Rory Hamilton Brown arrived at IMG Academy in October to train, and refocus his mind and body to prepare for the upcoming season. A rising star in the sport of cricket, Brown, 25-years old, signed his first professional contract at only 16-years of age and is entering his ninth season of competition. In the wake of a tragic incident where he lost his best friend and teammate, Tom Maynard, Brown took a leave from the sport and resigned the captaincy of his Surrey club. In September this year, he signed for a second stint with Sussex.
Over the weekend, Rory's ongoing training at IMG Academy and return to the game was chronicled by Mike Dickson of the U.K. publication, The Daily Mail - most trafficked newspaper website in the world.
From The Daily Mail:
Losing my best friend Tom hit me hard... I just had to get away to recover, says Hamilton-Brown
by Mike Dickson
Rory Hamilton-Brown knows too well that the 2012 sporting year was not all gold medals and fairytales, that it has been one tinged with tragedy as well.
Which is why the 25-year-old cricketer, who began it as the youthful captain of Surrey with scarcely a care in his life, is ending it with a prolonged stay in an unlikely place, the world’s best known production line of tennis players.
It has been a redemptive stay for Hamilton-Brown in Florida at the IMG Academy — formerly known simply as the Nick Bollettieri Academy — where he arrived 11 weeks ago knowing not a soul and desperate to rediscover his love for sport.
The former England Under 19 skipper, long touted as one of cricket’s outstanding prospects, decided to bring himself here in response to the turmoil brought about by the terrible loss of his housemate, best friend and star-in-the-making, Tom Maynard.
Hamilton-Brown’s world, and that of others, came crashing down on the morning of June 18 when the popular and gifted Welshman was found dead on train tracks in Wimbledon, having been electrocuted in circumstances nobody, including his housemate, can yet be clear about.
The two had been out together in the West End the previous evening before Hamilton-Brown left him around 11pm to go home. He recalls being woken by Maynard’s girlfriend with the awful news of what had happened at 6.15am the following day.
‘I lost my best friend, someone I had lived with for three years and known since I was 10,’ he says. ‘It hit me very hard, and for two or three months I didn’t want to do anything, let alone train and play.
‘I came out here not to try and make sense of it all, because you can never make sense of what happened. But I needed to try and channel what I was feeling into something positive.
‘One part has been to try and get myself into the best shape of my life and the other was that I felt I needed to get away from friends, family and all that happened last summer and do something on my own, to try and get excited about playing again.’
After an abortive comeback later in the season he stepped down from the Surrey captaincy and soon after it was announced that he would join Sussex next year. Judging by his lean appearance — he has lost more than a stone — and the enthusiasm with which he views his future, it seems to have worked.
Hamilton-Brown talks with an impressive maturity as he admits he became too partial to a glass of wine at times last summer while emphatically quashing some of the wilder rumours that sprung up, such as that he had a spell in The Priory.
He also concedes that until the tragedy life had, perhaps, been too easy.
‘This was the first big stumbling block I had come across. I feel I got many things right but probably took too much for granted. So I have realised that you have to value the good times because bad things really can happen.’
An extravagantly talented young sportsman, by 16 Hamilton-Brown had represented England at both cricket and rugby while at Millfield School.In a peer group with the likes of Danny Cipriani and Chris Robshaw, he was considered an outstanding full back but, despite heavy courting by Harlequins, he opted for cricket with Surrey.
Having then left for a spell at Sussex he was brought back to The Oval by new coach Chris Adams in 2010 and then led them to promotion and the Clydesdale Bank Trophy the following year.
The strain of the job became more apparent last summer: ‘On the field I really enjoyed it but captaining a big club like Surrey is a big ask off the pitch; there are a lot of expectations. I perhaps underestimated how much time it would take up outside the playing of the game. I started to resent it and became quite stressed out and cynical for someone in my early 20s.’
There have been suggestions the team he presided over had an element that was too fond of a good time, which he strongly denies while admitting some personal fault.
‘There wasn’t a drinking culture and that is unfair on the dressing room, although I let my lifestyle slip and was maybe too comfortable with two or three glasses of wine over dinner. I certainly didn’t have a drink problem — I’ve seen things on the internet that I’ve been in rehab or The Priory, which is rubbish.
‘There is a great set-up at Surrey and I wish them all the best. My regret is that I concentrated too much on my batting and the captaincy and let other things slip.’
Having heard about it from club physio Dean Conway, he contacted the famed academy, best known for producing the likes of Andre Agassi and Maria Sharapova, which has vastly outgrown its origins and now caters for a multitude of sports, if not cricket.
He trains largely with aspiring American footballers, who at this time of year check in to prepare themselves for the forthcoming NFL draft process. Just round the corner is Heather Watson preparing for the new tennis season, but Britons are relatively scarce on the 500-acre campus.
‘I walked through the gates the most insecure person in the world, not knowing anyone, but it has been fantastic meeting people from other sports. There are a couple of English lads on the golf programme but the guy I first got to know is a minor league baseballer.
‘They are here from Asia, all over Europe and South America, you see people like Sharapova wandering around some days and the trainers here are fantastic.
‘I’ve met Bollettieri, he’s an amazing character. It has been very refreshing getting a new spin on fitness and I have learned so much about managing myself. From my point of view, coming here has really worked.’
Hamilton-Brown still has Maynard on his mind and starkly admits that sometimes he dreads going to bed and being alone with his thoughts, but overall he feels far more positive.
‘I am really looking forward to joining up with Sussex, they will be getting someone much more experienced and, while I still want to play for England, it might have consumed me too much in the past,’ he admits. ‘All I want to be now is the best version of myself I can possibly be; that is what I have learned.’