Shortly after he graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1994, C.L. Brown of the Raleigh News & Observer had his eyes set on a career as a college basketball reporter.
As long as Brown got the chance, he knew he could excel.
In February, Brown earned Associated Press Sports Editors top 10 awards for his breaking news and events coverage as a beat writer covering UNC men’s basketball. But his path to this recognition started with what he calls “grunt work.”
It started at the Rocky Mount (N.C.) Telegram, his first job out of college. There, he was tasked with covering high school sports. A member of a small sports staff, Brown not only covered games but designed the sports section’s pages as well.
Of his own volition, while still with the Telegram, he got credentialed to cover some of the newly formed Carolina Panthers’ games when he was off the clock. He didn’t get the best seats, or even much notoriety, but it still helped his career progression.
“Those clips from the Panthers weren't what got me my next job,” Brown said. “But what it did for me personally was just set the tone of, 'This is what I need to do.’”
He met Leon Carter — the deputy sports editor for the New York Daily News at the time — at a 1997 National Association of Black Journalists convention in Chicago, and Brown sent a few of his clips to Carter for feedback.
“And he took the critique well, as you would like young people to do,” Carter said. “And I knew then that he had a bright future in the industry.”
Brown made a few stops during his career before his tenure in Raleigh, N.C. One of those stops was at the Louisville Courier-Journal as a college basketball beat writer covering Indiana and Louisville.
After 13 years with the Courier-Journal, he spent time at ESPN.com and The Athletic, continuing his work as a national college basketball reporter.
He created his own website — clbrownhoops.com — in 2019 to house the collegiate coverage he was doing on his own. But once the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the NCAA Tournament was canceled, Brown started to look elsewhere for opportunities.
Months later, the News & Observer’s UNC beat writer departed, leaving the door open for Brown to join.
Brown already had connections from his experience covering the North Carolina men’s basketball team at other outlets, so he was a natural fit.
He works with Natalie Pierre, a deputy regional sports editor for the N&O, on a daily basis. Pierre already was familiar with Brown and had followed his work for years. But she was impressed with his work ethic after watching him operate up close.
“When it comes to diverse sourcing, when it comes to a wide variety of sourcing, incorporating different viewpoints, C.L.'s very intentional,” Pierre said.
Brown wasn’t expecting to be honored with the APSE awards he won this year. He didn’t enter himself for them, but still got selected for his coverage of Roy Williams’ retirement and first-year head coach Hubert Davis’ hire.
“I've been in the business long enough, I know my strengths and weaknesses,” Brown said. “But it's good just to get that reinforcement sometimes.”
The Tar Heels reached the national championship game as an eight-seed under Davis. The biggest win of that run was a victory against Duke in the teams’ first-ever matchup in the NCAA Tournament.
And Brown was there every step of the way.
But even with the awards he’s received and the historic games he’s covered, he still isn’t satisfied.
“I still feel like there's a whole lot for me to do,” Brown said. “There's a lot more for me to accomplish.”