HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — Willie Brown moved smoothly to the hoop and jammed home two points for Hofstra University.
A few minutes later, he tried the same maneuver. But this time, the ball was stripped away by an opposing player from North Carolina Charlotte.
Brown didn't know he was being pursued. He couldn't hear the squeak of basketball shoes or the breathing of the defender. Willie Brown is deaf.
"That's the weakest part of my game," Brown, a 6-foot-8 freshman from Macon, Ga., said through a sign-language translator after the 77-70 victory over UNC-Charlotte. "Because I'm deaf, I can't hear a player following me."
Yet, Brown, who was born deaf, is playing Division I basketball. He the first nine games of the season, he was the top shot-blocker on the Flying Dutchmen with 13 and was averaging 5.8 points and four rebounds in a reserve role. Hofstra was 6-3 through last weekend's Orange Bowl tournament.
Brown's best efforts have been 13 points and 10 rebounds against Virginia Wesleyan. He also scored 10 points and blocked two shots in a loss to Fordham.
"When I first heard he was coming here, like a lot of guys, I was skeptical," senior guard Robbie Weingard said "But he fits in excellently. The players have rallied around him.
"The coach knows sign language and a few of the guys know a little. He's very talented and only a freshman. He can run and jump."
Sophomore guard Leroy Allen added, "He's a great player and smart. Just because he's deaf, the opposing teams probably don't think that he can play, but he's a great shot-blocker and has quick moves."
Brown, who weighs 190 pounds, averaged 25.3 points and 10.8 rebounds for the Georgia School for the Deaf last season and was named Deaf Athlete of the Year. He holds the school record of 2,016 points.
"If he wasn't deaf, we would never have been able to recruit him. He's that good a player," Hofstra Coach Dick Berg said. Hofstra, a school of 6,000 students on Long Island, is a member of the East Coast Conference. While competitive, it has never been known as a basketball power. It does, however, offer programs for hearing-impaired students.
According to Berg, Brown also was recruited by St. Mary's of California and Georgia Tech, but "Georgia Tech didn't have a program for the hearing impaired as we do."
"He's our sixth or seventh man," Berg added. "He's a freshman learning a new system. And it's an adjustment for him having to compete in a hearing community as opposed to a non-hearing one.
"He's more of a finesse player and not a real power player inside, but he goes up for the ball a second and third time. One problem, though, is switching defenses. Unlike other players, he doesn't hear our players call out switches and that can cause problems."
Seven years ago, Brown, now 20, attended a basketball camp for the deaf in Georgia run by Mike Glenn, a veteran National Basketball Association player now with the Atlanta Hawks.
Glenn learned sign language because his father had been a coach and teacher at the Georgia School for the Deaf. He has been active in camps for the deaf through the years and has been a big booster of Brown.
"Mike Glenn has been a big influence in my life," Brown said through interpreter Sharon Getchell, who sits on the Hofstra bench and relays Berg's instructions."He always encouraged me and told me to work hard.
"Mike said that maybe some day I could make the pros. I wish I could. That's one of my goals, but I don't known what's in my future."
Brown has picked up quite a following. Deaf teen-agers from the nearby Mill Neck School attend Hofstra's home games and Brown signs autographs and meets with them afterward.
"The group gets larger with every game," Hofstra athletic director Bob Getchell said. "He's given them a hero."