Chaundee Brown leaned back in his chair and smiled.
Since transferring to Michigan from Wake Forest in May, Brown has been grounded in a perpetual state of limbo. The status of his waiver — which would determine his eligibility for the upcoming season — loomed over his head.
On Friday, Brown’s wait ended. He secured the coveted waiver and, along with it, immediate eligibility.
As Brown spoke to reporters on a Zoom call Monday afternoon, his words carried a certain ease to them, pointing to the weight that had been lifted off his shoulders.
“It was a great feeling,” Brown said. “I’ve been waiting for it for a long time. Just been frustrated cause I’d like to know for a while, cause I didn’t know what position I was in, if I was gonna play this year.”
As he embarks on his senior season, and his first in Ann Arbor, Brown is an accomplished college player. He is both battle-tested, having been a three-year starter in the notoriously difficult ACC, and dependable — he contributed 12.1 points per game last year, the third-highest mark on the team. He has five career double-doubles and 13 20-point outings to his name.
Yet on Brown’s resume, one item proves conspicuously absent: team success.
During Brown’s Wake Forest tenure, the Demon Deacons posted a record of 35-58. They never finished higher than 11th in the conference and the NCAA Tournament was all but a pipe dream.
When Brown committed to Wake Forest in the fall of 2016, he envisioned his career arc unfolding differently. The No. 38 player in the country, Brown was the school’s highest-ranked commit since 2008. He turned down the likes of Kansas, Florida and Uconn to transform Wake Forest into a perennial contender and restore winning ways not seen since the days of Chris Paul. He believed in Danny Manning’s burgeoning program, which would go on to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010 in the 2016-17 season.
“He wanted to win,” former Wake Forest assistant coach Steve Woodberry said of Brown. “He wanted to come in and do something different and make his mark on the program.”
Brown did all he could to turn Wake Forest’s fortunes around, making himself amenable to any role that would help the team. Though a natural wing player, he frequently played power forward, chiseling his 6-foot-5 frame and giving three inches to battle inside. He diversified his offensive game to shoulder the scoring load, offering an array of post-ups and three-pointers. On defense, he switched one through five.
“We kinda moved him all over,” Woodberry said.
“He had a willingness to do that, never batted an eye about it,” former Wake Forest associate head coach Rex Walters said. “It was, ‘What do I need to do to give us the best chance to have success?’ A lot of very talented players out there, they’re really not about winning. They’re about them. They’re about, ‘How do I play more, how do I get more shots?’ Chaundee, he wants to win.”
Along the way, not once did Brown complain. Woodberry remembers often seeing Brown alone in the weight room, both before his teammates arrived and after they left.
“He never cheated himself,” Woodberry said. “He came in and worked his butt off every day to get better as a player and to help the team get better. That’s just who he is. He wants to be great.”
Despite Brown’s best efforts, Wake Forest endured a trio of fruitless seasons. So in April, with one year of eligibility remaining, Brown pondered his future. He initially announced his intention to declare for the NBA Draft, but his name was absent from most mock drafts and, without an NCAA Tournament appearance, his collegiate career felt incomplete. Transferring was the next best option.
On May 19, Brown committed to Michigan over Gonzaga, LSU, Illinois and Iowa State. Michigan’s winning pedigree stood out. He was also swayed in part by former Wolverine Colin Castleton, a fellow Florida native and childhood friend of Brown’s. Castleton, though transferring himself in April, had “nothing bad to say about Michigan.”
At long last ruled eligible, there is a sense of finality to Brown’s upcoming senior season.
“This is his last shot as a college athlete,” Walters said. “With Chaundee, there’s no real agenda. There were never any agendas at Wake Forest except to help us win a ballgame, by any means necessary. … He wants to win badly. He’s willing to sacrifice his body, the effort, the energy, the enthusiasm. He’s willing to give all of that. He just wants to win.”
Michigan’s roster is more complete than Wake Forest’s ever was during Brown’s tenure. There are formidable pieces at every position. Brown won’t have to be the player he was at Wake Forest, forced out of his comfort zone or tasked as the lead scorer. He can revert to square one.
“I can see myself helping this team this year by playing my game,” Brown, who has seen time at the ‘2’ and the ‘3’ in practice, said. “Coach (Juwan) Howard recruited me because he liked my game, so there’s no need to change it. Just got to be the player I am.”
At the end of Friday’s practice, Howard huddled the team at the end of the court, underneath the basket. He informed them that Brown’s waiver had been approved, prompting a raucous celebration — Brown was engulfed in a mosh pit by his teammates who pierced the air with euphoric screams.
“It’s really a family here,” Brown said. “Everyone in the locker room gets along, we’re laughing and giggling and stuff like that. I’ve never had a team like this that’s so close and everything.”
Brown has also never been on a team so well-equipped to compete. After suffering through three losing seasons at Wake Forest and a five month wait for eligibility, he can hone in on all that matters to him: winning.
“My big goal is to win a Big Ten championship (and) national championship,” Brown said. “That’s everyone’s goal. But individual goals, I really put that to the side. I do anything to help the team out right now.”
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