Lenny Brown is Xavier's most contradictory basketball star. He leads the Musketeers in both scoring and selflessness. His ego problem is that he does not have enough of it.
When Brown's jump shot stops falling, his first inclination is to stop shooting. He has too much conscience to continue throwing bricks at an unyielding basket, and too little confidence to be convinced his aim will improve through repetition.
''It gets to the point where if I'm not shooting good and it's not going in, what's the use in me shooting?'' he said. ''I'll be hurting the team if I keep shooting like this.''
Thursday night at Cincinnati Gardens, Brown sat in a folding chair and stared at an inflexible stat sheet. With a blue marking pen, he drew a circle around his field-goal numbers against St. Bonaventure (2 for 9) and another around his three-point performance (0 for 4). He wore the worried look of a student overmatched by an algebra final.
Every basketball player goes through games like that, but Brown's futility spanned most of February. He made less than 37 percent of his shots during the month, and has missed 15 of his last 16 attempts from three-point range. His bad nights have been bunched like so many bananas.
''Nights?'' he said, his voice rising in exasperation. ''I'm having nights after nights after nights after nights. I ain't been doing jack. I'm questioning my shots, thinking too much on the court. It affects you in your mind, and then it affects your mechanics. Early in the season, I had a lot of confidence. Now it's gone.''
The Muskies close their regular season this afternoon at Virginia Tech, and they have no higher priority than restoring Brown's faith in time for the postseason tournaments. At 21-4, Xavier is already assured of a berth in the NCAA bracket, but its ability to advance may hinge on Brown shaking his slump.
The strength of Skip Prosser's team is that it is an ensemble production as opposed to a vehicle for a single star. Lenny Brown totaled seven points in his last two games, and the Muskies still managed quite nicely. That said, their competition is about to get better, the stakes higher, and their shooting guard more essential.
''Lenny's the kind of guy where he thinks he's letting everybody down when he's not shooting well,'' said Xavier assistant coach Dave Wojcik. ''I think he's pressing. You can see it on his face.
''I thought he was trying to hurry up his shot (against St. Bonaventure) instead of letting the shots come to him. He's taking some shots that might be bad shots, whereas if he were a little more patient and came off another screen, he might be wide open.''
Wojcik believes Brown can find his range if he starts by shooting closer to the basket. The theory is that once he gets on the board with a layup, a transition dunk or a pull-up jump shot, Brown may feel less panic on the perimeter.
''He doesn't have to worry that I'll tell him to stop shooting,'' Prosser said. ''I've never done that, and I don't plan on doing it. The reason I don't plan on doing it is because he comes in and works before and after practice. Guys who work on their shooting, I have no problems with them shooting.''
Last Sunday, after a two-point performance against LaSalle, Brown called Wojcik to request some private tutoring. They met at Schmidt Fieldhouse and spent an hour in search of the proper release and the preferred rotation. Wojcik reminded Brown to concentrate on the rim instead of the ball. It was just basic stuff in need of regular reinforcement.
''He was shooting the ball well,'' Wojcik said. ''Obviously, there's no defenders back there. But when he missed like three in a row, he started getting mad. I was telling him, 'You might miss five in a row, but you have to continue to shoot the basketball.' If he stops shooting, then he's hurting the team.''
It is a rare player who needs any encouragement in this regard. Basketball stars are typically brazen. Guilt is not usually a big part of their game.
''I think Lenny will get to the point where he has no conscience,'' Prosser said. ''That's learned behavior. Selflessness is a sign of your intelligence.''