kasher, Brown's assistant coach in 2002, made five trips from Atlanta, Ga., to visit Brown the past year. Kasher said Brown was thrilled when former players visited.
"When they would leave, he would break down pretty good," Kasher said. "He was very emotional. He loved the kids that he coached."
It was Kasher who got emotional after visiting Brown at a Chicago rehab center.
"I didn't handle it very well when I was up there," Kasher recalled, "and he was consoling me."
Brown's former Eureka College basketball coach, Dave Darnall, remembers Brown's work ethic.
"He was very dedicated," said Darnall, who visited Brown weekly. "I think he was an old-school coach. I think he was a lot like me. He believed very much in discipline."
Darnall and Brown recently discussed Brown's final game in the 1992 NAIA National Tournament in which he scored a career-high 29 points. They also talked about Brown scheduling a game at Eureka College's refurbished gym.
"We both talked like he was going to coach again on our floor," Darnall said. "He made a lot of difference to a lot of people. It's a big loss to everybody."