YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Constant reminders of his past surround D’Aundray Brown in his office at the YMCA of Youngstown Central Branch. A bobblehead of a successful collegiate coach sits on a desk, a wine and gold C of the Cleveland Cavaliers is affixed to a corkboard and the adjacent basketball court is an ever-present symbol of his success.
Brown played for Cleveland State University men’s former basketball coach Gary Waters and later the minor-league organization of the Cavaliers, thwarting all challengers as he did in his younger days at the downtown YMCA court. Today, there is the occasional opposition – usually half the age of Brown, a 2007 Ursuline High School graduate who took over this year as sports and recreation director of the Central Branch Y.
“The Y is where I got my start for organized basketball and loving the community aspect of it,” Brown says.
Shawn Armstrong, executive director of the Central YMCA, knows what it means to selflessly enrich his community. The 1999 Chaney High School graduate returned to the area in 2020 after being a medical administrator in North Carolina. He, like Brown, wants to connect with other community leaders and give back to the area on a much grander scale.
“It was always a passion of mine to come back and serve the community that helped raise me,” Armstrong says.
He describes Brown as a “gem” in this city with his experience and mentorship of young people. Sports and youth development go hand-in-hand, he says, knowing basketball’s lessons also apply to the broader scope of life.
Violence and other social problems are part of the daily news cycle, something those entrenched in the inner city face more than most. The DreDay Foundation32, which reflects Brown’s basketball number at Ursuline and Cleveland State, emphasizes advocacy through work, sports and education in nontraditional settings. Empowering and producing positive, contributing citizens is the goal.
More than 1,100 children have been helped through the foundation’s basketball camps, school supply giveaways, haircuts for boys and food giveaways, Brown says.
Brown’s father is Aundra Brown, a former Youngstown State University basketball player (1987-91) and East High School graduate. He and his son created the foundation in 2016.
Sports have encompassed their lives for a long time and have been an outlet for many in Youngstown. But what happens when sports are no longer an option?
“The key is the academics,” the elder Brown says. “Whether you can put that ball in the hole or not or throw that football, you have to have a foundation in your education in everything you try to do.”
D’Aundray Brown’s education entailed more than the usual litany of high school and collegiate classes. Ursuline basketball coach Keith Gunther, who coached Brown and many other players the past 18 seasons, instilled life lessons in his players along with the fundamentals of playing the game. His goal is preparing young men to be good stewards of their respective communities.
“Coaching is also about being a mentor, a counselor or sometimes you’re going to be a parent,” Gunther says. “It’s more than just basketball. If you’re just here to just win games, you’re not going to have the impact that you should.”
The Ursuline mentor provided challenges the young Brown never knew existed.
“He gets you to play hard. And hard work always beats talent when talent is not performing well,” Brown says. “It’s something he does and it’s a gift. For someone who has athletic ability, it can take you to the next level.”
Talented athletes such as Brown permeate the ranks of NCAA Division I basketball and a Waters-coached Cleveland State team was no exception. The incoming freshmen were no longer the big men on campus and had to prove themselves to a new team. Waters often spoke of equalizers, saying – for example – someone might not be the tallest – but could be the strongest by devoting time in the weight room.
“His defensive tenacity is something that I took to heart and what got me to get on the floor as a freshman, just knowing the value of being able to play defense,” Brown says.
Both coaches developed the Youngstown-born Brown into not only a great player, but an impactful human being toward family, career and any other endeavor.
“I think they taught me to put the work in first, no matter what that situation is,” Brown says. “If you do that at your hardest and the best of your ability, you can’t really be mad at what the outcome is.”
Armstrong admires the profound impact Brown has had through the DreDay Foundation32 or his interactions at the YMCA.
“He is such a great example model for these youth and we’re just so blessed to have him,” Armstrong says.
Brown emphasizes that leadership comes in many forms.
Many future area leaders have stepped foot through the doors of the downtown YMCA – city councilmen, lawyers and business owners – teaching youngsters about accountability and providing a watchful eye, he says.
“You never know who you could come across, someone who could possibly give you an internship or possibly a job,” Brown says. “You could, like myself, end up working in the same building that you grew up in.
“That’s the Y. The community is always here. It takes a village and the village is here, literally.”