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Heart of a Champion
The following article first appeared in issue No. 1 of the Flames Illustrated game program for the 2011-12 basketball season, which was available at the Vines Center between Nov. 11-22. Devon Brown and the Liberty women's basketball team are off to a 3-3 start to the season and host James Madison Thursday at 7 p.m.
Note: Since this article was first published, Brown's mother, Jennifer Brown, died on Nov. 22. The thoughts and prayers of the Liberty University Athletics Department are with the Brown family during this time of mourning.
How does one measure the heart of a champion?
The question seems rather cliché, but those who know Devon Brown have a good assessment. They know the Waynesboro, Va., native plays with an amazing amount of grit and determination to be successful, even after facing setbacks and disappointments.
"I don't think I've coached anybody who has more of a desire to win than she has," said Liberty Head Women's Basketball Coach Carey Green.
Brown has had her share of both triumphs and setbacks, and her successes and stumbles seem to follow one after another in her basketball career. After reaching one mountain peak in one season, she finds herself in the valley the next season.
Playing at Waynesboro High School, Brown graduated as the second-leading female scorer (2,728 points) in the history of Virginia high school basketball. As a senior, she was named state co-player of the year after leading the Little Giants to a 26-4 record and a state runner-up finish.
In her first year at Liberty, Brown suffered a foot injury that resulted in her redshirting that season. Not wanting to sit and watch, she dealt with frustration and disappointment, but she also learned a lot that would benefit her the following year.
When Brown finally got to play in 2009-10, she enjoyed one of the best freshman seasons in the program's history. Averaging 17.2 points and 8.2 rebounds a game, she was the first freshman to lead the Big South Conference in scoring since 1996-97, when Liberty's Elena Kisseleva accomplished the feat.
The highlight of her redshirt freshman season remains one of the classic moments in Lady Flames history. In the final seconds of the Big South Championship title game, Brown sank a one-handed bank shot to collect the 68-66 win over Gardner-Webb and Liberty's 13th conference championship.
Last year started off promising as Brown was named the 2010 Big South Preseason Player of the Year. However, another setback ensued as she suffered a preseason injury that forced her to miss the first seven games.
Once she was healthy enough to play, Brown posted a strong sophomore season. She was a first-team All-Big South honoree for the second consecutive year and was an honorable mention All-State performer.
Brown ended the year as the Lady Flames' leading scorer, averaging 13.5 points per game. In her first two seasons, she has recorded 917 points, becoming only the second sophomore at Liberty to reach the 900-point mark (also Kisseleva).
Great moments did occur last year, but nothing was more glaring than the one-point loss to Gardner-Webb in the Big South Championship contest, 67-66.
The trip to the valley is over, and the 2011-12 season begins another climb to success. Brown is still battling injuries, but Coach Green knows she will be ready to play this year.
"I think she was never at full strength the whole year last season," Green said. "She plays so hard, though, and so determined. You're going to get 100 percent out of her.
"The ceiling is so high for her," he said. "I know she's only going into her junior year, and a lot of good things can happen, but it's going to come down to injuries and how quickly she recovers."
Brown used the offseason to get herself ready to lead the Lady Flames and redeem last year's shortcomings.
"I expect to get better in all areas of my game," Brown said. "I have worked hard on my defense, and I strive to be better this season to help my team."
Rebounding is one area Brown should improve from last year. As a freshman she collected 8.2 rebounds a game but only produced a 4.2 average last season.
Three-point shooting should continue to be her strong suit. She recorded 40 treys as a freshman and didn't fade much last year, hitting 35 from behind the arc in fewer game appearances.
"It's always been part of her game," said Green about Brown's three-point shooting. "I think she realized it more last year because of her injury, which didn't allow her to attack the basket. I think she will be more balanced this year with both attacking the basket and shooting the three."
Brown starts the season ranked 13th on the Lady Flames' all-time scoring list. She only needs 204 points to move into the top 10. If she experiences two healthy seasons, Brown could be in position to make it to the top and surpass Kisseleva, who recorded 2,154 points to be Liberty's all-time scoring leader.
Much can happen before then. For now, Brown is ready to help the Lady Flames get back in the hunt for another Big South title and another NCAA Tournament appearance.
"She's an exceptional scorer, not a shooter, but a scorer," said Green. "And she plays harder than most players, and she has an exceptional desire to win. Those things will take her to the next level."
Green knows Brown will be a key factor in how the Lady Flames do this year. Keeping her on the court will only raise the potential of achieving the squad's goals.
"She is determined to carry a team," Green said. "She will do whatever she has to do to help the team be successful. She's one of the best. There are only a few exceptional athletes who have the desire and effort and intensity to win games. She certainly has that."
So how do you measure the heart of a champion? Come watch the Lady Flames play basketball this year, and when you see Devon Brown on the court, have your ruler ready.
Chris Doyle is a freelance writer for Liberty Athletics