Kalani Brown keeping family tradition alive
Kalani Brown was just 11 years old when she lived a basketball fan's dream: sitting in the second row -- right behind the players -- at the Boston Garden for the NBA Finals.
But Kalani wasn't just any fan. She's the daughter of former NBA player P.J. Brown, and she got to see her dad finally win a championship, at age 38, while playing for the Boston Celtics.
"It was exciting," Kalani said.
These days, "exciting" is a word people all over the country are using to describe Kalani. The 6-foot-5 center at Salmen (Slidell, La.) is averaging 20 points, 11 rebounds, 4.5 blocks and 2 assists during her sophomore season.
Brown, the No. 5 prospect in the espnW HoopGurlz Terrific 25 for the class of 2015, also plays volleyball. She hasn't yet decided which sport she'll pursue in college, but says she's currently considering Baylor, LSU, Texas A&M and Georgia Tech, among others.
In addition to her off-the-charts physical gifts, Brown also has the intangibles college coaches are always trying to draw to their programs: a desire to learn and a desire to help her teammates improve.
"She is left-handed, but she has worked hard on her right," Salmen coach Kevin Anderson said. "She cleans the boards, and when she blocks a shot, she taps it to a teammate or she controls it. She's been well-taught."
Her main teachers have been her father, a 6-11 forward for five NBA franchises in a 15-year career, and mom, Dee, a 6-3 post player at Salmen High who went on to play at Louisiana Tech, where she met P.J.
Dee, now an assistant coach at Salmen, said her experience at Louisiana Tech showed her what women's basketball could one day become nationally. Maybe even for her daughter.
"The women's team was more popular than the men's team at that time," Dee said. "We would get 13,000 fans. We would play before the men's team. But when our game was over, a lot of the fans would get up and leave."
Kalani was born in the middle of one of the most tumultuous times in P.J.'s career. He was playing for the Miami Heat at the time, and his team was embroiled in an epic playoff battle with the New York Knicks.
And while her older sisters didn't show nearly as much interest in sports, Kalani has long shared her parents' love of athletics.
"Kalani is light years ahead of where I was as an athlete," Dee said. "I was maybe 153 pounds, wet. Kalani is 200 pounds and very skilled."
If there is any complaint about Kalani, it's that's she's "too nice" on the court.
"She's one of the sweetest girls you will ever meet," Anderson said. "But she doesn't have that mean streak you'd like to see. She will bang into a player and worry if she's OK. I will call her over and tell her: 'That girl is going to be fine, believe me.'"
Lately, though, Anderson said he's seen her show some fire on the court when things aren't going well.
"I'm working on it," she said when asked about the elusive mean streak.
Kalani was certainly upset Monday night, when Salmen was defeated in the state playoff quarterfinals, losing 48-44 to Vandebilt Catholic (Houma, La.). That loss, however, was overturned because it was discovered that Vandebilt had used an ineligible player. Salmen was reinstated to the playoffs and takes on St. Michael (Baton Rouge, La.) in a Friday semifinal.
Facing constant double-teams on Monday, Kalani still put up 8 points, 18 rebounds, 9 assists and 5 blocks.
That many assists for a center, while unusual, fits right in with Kalani's humble personality.
"I'm not a selfish player," said Kalani, who will turn 16 on March 21. "I try to make my teammates better and myself better, too."
Still, her mother would like to see Kalani be more assertive on offense.
"She overpasses sometimes," Dee said. "I've told her: 'You are 6-5, honey. You have to think score. Demand the ball.'"
Kalani, who also enjoys writing fiction and is interested in studying English, journalism or nursing, said she is in no hurry to make a decision on college.
One of her favorite athletes was LSU legend Shaquille O'Neal. But Kalani said she won't that affect her decision, and her mother insists the process is still wide open.
"My advice to Kalani is to wait until her senior year," Dee said. "It's her decision, but you have to sit back and make the right choice."