Shannon Brown's grandmother heard deafening cheers for her grandson at his basketball games, as well as jeers from opponents' fans wanting to taunt the Proviso East senior.
But during one postseason game, his grandmother, Betty Richardson, decided she had heard enough as she listened to one female fan trash-talk her grandson from the bleachers.
"The lady said, `He thinks he's so great, but they're going to fix him when he gets to college,'" Richardson recalled. "I said, `He's going to do just fine when he gets to college. That's my grandson you're talking about."
After the game Richardson, 63, got a closer look at a sign the woman had held up during the game. It read: "Knock down the beast from the East, Shannon Brown." She wasn't about to let the fan get away with it.
"I said, `Give me the sign, honey,'" recalled Richardson, who took it away from the woman. "I guess it wasn't good team spirit on my part, but I just didn't think it was very nice of her."
Brown still grins with pride when he thinks about his grandmother rushing to his defense.
"Can you imagine if she goes to a road game in college?" he asked. "She'll have to fight 20,000."
If his college career at Michigan State is anything like his run in high school, he'll be opponents' worst nightmare there too. The 6-foot-3-inch guard concluded his final season at Proviso East with a long list of national and statewide honors, including Illinois' biggest: Mr. Basketball.
A year after former backcourt teammate and current Illinois star Dee Brown won the award, Shannon Brown, who is not related to Dee, gives the Maywood school back-to-back winners--by an overwhelming margin.
He collected 129 first-place votes and 887 total points in voting by the state's coaches and media. Runner-up Dameon Mason of West Aurora finished with 38 first-place votes and 391 total points. Five points were awarded for first-place votes, three for second place and one for third.
The McDonald's and Parade All-American had the highest scoring average among All-State players at 27.9 to go with averages of 7.2 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 3.0 steals a game. He connected on 53 percent of his field-goal attempts, including 39 percent of his three-pointers.
Last summer the quiet leader made a statement to his teammates and coaches when he dropped his traveling club team to play with Proviso East.
"I knew what was more important, my high school team and building camaraderie," he said.
In previous seasons he had been known as Dee Brown's sidekick. This season he left no doubt that his talents and skills could carry Proviso East. He led the Pirates to a 25-4 record and came through with his biggest games in the season's final six weeks. In an overtime victory over district rival Proviso West, he scored 37 points and followed with 38 in an overtime loss to West Aurora.
"It emphasized how he could take over games," Proviso East coach Troy Jackson said. "It's like he would say, `We're not getting it done, so it's time to take over and put the team on my back.'"
Brown tried to get Proviso East to the state quarterfinals for the first time since 1993, but the team came up short with an overtime sectional final loss to Hubbard despite his 35 points.
In his three varsity seasons, he grew familiar with the community's fervor for basketball and its desire to return to the heyday of the Three Amigos--Michael Finley, Donnie Boyce and Sherell Ford--who led Proviso East to the 1991 state title, one of four state championships Proviso East won from 1969 to 1992.
He became all too familiar with criticism that came down on the team and him specifically when the team lost.
Even some classmates he had once called friends turned their backs on Brown when the going got tough for Proviso East, which went 76-11 with Brown in the varsity lineup.
"People were saying I'm not going to be this and that, and the team wasn't going to be this and that," Brown said. "To prove those people wrong, it was great."
He didn't need their criticism to fuel his desire. Playing in memory of his cousin, Tatiana Cannon, was enough motivation. Cannon, 14, was finishing her freshman year at Bolingbrook two years ago when she was fatally shot by a 16-year-old sophomore at a classmate's home.
"She was the life of a party," Brown said. "She could make anyone smile. We lost her, and it hurt everybody in the family."
Brown remembers that his cousin, his playmate as a child, shared his passion for basketball, and he believes she could have become an outstanding player. He inscribed her nickname, Tati, with a marker on his headbands for games.
"Everything I do now is dedicated to her," he said. "And I work harder because I know that tomorrow is not promised."
He is his toughest critic. Brown says he is still working to improve fundamental skills, from defense to ballhandling and everything in between.
"I've been getting away with being athletic," he said. "I'm going to have to get fundamentally sound."
His father, Chris, a sergeant with the Maywood Police Department, used to run an open gym at Brown's elementary school and began taking his son along when Shannon was a 1st-grader.
"He would be lying on the floor, messing around," Chris Brown said. "I would make him stay on the sidelines."
Eventually Brown started shooting hoops and moved on to the playground at Schroeder Memorial Park in nearby Broadview. In 8th grade he met Dee Brown, and they became one of the state's top duos. They wore each other out on the court, his father says, playing three or four hours of one-on-one full-court basketball.
"They would get on each other's nerves and then go play video games and eat together," Chris Brown said.
The biggest demand placed on Shannon by his father and mother, Sandra, came in the classroom.
"In our house, God is first and school is second," his father said.
That explains why Brown is an honor-roll student and regularly attends Sunday services at Rock of Ages Baptist Church.
His parents, older twin brothers Dominique and DeAngelo, 20, and younger brother Sterling, 8, keep the high-flying Brown grounded off the court. The 17-year-old is still pleading with his parents for a car.
"They say good things come to those who wait," he said and then starts to laugh. "I'm still waiting."
The runners-up SECOND PLACE
Dameon Mason, West Aurora 6-5 senior forward
The Marquette recruit sank 60 percent of his field-goal attempts, including 40 percent of his three-pointers, and averaged 20.9 points a game. He is a two-time player of the year in the DuPage Valley.
Richard McBride, Springfield Lanphier 6-3 senior guard
The Illinois-bound McBride averaged 23 points, 8.0 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 2.5 steals and was a repeat first-team All-State selection. He is the all-time Class AA leading scorer in the city of Springfield with 2,067 points.
Brian Randle, Peoria Notre Dame 6-7 senior forward
One of the state's top post players this season, he averaged 22.9 points, 12.8 rebounds, 5.1 blocks and 3.1 assists a game. He will join McBride at Illinois next season.
Colin Falls, Loyola 6-4 senior guard
He took a beating with physical play in the Catholic League but always remained calm and collected en route to becoming the league's player of the year. The Notre Dame recruit averaged 25 points, 7.7 rebounds and 4.0 assists a game and hit 83.7 percent of his free throws.