Hometown Hero: How the Hartford City and Muncie communities have embraced Luke Brown

Freshman guard Luke Brown dribbles the ball Jan. 29 at Worthen Arena. Brown attended Blackford high school where he averaged 31.7 points per game in his senior year. Rylan Capper, DN
Freshman guard Luke Brown dribbles the ball Jan. 29 at Worthen Arena. Brown attended Blackford high school where he averaged 31.7 points per game in his senior year. Rylan Capper, DN

It’s a close game against Western Michigan Jan. 29, and in the second half, Luke Brown gets a steal. A fan yells, “Let's go, Luke,” as he runs toward the basket.

He’s fouled.

The freshman guard makes both free throws. The next play, he receives a pass and makes a 3-pointer. The same fan yells, “Hartford City” — Brown’s hometown.

The small city of 5,500 people, a 30-minute drive north of Muncie, represents the love the community has for Brown and the impact he made in his four years at Blackford High School from 2017-21.

The journey of moving cities — becoming the fourth-highest scorer in Indiana high school basketball history and playing for Ball State Men’s Basketball — started when Brown was a little kid, practicing on an orange and white mini-hoop with his father, Ted Brown, who gave him pointers on how to shoot. 

“[My dad] never pushed basketball on me at all,” Luke said. “He always told me he couldn't really care less if I played or not, but he just knew that I loved it. I remember when I was younger, he wouldn't let me shoot because I always wanted to shoot like Kevin Durant or shoot like LeBron James. He would make me shoot with form in the basement and work on my shot.”

Luke moved on to play for Bethesda Christian School in Brownsburg, Indiana, where the Browns had resided for the past 18 years, along with his recreational leagues. Those small moments, Luke said, are some of his favorites because they remind him of his roots. 

“I remember always being so nervous because when you try out for your first travel team, or you try out for your first rec league, it's always nerve-wracking,” Luke said.“I remember those days of tryouts and trying out for teams and usually making the teams, and that always felt good. It always felt like your hard work was paying off.”

From there, Luke, Ted, his mother, Amy, and his sister, Avery, who is currently receiving her master’s in speech pathology at Ball State, had to make a tough decision that shaped their futures: leaving Brownsburg to pursue Luke’s goals. 

To start the process, Ted said he set out to find Luke the right coach who would give him a memorable basketball experience. Ted’s cousin and 2019 Indiana Hoops Hall of Fame inductee, Jerry Hoover, was looking for a job after head-coaching more than 10 programs throughout his career. With 430 wins, five sectional titles and a regional title, the 1952 Monticello High School graduate wasn’t quite ready to give up coaching just yet, and Ted knew the 82-year-old basketball star would be the perfect fit for Luke. 

Ted said he called Hoover and asked if he would ever get back into coaching when a job opened in Hartford City. After a phone call from Hoover informing Ted he got the job, Ted said he looked at a map to think more about the situation.

“I thought, ‘Well, my daughter's got a full-ride scholarship to play volleyball at Ball State. That's right down the road, keep the family close — let's go for it,’” Ted said.” So, [Hoover] took the job at Blackford High School, and history was written.”

Amy worked at St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis as a nurse and had to make what Ted said was “the ultimate sacrifice.” heLuke and the rest of his family made the move from Indianapolis to Hartford City and ended up in a town of fewer than 6,000 people. They eventually formed an unending bond with them. 

“It was awesome,” Luke said. “I thank God all the time just for the community embracing me because I know how hard it is for kids and teenagers — and even parents — to embrace someone coming and taking a bunch of shots in games. They really embraced my family and I, and it was a blessing from God that I went there because it was the best four years of my life.”

While Luke amassed 3,011 points in four years, averaging 35 points as a sophomore, 32.3 as a junior and recording 950 total points as a senior — tied for second in the nation — it was more than what he accomplished on the court that connected him with the community. 

“That was the biggest thing for me,” Luke said. “It was so much fun getting to play for Blackford, and for Hartford City, and the uprise we brought there was so much fun. Being fourth was cool, but the memories with the fans, the crowd and my community were definitely my favorite part.”

Ted said the community in Hartford City was a fairytale — easy and impactful. Nothing made Ted happier as a father, he said, than seeing Luke put a genuine smile on their faces.

“[He does] things behind the scenes that people don't didn't know — he might go visit somebody in the hospital who’s dying,” Ted said. “He's done that or just reaches out to the community in ways that typically most kids don't do.”

After high school, Luke had to make another big decision regarding his education and basketball career. Ball State Men’s Basketball head coach James Whitford recruited Luke when he was a freshman in high school, and it was now time to give Whitford an answer.

“The recruiting process for us goes all the way back to his freshman year,” Whitford said. “He was local, and he obviously was a good player and young. We started watching him very early, and he's been down a number of times. We've been up to the school probably eight, nine or 10 times over the course of his junior and senior year of high school. We got to know him really well.”

Ultimately, Luke committed to Stetson University in Florida. He was there last summer until the fall but felt it wasn’t the best fit for him.

“I decided that it was going to be best for me, in my situation, to look elsewhere,” Luke said. “Ball State really stood out because it was close to home, and coach Whitford had already recruited me throughout my whole high school career, so I wanted to come back and play closer to home, and I feel like this was a good fit for me.”

As soon as Whitford saw Luke in the transfer portal, he called Luke to sit down for breakfast. He said he could tell in his first phone call with Luke that the trust Luke had in him hadn’t changed since the original recruiting cycle.

 “We sat down for about an hour,” Whitford said. “We set up a second visit where he would come to campus with his dad and mom. He called me 30 minutes after we ate and said, ‘Coach, I still want to do that visit, but I also want to know if I can just commit now.’ So I said, ‘Of course, yes.’ And then he went public with it.”

Since transferring to Ball State, Luke said he has adapted well to his new school, coaches and teammates. Coincidentally, there is one teammate with the same initials as him who he has connected with through practice, hard work and their similar playing styles — junior guard Luke Bumbalough. 

“He's a worker, I'm a worker,” Bumbalough said. “We're usually guarding each other, and we're going to go out and practice, and we always will be cool off the court. And, of course, we have the first name, and we play kind of similar. It's kind of funny. People mix us up.”

In his short time with the Cardinals, Luke Brown has averaged 4.3 points in eight games. Whitford said his leadership will take him a long way in the program.

“He's a natural leader,” Whitford said. “I don't have any question he'll emerge as one for us, just like he has in every other program he's been in.”

Contact Ian Hansen with comments at imhansen@bsu.edu or on Twitter @ianh_2.


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