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Motivated by Mom

March 4, 2013
|  Lynchburg, Va.
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Devon Brown holds a photo of her mother and is surrounded by her family members after the Lady Flames won the 2012 Big South Championship title.

The following article first appeared in issue No. 5 of the Flames Illustrated game program for the 2012-13 basketball season, which was available at the Vines Center between Feb. 16-March 2. Devon Brown and the No. 1 seed Lady Flames will open Big South Women's Basketball Championship play on Friday at The HTC Center in Conway, S.C., against either Coastal Carolina or Gardner-Webb.

The Lady Flames' Devon Brown is a fighter on the court.

The senior's takeover mentality is evident from the moment she steps onto the hardwood. Whether driving to the basket or diving after a loose ball, Brown attacks the game with full force.

Such effort resulted in an impressive redshirt junior year in which Brown was named to the first team All-Big South roster for the third consecutive year, made her second appearance on the Big South All-Tournament Team, was twice named an All-State athlete and found herself sitting at fourth in Big South scoring, sixth in rebounding and ninth in steals by the end of the season. More remarkable still – Brown has either sustained or surpassed every aspect of her 2011-12 hardwood performance this season, sidestepping any plateau predictions.

"She definitely comes out with a fury," assistant coach Andrea Bloodworth chuckled. "She plays with such heart and passion. She can't just give it 70 percent – she's all out, all the time."

Where does that tenacity come from? According to the senior, it's all about motivation.

The driving force behind Brown's consistency in power and poise on the court surpasses titles, records and personal legacy. During her final season with the Lady Flames, Brown's game is fueled by something bigger: the memory of her mother.

The late Jennifer Brown, a longtime supporter of Liberty and her daughter's number-one fan, passed away Nov. 22, 2011, en route to the Lady Flames' home game against Virginia-Wise.

Her death was an unexpected and shocking blow for Brown, whose passion on the court she carries throughout everyday life. Telling the still-painful story of her mother's death was no exception, her emotion honest and raw.

"I hadn't seen her in two weeks, but I'd talked to her on the phone every day before the game. I'd just talked to her about an hour before," Brown recalled. She paused, then added, "I was so excited to see her."

She arrived at the Vines Center to warm up before the game, keeping an eye out for her parents' typical entrance at the top of section 101.

They never came.

After an 82-39 blowout win, Brown returned to the locker room along with her team and coaching staff with instructions to call her father immediately. The news she received was devastating.

"Oh, man," head coach Carey Green sighed heavily, rubbing his head and fighting to control his own emotions. "I think that's probably the most difficult thing I've ever gone through. It's the toughest thing, because it touches the innermost part of you – it touches your heart – and from a coach's perspective, all you want to do is try and fix it. And there's no way you can fix it."

"Devon's a pretty emotional young lady anyway, and knowing how tight she was with her mom – and knowing your own relationship with your own mom – made it all the more difficult," Bloodworth added with a heavy heart. "Everybody [with the team] was there with her basically when it happened, and to feel that pain and know closer to firsthand what it is to experience that kind of loss – it was hard. I feel like our girls kind of went through it with her."

The guard took the opportunity to return home and grieve. Within three days, though, she opted to return to the court for the security of her team and game.

"Basketball helped me a lot, it really did – and most of all my teammates. They were always there," Brown relayed.

Slowly but surely, the spirited guard channeled her grief into grit and her pain into performance that would honor her mother.

Green, full of admiration for Brown, remarked, "Jennifer had some health issues for several years and had just been a persistent fighter. Her mother was such a fighter and inspiration and great example, and that's what Devon wants to do as a basketball player. She wants to live her life as a basketball player, what time she has with it, as her mother lived her life."

For Brown, that means every play counts.

"Knowing she's playing for another purpose – it's special," Bloodworth nodded, moved.

"My BFF, honey – that was my best friend. My everything," Brown smiled, eyes welling up. Her voice broke as she added, "I really miss her."

She straightened, swiping at stray tears, and declared fiercely, "Every day, every time I step on the basketball court, it's for her."

That's why, from the start of the season to its final seconds, which she hopes will be spent claiming the Big South Championship title, Brown will play her heart out. The release of every shot, the spin on every bounce pass, the sprint for every fast break and the stretch for every steal is dedicated to honoring her number one fan.

"Not to say she will ever get through missing her mom – I don't think anyone ever does – but Devon has really grown up and grown through it all," Green said. "Jennifer is sorely missed, yet we know she's got the best seat in the house and knows that Devon is playing her very best to honor her and honor God."

And that is a motivation worth fighting for.
Ryley Rush is a Liberty University freshman and is a freelance writer for Liberty Athletics.