How Dee Brown almost chose Michigan State over Illinois - and why his recruitment started a personal rivalry

Dee Brown and Michigan State have plenty of history.

If you ask the former Illinois star about the Spartans, he'll tell you about his performances against MSU. During Brown's time in Champaign, Illinois had 5-2 record against Michigan State.

"I used to give them work," Brown said. "Like, a lot of work."

That's because there's some history there.

The main reason being Brown was almost a Spartan instead of a Fighting Illini.

"It was between Illinois and Michigan State at the end," Brown said. "Shannon Brown was my high school teammate, we were going to go together."

That history sparked a personal rivalry for Brown.

It started when Brown committed to Illinois while he was a player at Proviso East High School. He was rated as the second-best recruit in the nation by 

In his senior season at Proviso East, Brown was the Illinois' Gatorade Player of the Year in 2002, McDonald's All-American and First-Team All-State picks by the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, and the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette.

How close was it? Brown committed to Illinois right before visiting Michigan State. 

"I committed to Illinois here at Moody Bible," Brown said. "I'm about to go to Michigan State the next weekend."

However, that commitment was something that happened in the moment.

Brown said then-Illinois head coach Bill Self talked to Brown after an in-season tournament. Self had heard from Brown's mother visit to Michigan State was on the calendar.

That's when Self had a talk with Brown.

"She tells Bill and them that I'm going to Michigan State," Brown said. "We go in a room, and he says ‘man, what are doing? Are we going to get this done?'"

Brown committed to Self and the Illini right there. But, he still wanted to take is visit to MSU.

He called a Spartans' basketball coach, whom Brown left unnamed, to see if his visit to East Lansing was still on the books. That coach informed him Michigan State was no longer recruiting him.

They heard about his pledge to Illinois.

"No, you can't come," Brown said. "You committed to Illinois."

That ended Brown's recruiting right there. But, it could just as easily have gone the other way.

If Brown got to Michigan State's campus and took his visit, would he have committed to the Spartans and Tom Izzo?

"I probably would've," Brown said.

Instead, Brown went to Champaign and played for Self for a season before Self took the head coaching job at Kansas. Then, Brown played for Bruce Weber and nearly won a national title in 2005.

In his Illinois career, Brown scored 3,624 points, made 598 3-pointers and played in 274 games. He was the 2004-05 Big Ten Player of the Year, the 2005-2006 Bob Cousey Award winner for the best men's collegiate point guard.

In that career, he also had his personal rivalry with the Spartans that resonated because of his recruitment.

In his career, Brown averaged 16.8 points per game against the Spartans. His best game against MSU came on January 5, 2006.

In that game, Brown scored 34 points, more than half of Illinois' total points in the evening, a 60-50 win over the Spartans.

This competitiveness was burnt so vividly in Brown's conscious, he couldn't bring himself to talk to his former high school teammate Shannon Brown.

"I didn't talk to Shannon," Brown said. "I can't talk to him. We're in the competition business."

Dee and Shannon Brown eventually reconciled later when both were in the NBA. The two reconnected after a game, and Dee explained how personally he took the rivalry and how intense his college career became at Illinois.

"You're trying to take what's mine," Brown said.

Illinois was, in a way, ahead of its time.

It utilized a guard rotation of Brown, Deron Willians, Luther Head and Roger Powell that made the second-most 3-point field goals and took the fourth-most 3-point field goals in the NCAA.

That kind of shooting and pace the Illini played with in 2005 is seen in the present day, but wasn't as prevalent in the 2000s when a rebounding and offensive center was an integral part of the game.

The competitive fire and understanding of the game directly impacts how Brown coaches now as the head coach of Roosevelt University in downtown Chicago.

In the 2023-2024 season, Roosevelt finished with a 25-5 overall record and won the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference title. What makes Brown such a successful coach is how he understands how to be a follower.

On an Illinois team with five eventual NBA players, Brown followed when he needed to and starred when he needed it.

Those moments where he starred against Michigan State came because he followed and led in the right moments. It made the rivalry meaningful.

"Everyone don't want to be that," Brown said. "I knew how to go about that, I do my job."


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