Elite prospect Kennedy Brown doesn't let her 6-foot-6 frame define her game
While playing against a former Kansas state championship team, women's basketball prospect Kennedy Brown got tangled with two other players and went careening to the ground. No foul was called. Brown is used to having rival players hang all over her. She's 6-foot-6, and her size has engendered no favoritism from referees. She should be able to finish through contact, or so she's been told.
"I get a lot of contact and not a lot of fouls called," Brown said in a phone interview.
The next possession, Brown came down the court and scored like nothing happened. "She wasn't even fazed," Derby (Kansas) High School coach Jodie Karsak said. Karsak talks to her team about having a fast stopwatch, meaning being able to mentally reset after a challenging play. Brown's stopwatch is quick because she's worked on it, just like everything else in her game.
"She has a sense of maturity to her," Karsak said. "It's the way she's hardwired. Sometimes it's like having another adult around."
That maturity is evident in nearly everything Brown does. She's confident and unapologetic. She knows what she wants and is relentless in chasing those goals. While she may think about championships and scholarships, Brown understands that the process makes all the difference.
I want to be able to have the freedom to go out and do more than have my back to the basket.Kennedy Brown
"I'm a really competitive person, but I'm also a perfectionist," said Brown, who led Derby to a state title last season as a junior. "I like seeing progress, so being able to get in the gym and be able to work on things and fix things is what I love to do."
Brown is the No. 17 prospect in the espnW HoopGurlz Super 60 for the 2019 class. She has garnered attention from numerous colleges across the country. Brown says she is now down to six schools after eliminating Tennessee: UCLA, Louisville, Oklahoma, Oregon State, Baylor and Oregon. Her plan is to not take all five official visits -- she's shooting for three -- and then make a decision in the fall.
"I'm hoping that I just kind of know when I go on my official visits," Brown said. "Hopefully I can figure it out before my season starts."
The key to that decision will be finding a school that shares Brown's vision for her own skill development.
"I don't want to be stuck in the post all the time," she said. "I want to be able to have the freedom to go out and do more than have my back to the basket."
Brown does individual basketball workouts with her trainer twice a week, and does strength and conditioning workouts twice a week with a different trainer. She also plays club basketball that takes her all over the country (and sometimes to Europe). Plus, she works out with her high school team. In the time she has left, Brown can be found in the Derby High School gym honing her shot with the gun. She's got a "guy" for everything.
"I like having a lot of guys," Brown joked. "They're all helpful."
Brown has been playing basketball since she was 5, encouraged by her parents. Brown's father, Mike, stands at 6-6, while her mother, Danika, is 6-2. It's no wonder that Brown, the middle of three (very tall) daughters has grown to be 6-6 herself. Brown's older sister is only 5-11, so she's known as "the short one." Volleyball and basketball are the two sports that the towering family gravitated toward, but Brown credits playing soccer as a child for her coordination on the court.
"I'm not quite as clumsy as I would be if I hadn't played," she said.
With her size, it might be tempting to stick Brown under the basket and just feed her in the post. Brown understood that when she was a kid. "What else are you going to do with a 5-7 fifth grader?" she said. But Brown is focused on developing skills outside those expected of tall players. She loves to hit the trail 3-pointer. Sometimes she is asked to bring the ball up the floor. She looks to Breanna Stewart and Elena Delle Donne for inspiration rather being a traditional center.
"I've always thought she reminded me a lot of Tim Duncan," Karsak said. "She's very versatile. Just a big sense of finesse to her. She can put her back to the basket, but she can also step out and hit that 3-point shot."
Brown's size makes her stand out on the court as well as off of it. Brown is taller than most of her classmates, and as an elite prospect, she will be going to school on a basketball scholarship; it's just a matter of which school. Derby, Kansas has a population of about 24,000. In small-town USA, elite athletes are hard to come by. Her classmates call her "D-One," a nickname that is not Brown's favorite.
"I have a name," Brown said. "There's more to me than just basketball. That's all anybody ever wants to talk about."
At her preferred college, Brown is looking for off-the-court experiences as well. She loves her family, and wants a basketball away from home. She's interested in studying physical therapy or broadcasting or journalism. She might even add some photography in there if she can because she loves taking pictures.
Even in seemingly dissimilar courses of study, basketball is the thread that ties it all together. Brown's interest in physical therapy comes from her own experiences with injuries and a desire to help people. She had surgery on her ankle before her freshman year, forcing her to sit out the volleyball season because she couldn't put weight on the foot for six weeks. On her way up to 6-6, Brown developed scoliosis, which placed restrictions on her ability to lift.
"I know how hard it is sometimes to be injured and have to come back from that," Brown said. "Being able to help other athletes interests me."
Brown knows she wants to grow both on and off the court wherever she goes to college. But perhaps what will be most telling about her impending choice is her drive to win.
"I want to compete for a national championship," Brown said. "Winning has always been part of the game for me. There's no better feeling."