BELTON — Brian Long’s road to college basketball success has been arduous, but the junior forward wouldn’t change anything about the path that led him to where he is now: a double-digit-scoring workhorse for Mary Hardin-Baylor.
In fact, he uses his past to drive him on the hardwood.
“I use everything that happened to fuel my aggression when I’m on the court,” he said. “I think of all the coaches and schools that looked past me, and I want to make them regret it. When I step between the lines, I think that no man can guard me.”
It certainly looked that way Thursday night, when the 6-foot-4 Long scored 26 points on 8-of-11 shooting from the floor and a 10-of-12 effort from the foul line in the Crusaders’ 89-64 victory over McMurry.
That performance pushed his scoring average to 13.4 points per game heading into today’s final regular-season home game for UMHB (15-6, 8-5 American Southwest Conference), which hosts Hardin-Simmons at 4 p.m. at Mayborn Campus Center.
He’s the Crusaders’ third-leading scorer and second-leading rebounder despite playing in only 13 games this season after an issue with his paperwork following his transfer from UTEP in January of 2017 kept him ineligible until mid-December of this season.
The paperwork was only the latest roadblock in his career, though.
The former high school standout at Killeen originally signed with Texas-Rio Grande Valley, where there was a coaching change before Long’s arrival and the new coach didn’t want any of the players signed by his predecessor.
“It was a tough time for me because I thought that was going to be my school for four years. But things went south, and I had to keep my head high and keep going forward,” he said.
So Long spent his first collegiate season at McLennan Community College then transferred to UTEP, where a knee injury during practice in October 2017 derailed his time as a Miner. He underwent surgery and rehab but quickly discovered he wasn’t looked at in the same light.
That’s when he decided to make the call to UMHB head coach Ken DeWeese and assistant coach Zane Johnston.
“I really thought everything was going to work out at UTEP after the surgery. The coaches and program started treating me differently, though. I knew then that wasn’t the place for me,” Long said. “I made the phone call to Coach DeWeese and Coach Zane. I asked them if there was any spot for me and told them I was willing to do anything to get on the team. They took me in.”
It was assumed that Long would be ready to play at the beginning of this season in November, but the hang-up with paperwork kept him off the floor until mid-December. There were days when he got frustrated with the situation, but he never lost sight of his goal of playing again.
“It was tough, especially on game days,” he said. “I’d see my teammates getting ready to play, and I’d be holding a clipboard. I didn’t want to hold a clipboard. I wanted to have a basketball in my hand and help my team.”
His productivity has continued to rise since he got back on the floor. He averaged 24.6 points over the last four games, giving the Crusaders an offensive weapon on the low block that they haven’t had in quite some time.
“It’s been a while since we had a guy like that, and it’s hard to find guys who want to play like that anymore,” DeWeese said. “He makes our opponents have to prepare defensively for a post presence, and teams aren’t used to spending a lot of time preparing for a post presence anymore.
“Having him also gives us confidence that we can throw it down there to him and get some points. That makes everybody feel better on the perimeter.”
Scoring in the post wasn’t Long’s first love. He spent most of his high school career on the perimeter before making a change as a senior.
“My dad told me I needed to start looking for mismatches when I could post up and use my strength,” he said. “My senior year in high school, I started watching a lot of film on some of the game’s greatest posts and seeing how they played. I started moving my game from the wing to the post.”
He’s been tough to stop ever since.