AN UNBREAKABLE BOND

AN UNBREAKABLE BOND

(Alik McIntosh/The Diamondback)

Published on March 24, 2015

Lexie Brown lay sprawled across her bed in her new Georgia home. She was upset and searching for answers.

A year after Brown helped Dr. Phillips High School to its first undefeated regular season in school history as a freshman, her family had moved from Orlando, Florida, to Suwanee, Georgia. Brown’s father, Dee, made her attend North Gwinnett, which didn’t have a strong basketball program, to force his daughter to become a leader.

The Bulldogs were off to a 1-5 start, and Lexie was losing faith in her dad’s plan for her.

“This is terrible; we are terrible,” Tammy Brown, Lexie’s mother, recalled her daughter telling her dad.

“If your team’s terrible, you’re terrible,” Dee Brown, a 12-year NBA veteran, said to his daughter. “You need to figure out a way to win.”

Lexie Brown responded by taking matters into her own hands. She went to first-year coach Bryan Sellers and told him he should demand more of the team. In return, Brown would elevate her own game.

The Bulldogs went on to win their next 18 games, and Brown led the team to a Sweet 16 appearance in the Georgia Class AAAAA state playoffs.

Dee had laid out a difficult path for her only because he knew she could handle it. He has always demanded a lot from his first-born child, both on and off the court.

The relationship Dee and Lexie have is one few can relate to. Dee and current Terrapins women’s basketball assistant coach Shay Robinson spent countless hours molding Lexie into a dominant player at her father’s EDGE training facility in Orlando.

Those relationships, especially the one with her father, are the driving force behind the Terps star point guard as she leads the team into the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament as a sophomore

Guard Lexie Brown drives to the bucket during the Terps' win over Rutgers at Xfinity Center on Feb. 10, 2015. (Alik McIntosh/The Diamondback)

DEVELOPING A PASSION

Brown’s first passion wasn’t basketball. She grew up with a knack for tennis and competed in soccer and cheerleading, too.

“She wasn’t a gifted athlete…Lexie has been built. Her training, she just really worked at it, and she wanted it.”

—Tammy Brown, Lexie Brown's mom

At 8 years old, though, Brown decided to try her hand at the sport of which her dad made a career. But basketball didn’t come easy. She had to work for it.

“She wasn’t a gifted athlete,” Tammy Brown said. “Lexie has been built. Her training, she just really worked at it, and she wanted it.”

If Dee hadn’t been there to teach Lexie, she may have ended up on a tennis court in high school or maybe holding pom-poms on the sidelines. But because Lexie was willing to put the time and effort in, Dee was able to use his basketball mind to sculpt his daughter into a basketball player.

“In order for her to have all the time that she wanted with him, she kind of developed a passion and a love for what he did,” Tammy said. “They kind of went on this journey together, and it was kind of beautiful.”

Dee was content looking on during her tennis matches, but that sport didn’t offer the connection that basketball did. At that moment, Lexie and Dee were simply a daughter and a dad who just happened to had won the Slam Dunk Contest in 1991.

But when Lexie picked up a basketball, it allowed the two to develop their second relationship dynamic, one that would dominate their lives for years to come.

“They are like-minded. They work the same,” Tammy said. “He knew he could teach her things because she would absorb it. She was hungry.”

 

TRAINING FOR COLLEGE

When Dee opened the EDGE training facility when Lexie was a preteen, basketball engulfed her life. When she wasn’t at school, she was training.

Guard Lexie Brown dribbles up the court duringTerps' win over Rutgers at Xfinity Center on Feb. 10, 2015. (Alik McIntosh/The Diamondback)

“The best thing that happened was him opening that gym because we would have so much one-on-one time together,” Brown said. “That was awesome.”

Brown would leave her house at 7 a.m. and wouldn’t return until 10 or 11 p.m. After school ended for the day, her parents picked her up and drove her to the facility, where Dee and Tammy worked.

First on the agenda was an hourlong workout with her dad. Then it was off to practice with her team. When Lexie returned, Dee put her through another workout. And when she wasn’t hoisting shots on the court, Brown was in the weight room doing speed and agility training with her mom.

There were times, though, when Dee made her do the workouts on her own. He would leave Lexie, a seventh grader at the time, alone in the gym with a whiteboard.

Scribbled on it were the various drills she was expected to complete over the course of two hours.

“I used to be the kind of mom that used to say, ‘You are going to make her do this herself?’” Tammy said.

“[Dee] said ‘If she can work herself out, I know she has a passion,’” Tammy recalled. “‘She is going to have to learn in order to get better that sometimes you are going to have to do it alone.’”

That’s when Brown’s parents noticed a change in their daughter. The elementary-school girl who was better suited for tennis had disappeared. Emerging from the gym in Orlando was a future top-15 recruit in the country.

Dee wanted to know Lexie’s goal. She aspired to play for a big school. She wanted to play for the Terps, who had her favorite player, Kristi Toliver. So Dee laid out a path for her to achieve her dream.

In eighth grade, Brown tried to stray from it. A bunch of her friends were on the volleyball team, and Lexie told Dee she wanted to play, too.

Dee asked Lexie whether her goal had changed. When she said no, he told her she couldn’t waver on her path. Dee said she could play, but it would never provide a substitute for her basketball training.

So for a year, Lexie Brown did both. Volleyball practice then training. It was the only season she played, though, because she later decided to stay committed to her father’s plan for her basketball development.

“She had to trust him, ” Tammy said.

A SECOND FATHER

Brown’s first impression of Robinson wasn’t indicative of the relationship they would build.

Robinson came to the facility on a Friday, and Dee asked him to work out Lexie. So, at 12 years old, Brown served as the guinea pig in Robinson’s job tryout.

“Dee just threw it on me,” Robinson said. “He was like, ‘I want you to work my daughter out.’”

Robinson put her through a rigorous 45-minute workout covering all facets of the game.

“I almost died, it was so hard,” Brown said. “I was like, ‘Who is this man? He’s crazy.’”

When the drills ended, Brown told her dad that she didn’t like him. Dee hired Robinson by the next day.

But Brown’s feelings toward Robinson quickly changed, even though his training style didn’t. He became the coach of Brown’s first Amateur Athletic Union team.

“How intense he is now, that’s how intense he was when we were 12,” Brown said. “He actually might have been more intense when we were 12 than he is here.”

At the facility, Brown alternated between working out with Robinson and her dad.

“Lexie was basically both of their brainchilds,” Tammy said.

Eventually, though, it was just Robinson. Dee got a job as a D-League coach in 2009, and he spent most of his time away from Orlando.

The two men were teaching Brown the same skills, but their styles and approaches varied. Robinson pushed Brown hard, and sometimes, when the shots weren’t falling or she couldn’t get a move down, the tears would come.

“She knows: You start crying; I don’t want to hear it,” Robinson said. “You cry all you want to; start over.”

Robinson would work with Brown four to six times per week for about an hour each day. Sometimes, the focus was on the art of shooting. The shooting bay inside the facility had cameras set up to film Brown taking step-in jumpers, pull-ups off the dribble and step-backs.

After Brown would shoot, the two would watch the footage. Robinson would rewind and replay the various angles with her to break down where improvements needed to be made.

While  Brown’s dad was busy traveling the country, Robinson was there to supplement the relationship that drove her to pick up a basketball years earlier.

“He’s been a really important person,” Brown said. “Kind of like a second father, big-brother type of person in my life.”

The duo reunited years later in College Park. After Lexie arrived on the campus in 2013, the Terps hired Robinson the next season as an assistant coach when David Atkins left the program for a job with the Washington Wizards.

With the Terps, Robinson and Brown’s successful partnership has continued.

(Alik McIntosh/The Diamondback)

BIG SHOT BROWN

Brown has never been fazed by the spotlight.

Maybe it’s because she grew up watching her dad play in NBA arenas. Maybe it’s because she’s always been around stars. One of her best friends growing up was Taryn Griffey, daughter of Ken Griffey Jr. Or maybe it’s because she’s willing to do anything to avoid suffering defeat.

“I don’t know what it is about the big games, but I just don’t like to lose,” Lexie said. “I don’t like to lose in front of a crowd. I don’t like to lose on TV.”

Whatever it is, Lexie has always had a knack for clutch-time situations. It’s the reason Terps coach Brenda Frese gave her the nickname “Big Shot Brown” during their Final Four run last season.

As a freshman, Lexie elevated her game when the calendar turned to March. With the nation watching the No. 4-seed Terps, she went 9 of 10 from the free-throw line as part of a 20-point performance that lifted her team to a 76-73 win over Louisville in the Elite Eight.

“I love March Madness,” Lexie said. “It’s like my favorite thing in the world.”

When Lexie was the star at North Gwinnett, she played on the biggest stages, too. During her junior season, she posted a triple-double to send the Bulldogs to the state semifinals for the first time since 1963.

A year later, Lexie helped North Gwinnett reach the championship. A struggling program became a powerhouse when the McDonald’s All-American arrived.

“Just little Suwanee; no one ever even heard of it,” Tammy said. “I can remember, she said to her dad, “‘I just need one person that can dribble.’”

Lexie has come a long way from the girl sulking in her bed after a 1-5 start to her Bulldogs career. She always has had that determination to be the best. When Lexie came across USA Today’s list of the top high school teams in the country, she immediately asked Dee what she had to do to get North Gwinnett on it.

By the time she left Suwanee for College Park, the Bulldogs were on that list.

“What she’s always done — whether it be high school, AAU, college — she’s come into her own,” Frese said. “Last year, when she was an unknown coming into college, it was Dee Brown’s daughter. But I think as this season has unfolded, she’s definitely made a name for herself across the country.”

“As this season has unfolded she’s definitely made a name for herself across the country.”

—Brenda Frese, Maryland women's basketball coach

A DAD AND A DAUGHTER

It isn’t easy to emerge from the shadow of a former dunk contest champion. Lexie didn’t even realize how famous her father was until she was 11 years old and snooping around his office.

Lexie pulled open one of the drawers in his desk to find a set of old VCR tapes. Sitting alone, she started to watch them. It was the first time she saw footage of Dee’s iconic no-look jam in his Boston Celtics garb. There was a Dunkin’ Donuts commercial with him, too.

“I was like, ‘Wow, you were kind of cool back then,’” Lexie said.

She says Dee has taught her everything he possibly could in basketball. In the years since those countless nights in the Orlando gym, the two haven’t had the chance to spend much time together.

Dee has been coaching since they moved to Georgia, and he has been to only a handful of Lexie’s games since high school. The only of her college games he has attended was the Elite Eight bout with the Cardinals.

ABOVE: Lexie Brown’s dad, Dee Brown, pulls off a ‘no look’ dunk to win the 1991 NBA Slam Dunk Contest.

For some players, that void in the stands might cause anguish. But Lexie knows he was there when she needed him to help her learn the game at a young age.

“I know every time she mentions him, she has a bright smile on her face,” Terps guard Laurin Mincy said.

When Lexie and Dee do get a chance to hang out, basketball usually isn’t on the agenda.

“We have great times together. We laugh,” Lexie said. “I love being in the gym with him, but now when I see him, that’s not really what we want to go do because we want to have quality time with each other.

“We just kind of hang out and be a dad and a daughter.”

He always texts her before games to wish her good luck.

Dee has been the mentor and biggest influence on one of 10 semifinalists for the Naismith Trophy Women’s College Player of the Year. He’s also formed an unbreakable bond with his daughter, which serves as her fuel as she leads the No. 1-seed Terps fearlessly through another NCAA tournament.

“That’s his princess,” Tammy said. “There is nothing he wouldn’t do for her.”

 

Ryan Baillargeon is a senior staff writer and can be reached at rbaillargeondbk@gmail.com or you can follow him on Twitter at @RyanBaillargeon

 

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