In February, when most of Arkansas was buried under a thick blanket of snow and shivering from viciously low temperatures, Collin Brown was in Monastir, Tunisia, with the Nigerian men's national basketball team.
Brown, a physical therapist at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences' Health Orthopedic Clinic in Little Rock, was the team's assistant athletic trainer as it competed during the second qualifying round of the 2021 AfroBasket Tournament.
"We had three physical therapists, and we kinda all split the roles up," he says. "We did some preventative care, treatment and management, and we did massage-type work, just whatever the guys needed to stay healthy."
Brown, who turns 30 a week from today, is a native of Malvern, Ohio, and an Arkansas newbie.
He was a traveling physical therapist before the pandemic sent him back to Ohio. But right before that, he had a rotation in Hot Springs and liked the state so much that he took a full-time spot at the UAMS clinic in August.
He's worked with sports teams before, including a three-year stint as the head athletic trainer and physical therapist with the magnificently named Fort Wayne Mad Ants, an NBA G League team in Fort Wayne, Ind.
"I was able to make a lot of connections in the NBA during my time there," he says.
A friend who works for the New York Knicks connected him with Mike Brown, associate head coach of the Golden State Warriors and head coach of the Nigerian men's national team. He jetted off for Tunisia on Feb. 12.
"I missed the whole snowstorm," he says.
The Nigerian team went 3-0 against the other African teams in the February round of the AfroBasket tournament. The team was also perfect in the first round and has qualified for the Olympic Games in Tokyo, Brown says.
Many of the team's players have Nigerian roots but grew up in America, played in colleges here and have professional affiliations, he says.
"Some of the other teams we played had guys who were very athletic, but the knowledge of basketball probably wasn't as high as the guys we had."
Monastir is a coastal town on the Gulf of Hammamet in North Africa. Lamentably, coronavirus precautions kept AfroBasket participants in a bubble so there wasn't a whole lot of sight-seeing.
"We were on lockdown in the hotel," says Brown, who was vaccinated before his trip. "All the basketball teams were there, and there was a tennis tournament as well. We really couldn't leave the hotel. Once we got there, we weren't too worried. We were getting tested, and we were probably safer than we are here."
Brown says he's not on the list to accompany the team to Tokyo in August, but there is a third round of AfroBaskets qualifiers.
"I'm hoping to get to that," he says.