Numerous former basketball players were on hand to remember their coach.
Armand Brown’s title at Thomas Nelson Community College was assistant head basketball coach for the men’s team. More than a dozen people who spoke at a candle-light vigil held in his honor Sept. 17, two days after he died in a car accident, made it clear that he was so much more.
Close to 200 people, including his mother and daughter, gathered at the College’s Hampton campus on a warm evening to pay respects and remember the man who went by the nickname “Ant.” Brown, who would have turned 40 the day of the vigil, will be remembered mostly for his smile, heart, compassion, positive attitude and how he thought of everyone as family.
“A true friend. His laughter, smile and kind gestures made the day for many people,” one former player said.
“He was more than basketball. It was life,” said another, who added sometimes it was a timely walk around the mall with Brown that helped get him through the day. “Always with a smile on his face. He’s family to all. Ant always preached for everybody to be family. We are all family here.”
“He not only taught me about the game of basketball, but he taught me how to be a better man. He taught me life and personal lessons … that I still carry to this day.”
“He believed in you. He encouraged you.”
Another speaker said he didn’t think of himself as Brown's friend because they were much more, they were family.
Folks started gathering at 6:45 for the 7 o’clock vigil in the courtyard outside the Gator Café. Green and white balloons representing his favorite NFL team (New York Jets) were tied to chairs. Standing out among balloons was a football-shaped one baring the Jets logo. A drawing of coach was leaning up against the lectern, which was adorned with his photo and a Thomas Nelson flag.
“What he did here, especially for young African-American males, he provided a safe haven,” Chad Smith, coordinator of Intramurals and Athletics for Thomas Nelson, said at the vigil. “He provided a place for them to continue their basketball experiences as well as their education.”
Brown was born in Savannah, Ga. and graduated from Hampton High School in 1997. He was a member of the Crabbers’ state championship basketball team his senior year. He played two years of club basketball at Thomas Nelson, and started his long coaching tenure for the Gators in 2001 . He was the men’s coach for more than 12 years before moving to the role of assistant when the College became a member of the National Junior College Athletic Association for the 2017-18 season.
“It was a move he was totally in favor of,” Smith said.
Angela Jackson, who coached Brown for two years at Thomas Nelson, hired him as an assistant shortly after his playing career with the Gators ended. She said hiring him wasn't a difficult decision.
“It was mostly because I knew he knew the game, not just physically but in a mental capacity,” Jackson said. “When he played for me, I watched how he handled the game. (That) let me know he was more than just a player. He thought basketball. A lot of people play the game and don’t think.”
He was officially named head coach beginning with the 2004 season.
“I considered him a head coach all along,” Jackson said. “It was just like I didn’t have to worry about anything once he came on board.”
She was one of the first people to speak at the vigil, which featured a lot of hugs and tears from those in attendance, who ranged from babies and teenagers to adults and former players.
“He’s done so much for these kids, the young men, young women. He did so much for me. And I’m going to miss him so much,” Jackson said through tears.
She said the first thing she will remember about Brown is his “big heart, big gigantic heart. He loved everybody. He was there for everybody. There was no player that he didn’t encourage. He was like a son to me.”
Phyllis Brown, his mother, mentioned a conversation with her son. She told him that he wasn’t going to get rich coaching at a community college. That wasn’t his top priority, she said. He stayed at Thomas Nelson for one reason.
“He told me, ‘There are kids out there who need me.’”
At the end of the vigil, balloons were released into the darkening sky, with a gentle breeze lifting them higher and higher. The crowd sang “Happy Birthday” to Brown, who was an only child.
A wake/viewing was held Sept. 20 at Cooke Brothers Funeral Home in Newport News, and his funeral took place Sept. 21 at the Cornerstone Worship Center in Hampton.