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March 26, 2008
Brazelton leading Western Kentucky charge
» MORE: Rivals.com NCAA Tourney Central | HIGHLIGHTS: Western Kentucky stops San Diego
TAMPA – When "The General" speaks, you need to pay attention.
Senior swingman Courtney Lee is Western Kentucky's NBA prospect. Senior guard Ty Rogers is "Mr. One Shining Moment," as his coach called him, for his game-winning 3-pointer in overtime against Drake in the first round of the West Regional.
But Bob Knight highlighted one Hilltopper in his new gig as an ESPN analyst, and it wasn't either of those guys. Instead, it was senior point guard Tyrone Brazelton, whose pass to Rogers for the game-winner Knight called "one of the best pressure plays I've seen."
Rogers inbounded the ball from under Drake's basket to Brazelton. Rogers trailed the play as Brazelton pushed the ball across midcourt to the top of the key, drawing two defenders. Brazelton then did what Knight said only one in a 1,000 guards would do: He passed it to Rogers.
Brazelton already had had a career day with 33 points, including 24 in the final 25 minutes. But he was covered, so he gave it up.
"It was just a very heads-up play, unselfish play, and I can't say enough about that," Rogers said.
Two days later, Brazelton came up big again to help Western Kentucky get to the Sweet 16. San Diego had rallied from 15 down to take a 55-54 lead with 6:35 left. On Western's next possession, Brazelton found an open Lee for a go-ahead 3-pointer. Brazelton followed that with a 3-pointer of his own to help Western develop a small cushion.
Averaging 13.9 points per game, Brazelton has proven he can score. But he'll again have do much more when the Hilltoppers face top-seeded UCLA on Thursday in Phoenix in a regional semifinal game. Because of his quickness, he likely will be asked to defend Bruins point guard Darren Collison.
Western is going to be at a size disadvantage against UCLA, so the Hilltoppers need a big game from their backcourt. Western likely will use as many as five guards and wants to push the pace.
It's fitting Brazelton will be on the same court as Collison in the Sweet 16. Brazelton spent the summer watching tape of Collison - as well as Texas guard D.J. Augustin and New Orleans Hornets guard Chris Paul.
"The way (Collison) controls the game and the tempo, that's pretty rare these days," Brazelton said.
It's been a lesson Brazelton, generously listed at 6 feet and 180 pounds, learned well as a senior.
He may have been the missing piece in a senior class that included Lee and Rogers, who were part of Horn's first signing class at Western Kentucky. Brazelton, a Chicago native, arrived two years later as a transfer from Missouri State-West Plains, a two-year school. After getting acclimated as a junior, Brazelton developed into the ideal point guard to run the Hilltoppers' up-tempo offense and pressure defense this season.
Brazelton was a little homesick when he arrived on campus. Lee, who once said he had "a foot and a half" out the door at Western Kentucky, comforted his teammate when he questioned his decision. On the court, it took him most of his first season to adjust to being the leader.
"It was hard being a JUCO point guard," Brazelton said. "You want to lead everybody, but being new, it was hard for me. I couldn't lead the way I wanted to."
Over the summer, he developed a better rapport with his teammates. That was never more evident than when he dished the ball to Rogers in the final seconds against Drake.
"It took an awful lot of faith for Tyrone to flip that shot back to his teammate," Horn said. "I think what it showed also was a lot of trust. Not only a great play and a great read on Tyrone's part by a really good player, but I think it showed a lot of trust in his teammates. … A lot of guys wouldn't do that."
David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.