Branshea Brown has come a long way to get to get where she is today.
The Kansas State senior arrived in Manhattan four years ago shy and unsure of her new surroundings. About the only thing Brown did know was that she was a long way from Walterboro, S.C.
Brown’s four years with the Wildcats has been a lesson in life and basketball for the soft-spoken forward, who ranks sixth in school history with 75 career blocks and 25th in rebounds with 513.
But for Brown to grow, both on the court and off, she first had to find that role, find her purpose, so to speak, before she could become the player and leader she is today for the Wildcats, who play at Iowa State tonight and close the regular season on Saturday night at home against Texas Tech.
“It was really important to find that role and learn what my team needed me to do,” Brown said. “My freshman year, I was just lost. I was there, but I was lost.”
That’s exactly what K-State coach Deb Patterson feared would happen with Brown, who was away from home for the first time in her life.
“She’s an only child — from the South — and there is nothing here like the South — not the food, not the accent, not the style of the people and not the weather,” she said. “And when you’re the only child from the South in a very close family, I’m telling you, that girl has to be so emotionally strong.”
Brown has had to be emotionally strong the last two years, especially, because of challenging events away from basketball and far from Manhattan.
“In the last two years she’s been here, some 16 to 20 hours away from South Carolina as an only child, she has had to deal with the loss of a grandparent and an extremely sick father,” Patterson said. “She has a boyfriend she’s had since high school who is significant in her life, as is his family, and he lost his mother.
“She has gone through so many emotional challenges off the court and has never brought that baggage to what she does on it.”
On the court, however, Brown has emerged as a defensive force for K-State, a rock for the Wildcats who have ranked among the nation’s best defensively the past two seasons. Getting to that point wasn’t easy, either.
“Defensively and as a rebounder, I don’t know if I can say we’ve had any post player that’s worked harder than she has,” Patterson said.
At first, though, Brown showed immediate power inside with a 6-foot-2 frame, but she wasn’t always in control. She often found herself on the bench in foul trouble, despite showing a knack for blocking shots and pulling down tough rebounds.
“She was so raw and had never played the game at a real high and fast level in high school and she never played AAU,” Patterson said. “The game was spinning around her all the time and she would get into foul trouble all the time. Her big body would bump somebody and she would get the foul because she didn’t look like she was prepared to make the play.”
Part of that learning process included an adjustment to not being the biggest player on the court anymore, like she often was in high school. Though strong, she didn’t tower over everybody anymore. In the Big 12, Brown was considered undersized for a post — and still is.
“Coming out of high school, I thought I was the biggest person,” she said with a laugh. “So coming to the Big 12 was a big adjust for me, learning how to play defense and knowing how to get that stop when we need it.
“It was part of learning my role. I knew I wasn’t going to be a big-time scorer. But had I had to learn how to play defense and stay on the court and out of foul trouble, while still being physical against bigger people.”
Brown has done that, as she’s averaging more than 30 minutes a game as a senior. She’s averaging 5.8 points per game and is second in rebounds. Brown’s 26 blocks this season is a new career high and the most in a season by a Wildcat since Marlies Gipson blocked 86 in 2008-09.
“She literally won us three basketball games this year with her offensive game — those two games against KU and that unbelievable game she had against South Dakota State,” Patterson said. “If she doesn’t make the offensive plays she makes in those games this year, we don’t win those games.
“I could have never dreamed of that a year ago and that just speaks to the work ethic, the commitment and the passion and character and leadership of Brandy Brown. She just has worked every single day she’s been in this program.”
Against South Dakota State, on the road, Brown scored 13 points and hauled down seven rebounds. In the two games against Kansas this season, Brown has a combined 22 points, 14 rebounds and five blocks.
It’s at practice where Brown laid that foundation to becoming the player and leader she is today, as K-State appears to be on the brink of its third NCAA tournament appearance in four years.
“She is one of the best post players we’ve had in the gym, in respect to taking game-by-game and day-by-day coaching with her retention and accountability,” Patterson said. “We say, ‘we want to defend this kid this kid like this, we want to defend this on-ball like this.’ If you tell Brandy, she might make a mistake once, but I’m telling you, at practice, the next time she will have adjusted.
“She listens and learns and adjusts quickly. She’s not one of those kids you have to tell at practice six or seven times to do something,”
As a leader, the biggest obstacle for Brown was learning how to step out of her comfort zone. Though she’s still not a big talker or vocal leader, when she does say something, she means it.
“Being an upperclassman, you have to be a leader and that was hard for me at first, to know how and when to speak up and say something that needed to be said,” she said. “But I’ve learned how to do that. I still don’t say a lot. I pick and choose my moments. But if something needs to be said, I’ll say it. That was a big step for me.”