They’re still amazed by it, too. Shaka Browne and Isaiah Cousins began their basketball journeys together at their hometown Boys and Girls Club in Mount Vernon, N.Y., and all these years and all these miles later, they’ve reunited in the Utah Jazz organization.
“Mount Vernon taught me to stay positive and keep grinding, just have a positive mindset,” said Cousins.
“I think Mount Vernon has prepared me better than any city could,” reflected Browne.
Two thousand miles from home, they’re now point guards for their respective Utah Jazz-affiliated teams: Browne for Jazz Gaming of the NBA 2K League, Cousins for the Salt Lake City Stars of the NBA G League.
The likelihood of two kids from Mount Vernon – a city that’s four square miles with about 68,000 residents – ending up in the Utah Jazz organization at the same time might seem slim, but it isn’t the first time they’ve beaten the odds.
“As young men, it feels good that you see each other striving and doing something successful and not being in a gang or not being in street life,” said Cousins. “Just doing something successful in your life.”
They’re still learning from each other in Utah, the support system strengthened once again by shared experience.
“I just see motivation,” said Cousins of Browne. “I’m still grinding trying to make it to the NBA, but I just see him keep grinding and taking the right route and a positive message.”
“He’s still here shooting, practicing,” said Browne. “That type of stuff is that grit that comes from Mount Vernon. We all have that type of toughness in us because it’s hard to get out, so once you get out, you want to stay out. You want to move on to bigger and better.”
Browne exhibits that Mount Vernon grit as well – after all, his gamer tag is “Yeah I Compete,” which is how he is known in the NBA 2K community. He maintained a strict schedule of Uber driving in New York City during the day and competing at night to make the cut for the NBA 2K League for its inaugural season in 2018.
His hard work paid off when he was selected third overall in the 2018 NBA 2K League Draft by Jazz Gaming, the official NBA 2K League affiliate of the Utah Jazz. Browne averaged 18.9 points and 10.6 assists (fifth-best in the NBA 2K League) in the team’s first campaign and returned to Utah as a protected player for Season 2.
Cousins, who was one half of a heralded backcourt at Oklahoma alongside current Sacramento Kings guard Buddy Hield, averaged 14.9 points and 5.9 assists in 30.7 minutes in 2018-19 for the Stars, the official NBA G League affiliate of the Utah Jazz.
Cousins helped lead the club to its winningest season in Utah and first postseason appearance since the team moved to Salt Lake City to be closer to the Jazz in 2016.
The game of basketball has taken him to the heights of the Final Four, overseas in France, and to the NBA as the 59th overall pick by the Kings in the 2016 NBA Draft and training camp last season with the Utah Jazz.
— Salt Lake City Stars (@slcstars) March 20, 2019
They’re not alone in representing Mount Vernon, a city with a rich basketball history, on a bigger stage. Back in the Boys and Girls Club days, Browne and Cousins were often accompanied by close friends Lytel “Lotty” Martin and Aaron “Arooks” Rookwood, who both join Browne in the NBA 2K League.
Lotty, who plays for HEAT Check Gaming, and Arooks, who competes for Bucks Gaming, played AAU basketball with Cousins and won a championship together.
“They played hard,” said Browne of their pickup runs. “Basketball was such a positive light. 2K is what made me happy, playing my friends, getting competitive, that was my thing. I tried to stay in my light and that’s what brought me here.”
“A lot of good people come out of there, a lot of different personalities,” said Cousins. “It’s good seeing people from Mount Vernon strive and succeed taking different paths, no matter what it is.”