PORTLAND – Justin Brownlee was minding his business in New York, negotiating a Manhattan sidewalk, when a young man’s voice stopped him cold.

“Hey, I know you. You’re the dude who threw the basketball into the stands. Can I take your picture?”

Brownlee was stunned. He had more than his share of good moments over two seasons playing for St. John’s, and now someone was singling him out for a five-second lapse in judgment in a game.

“Oh, man, I couldn’t believe it,” said Brownlee, grinning broadly. He had just finished Saturday morning’s shootaround with his Maine Red Claws teammates at the Portland Expo. The home opener was seven hours away and his anticipation was building.

After two games on the road, the Red Claws were primed for their home welcome. Brownlee didn’t think anyone in Maine would know about the basketball he threw into the expensive seats at Madison Square Garden last spring.

But here I was, asking him about that very moment.

“That’s not the recognition I want,” said Brownlee, laughing. “I mean, to be remembered for something negative like that is not what I want.”

Easy, big guy. So you made two or three mistakes in four or five blinks of the eye. It was the three officials working the Big East tournament game who blew it all up by not blowing their whistles.

Let’s go back to March and the tournament at Madison Square Garden and a second-round Big East tournament game between St. John’s and Rutgers. St. John’s led 65-63 and Rutgers had the ball with fewer than 10 seconds remaining.

Brownlee picked off a Rutgers pass and started his dribble to run out the clock. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the St. John’s coach, Steve Lavin, leave the bench and walk to the scorer’s table for the postgame handshake with his Rutgers counterpart.

That’s when a happy Brownlee heaved the basketball into the seats. Except there was more than a second on the clock. And he had traveled. And he had dribbled the ball out of bounds.

None of the three officials blew his whistle, and the game ended in a victory for St. John’s. Rutgers appealed and won sympathy but no reversal.

Brownlee just shakes his head. Saturday night he drew applause when the Red Claws were introduced for the first time to another big crowd. But so did every player. Brownlee will earn more appreciation.

He came off the bench to score 13 points in about 15 minutes. It wasn’t enough on this night. Springfield beat the home team, 112-107.

He’s a friendly kid from south Georgia, near Macon. He attended junior colleges in the Florida Panhandle and San Francisco before transferring to St. John’s.

His college scouting report touted his versatility, superior shotmaking and ballhandling for a 6-foot-7 small forward. He helped St. John’s win 21 games last season, the most in eight years.

Nearly 20 of his home games were played in Madison Square Garden in front of crowds that sometimes approached the capacity of nearly 20,000.

“It was an unbelievable feeling playing there,” said Brownlee. “My first year, playing Duke, you could hear the crowd in the locker room. When you came out of the tunnel (onto the court) you could feel all this energy.

“I remember looking around and thinking, this is the stage. It couldn’t get any better. My goal was to play for a major Division I program and I did it.”

Brownlee seemed none the worse from wear after two cross-country flights this week. He’s a new father. Justin Brownlee Jr. was a week old Saturday, born to the woman his father met as a student at City College of San Francisco three years ago.

“I couldn’t be there for the birth so I had to get back. It was important. I think I was there for 36 hours.

“He was so small and so special. He’s a new beginning in life. I can feel that.”

Opening day. It should never get old.

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

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Twitter: SteveSolloway