Former standout Geoff Brower makes Hall of Fame

By DAVID HAYS
Lander Sports Information

GREENWOOD – As a Florida State Seminole, Geoff Brower played Atlantic Coast Conference basketball against the likes of Vince Carter, Joe Smith and Tim Duncan, and once scored 17 points against North Carolina in the Dean Dome with Dick Vitale at the microphone.

He traded all of that in to transfer to NCAA Division II Lander University, and has no regrets whatsoever.

"I was fortunate to play in the ACC and travel all over the United States playing major college basketball, in and out of some great universities and arenas, and I was just as fortunate to finish my career at Lander," said Brower, who was inducted into the Lander Athletics Hall of Fame on Saturday.

The Fort Walton Beach, Fla., native was elected into the Hall despite only two seasons at Lander. But he made the most of them, including leading the then Senators to the NCAA Division II Elite Eight in 1999 where they lost to eventual national champion Kentucky Wesleyan.

Brower was Lander's first-ever first-team men's basketball All-American in 2000, and was also first-team All-South Atlantic Region, a two-time All-Peach Belt Conference selection, and MVP of the 1999 South Atlantic Region Tournament.

In just two years with the Senators, Brower, the 1999-2000 Lander Male Athlete of the Year and two-time team MVP, scored 1,032 points and averaged 16.7 points per game.

He learned in January 2011 that we was elected to the Lander Athletics Hall of Fame.

"It's definitely an honor," said Brower, who played three seasons at Florida State (including a red-shirt year) before joining his older brother Chris who was an assistant coach at Lander.

"(Head) Coach Chipper Bagwell called me back in January and let me know the good news, and I was overwhelmed," said Brower, who was quite emotional during the induction ceremony.

"It is a great honor to be recognized. I am thankful. I am there (in the Hall) for a lot of reasons and a lot of people helped me get there. I am thankful that the Hall of Fame Committee even acknowledged me for such an award."

Brower was a star at Fort Walton Beach High School. He started on the varsity team as a freshman and was first-team All-State as a senior in 1994. That All-State team also included future North Carolina Tar Heel and NBA star Vince Carter. But that was just the tip of the iceberg for players Brower would be associated with.

"I had a very good junior year in high school and was invited to the Nike All-America camp with about 100 guys," Brower said. "That gave me a lot of confidence. They had a bunch of big-name guys like Allen Iverson, Kevin Garnett, and Ron Mercer from Kentucky. I did well there."

Brower said he was inundated with recruiting calls and letters. He made several visits and was even Tim Duncan's guest during a trip to Wake Forest.

"Growing up, we had always gone to Florida State camps. Once they (the Seminoles) got into the ACC, I wanted to play in the ACC. It just felt right at the time. I don't regret signing there. I committed and signed before my high school senior season even started. I was getting tired of people calling me from all over the country and waking my mom up at midnight and 2 a.m."

Brower wanted to stay close to home. "I wasn't going out West," he said.

Brower played only two games as a true freshman at Florida State in 1994-95, scored two points in 27 minutes of action, and was red-shirted.

Brower's best season in Tallahassee was his red-shirt freshman year when he played 27 games, including nine starts, all against ACC opponents. Brower scored a career-high 17 points in consecutive games against Wake Forest and Maryland, and 14 points against both N.C. State and Georgia Tech.

His career game came at North Carolina when the Seminoles upset UNC 84-80 on Feb. 24, 1996. The guard hit six of 10 shots, including all five from 3-point range, matching his career-high of 17 points in only 19 minutes of action. Dick Vitale and Brent Musberger were calling the game for ABC-TV.

"We had no business beating North Carolina," Brower said, with a laugh.

Brower's red-shirt sophomore year was not as productive. He scored 17 points for the fourth and final time of his Florida State career against Southeastern Louisiana in the 1996-97 season opener, and had 15 versus Marist and N.C. State.

Florida State did advance to the NIT championship game at Madison Square Garden that year and lost to the late Robert Traylor's Michigan team. Brower did not play in that game but did score eight points in the team's NIT opener at Syracuse.

Brower's red-shirt junior year was a disappointment. He scored a season-high eight points versus UNC Asheville Dec. 17, 1997, but a knee injury forced him out of action, and he would decide to transfer to Lander.

"I thought I should have played more," said Brower, who made 15 starts during his red-shirt freshman and sophomore years and hit 56 career 3-pointers at FSU. "When I got my minutes, I did well."

Brower needed a change and his older brother Chris invited him to Lander. Chris was a 3-point shooting specialist at Virginia Commonwealth University and was someone Geoff trusted due to his experience. Geoff rehabbed his knee and came to Greenwood.

"Chris had faith in me and believed in me and offered me an opportunity that I couldn't pass up," said Brower, whose brother would eventually join the University of South Carolina women's basketball coaching staff in the early 2000's.

"I figured I could get my knee right, help Lander out, have some fun, and it was a no-brainer."

The younger Brower came to Lander's Homecoming game in February 1998 and was impressed with the Finis Horne Arena facility. He would return to Greenwood in August to begin preparation with his new team.

The 1998-99 squad went 25-7 and advanced farther than any Lander team before it or since, reaching the Elite Eight. Brower, JUCO transfer Naim Fogle, David Loboja, Kacey Martin, Terrance Powell, Lloyd Wilson and Travis Lane led the way.

The Senators tied for the Peach Belt regular season championship and lost in the PBC tournament semifinals to Georgia College & State University, 61-59, on a last-second shot. But they made the NCAAs as an at-large team and were sent to the South Atlantic Regional hosted by Georgia College in Milledgeville, Ga.

Lander beat Catawba in the first round of the Regional, giving the school its first-ever NCAA Tournament victory. Next up was Georgia College, and it was time for some payback.

"I think they probably had 5,000 people there and it was a tremendous game," Coach Bagwell said. "It came down to the end and we beat them (49-46)."

The Senators outlasted Winston-Salem State in another defensive battle, 47-46, for the Regional championship. It was on to the Elite Eight where Lander would be a major underdog against the nation's No. 1 team Kentucky Wesleyan. To make matters tougher, the Elite Eight was played in Kentucky Wesleyan's back yard in Louisville, Ky.

The Senators played up their roles as underdogs.

"Nobody expected us to win. Kentucky Wesleyan didn't figure we could win. The press didn't figure we could win," Bagwell said during a 2008 interview about Lander's basketball history.

"They were saying, 'poor old Lander, that's a tough draw for you guys, your first time ever being in the Elite Eight.' So I agreed with them. I even gave a little talk at the banquet that night in front of the players and the press and kind of poor-mouthed us," Bagwell continued.

"Kentucky Wesleyan scored the first eight points (of the game). But we hit a couple of threes and it was a two or three-point game at halftime. We go into the locker room and we realized this is the number one team in the country and we ought to be winning. We go out in the second half and build a seven-point lead with about three minutes to go in the game. The game kind of got sideways toward the end and we wound up getting beat," Bagwell said.

Brower said there were questionable calls in the closing minutes.

"The refs saved them," Brower said, with a laugh. "Beating them doesn't give us the national championship even though they continued on and won it that year. But if you ask any of the eight teams or eight head coaches who won that game, they would all say that we (deserved) to have won that game."

Brower was pleasantly surprised with his overall experience at Lander.

"I didn't want any of the other players to feel like, 'here is this big shot coming from Florida State playing for his brother.' I didn't think I was any better than the other guys. And it was nothing like that," Brower said. "We all clicked. All 12 guys got along from the beginning. We worked hard together, played hard together, and did everything together.

"The '98-99 year was a great year for us all, and we fell short in 99-2000, but we still had a good season. It was two good years and I will always have those memories. I definitely enjoyed my stay at LU. Everybody bought into the program, we got along so well like a big family, we had fun together, and we won. I am very thankful."

Brower played overseas for a while, spending the summer of 2000 in China, and also playing for a team in Finland, getting to travel to places like Sweden and Estonia for games. He played in Australia in the summer of 2001. It was an overall good experience.

"I figured if I had two good years at Lander, I would have a shot of playing beyond college," Brower said. "I was fortunate enough to play in a few different countries. Obviously, it was the right decision."

Brower was invited to the inaugural National Basketball Development League camp in the fall of 2001 with about 150 other players.

"They drafted at the end of the week and I was fortunate enough to get drafted by the Huntsville Flight and was traded to the Asheville Altitude," Brower recalled. "I was there (in Asheville) for a couple of weeks and got released. I could have gone back overseas. But I got involved with some old business partners and our business grew. I was very fortunate."

Brower returned to his west Florida coastal roots and now lives in Destin, located across the bridge from his home town of Fort Walton Beach. Brower is Vice President of Classic Cookie Fund-Raising, Inc.

The company manufactures its own brand of cookie dough and sells and distributes to fund-raising companies across America. The dough is often used for school fund-raiders.

Brower's business partner's father started the business and had cookie retail stores in malls.

"We used to help make it (cookie dough) and take it to retail stores," Brower said. "When I got done playing basketball, I thought, 'do I go back overseas and play for nothing, or do I get into this?' It's been a tough road, but I have been doing this 10 years.

"Who would have thought I would be selling cookie dough? A lot of people know me around here, a lot of schools and groups, and they ask, 'how did you get into that," Brower said, laughing.

Brower enjoys his business and plays a lot of golf these days. He said he is just enjoying life.

"I'm 35 now, and I'm still just a big kid," he said.

Chris Brower, his wife and two children accompanied Geoff at the Hall of Fame induction. Also attending were the Browers' mother Rebecca Pavlic Edge and their aunt.