After beating COVID, Ohio State's Gene Brown making up for lost time

Adam Jardy
The Columbus Dispatch
Ohio State guard Gene Brown is staying in Columbus the rest of the summer to work on conditioning after being hospitalized twice in April due to COVID-19 and resulting complications.

For the majority of an up-tempo, 36-minute game that featured nearly 300 combined points, Gene Brown did his best to keep pace.

Sunday night, the second-year Ohio State guard suited up for the Kingdom Summer League alongside teammate E.J. Liddell and against fellow Buckeye Malaki Branham. He would finish with 14 points, three steals, two rebounds and a block, but the end product wasn’t as important to Brown as the minutes logged.

“It was good to get out there, gain my reps and everything, coming off of COVID in April,” he told The Dispatch, standing on the court at Northside Christian School. “It was good to get out there, get some run in and go against my teammate (Branham).”

After playing in 29 of Ohio State’s 31 games during his first season, averaging 1.2 points and 1.3 rebounds in 6.1 minutes per appearance, Brown said he was home in Georgia in early April when he got sick. What followed was a test of faith throughout a pair of hospitalizations during a 17-day period.

“It was pretty scary,” Brown said, noting that his faith in God and the support of his parents were both pivotal. “The first couple days, it was all right, but once I had to go to the hospital, that’s where it got troublesome. That’s where I got worried.”

Brown said he was admitted with what proved to be COVID-19, strep throat and a sinus infection all at the same time. As his immune system struggled to keep up, Brown said he developed problems with his liver and kidneys. The first hospital stay lasted 11 days, but after being sent home he developed a rash as a side effect to one of the medications he had been prescribed. That sent him back for a few more days of testing, bloodwork and observation.

It was a lot to process, and it meant Brown certainly wasn’t spending the spring working on his game.

“I was battling the effects the whole summer,” he said. “Right now I’m just trying to get to a point where I can go pretty hard pretty consistently. The coaches, the medical team has been working with me.”

Brown said that nobody tested positive as a result of contact with him, and he never exposed any of his teammates. Back in Columbus, Liddell kept in touch with his friend to try and keep his spirits high.

“You saw, he was down,” Liddell said. “Gene’s never down. Always an upbeat-type of guy. I would call him to make sure he was OK. It was really tough, but I’m happy he’s taking strides to get back to where he is.”

This wasn’t the first time Brown has had to face significant personal adversity. As a junior at Conyers (Georgia) Southwest DeKalb, Brown suffered a broken tibia that cost him much of the season and subsequent offseason. As a senior, Brown averaged 17 points and nine rebounds and earned first-team all-state honors while putting the injury behind him.

Doing so was no easy feat. Neither was this.

“It still kind of takes a toll on me mentally, but I’m talking to the right people, doing the right things for my mental health,” he said. “I’ll be good.”

Brown will enter his second season at Ohio State with an opportunity for more playing time. The Buckeyes lost their two primary guards in CJ Walker and Duane Washington Jr. to the professional level, creating a void in the backcourt, and despite his limited offensive production last season, coach Chris Holtmann frequently praised the 6-6, 195-pound Brown for his defensive versatility.

Liddell pointed to Brown’s work on Iowa’s Joe Wieskamp in spot duty last season as an example of what he can provide when fully healthy. In addition, Brown’s three three-pointers against UCLA were important in the Buckeyes key December win against the Bruins in the CBS Sports Classic played at Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse in Cleveland.

“He really wants to play,” Liddell said. “He’ll compete for a spot and he’s gonna do well.”

Ohio State concluded its summer workouts last week. Players are free to return home before reporting back to campus around the end of the month to start fall classes and resume conditioning. Brown said he plans to remain in Columbus to focus on his workouts and his recovery.

Brown’s teammates are helping him do that.

“I feel like any time anybody on the team goes through a hardship or adversity, it just brings us all together because the whole team is there to support you,” he said. “I feel like I’ve got more consistent (on the court). I feel like my defense has gotten better and I’ve improved on a lot of different skills.”

Sunday, that much was on display at the Kingdom.

ajardy@dispatch.com

@AdamJardy