There were times last year when Lexie Brown would call her parents needing to vent her frustrations as a WNBA rookie.
Brown, a former college star guard at both Maryland and Duke, was taken by Connecticut with the No. 9 pick in the 2018 WNBA draft. She joined a team deep at the position; one of the first things Sun coach Curt Miller told her was how hard it would be for her to get on the court.
He was right.
Brown wasn’t used to sitting. Certainly she wasn’t used to waiting, watching. So many nights, she’d phone home. Both her mom and dad had played. Father Dee Brown was a former NBA player who was on the all-rookie team his first season. He had gone from playing to coaching. He would understand.
“There were a lot of times when my parents were just listening,” said Brown, now a guard with the Lynx. “And there were a lot of times where it was like, ‘Lexie, just shut up. You’re not the only one in a bad situation right now. Get through it and come out stronger.’ ”
Father knew best.
Brown, traded to the Lynx during the offseason, is in the process of proving patience is a virtue. Given the opportunity to be a big part of the Lynx’s rotation, she has emerged as one of the team’s best three-point threats with a quick-release shot teammate Danielle Robinson says is the purest she’s ever seen.
After averaging 5.6 minutes as a rookie, she is playing 22 minutes per game with the Lynx, coming off the bench to average 9.7 points while shooting 45.2% on three-pointers (19-for-42), sixth best in the league.
“It’s all about fit and environment,” Brown said. “There is a place for everyone in this league, but you have to find it. I feel blessed I was able to find it in my second year.”
A basketball family
When it came to basketball, Dee Brown let his daughter come to him. This was important. A former player — remember when he won the NBA’s slam dunk competition? — who loved the game, he wanted to make sure his eldest daughter did, too.
It happened when she was about 12. Until then Lexie Brown had played some tennis and was pretty seriously into ballet dancing. But hanging around the basketball facility Brown had built in Orlando — one frequented in the summer by the likes of Tracy McGrady, Vince Carter and Grant Hill — she decided she wanted to play.
“She told me she wanted to be the best women’s basketball player she could be,” said Dee Brown, currently the general manager of the Los Angeles Clippers G-League team and Clippers director of player programs. “I was like, ‘OK, now you’re serious.’ ”
So was he. Over the next few years it would be impossible to count the hours the two worked together. She would go to the facility after school, do homework … then more basketball. Working out, drills. And the shooting. Dee Brown had played with Dell Curry late in Curry’s career, when both were in Toronto. It was his shot Brown tried to instill in his daughter.
“It was practice, practice, practice, shot after shot after shot,” he said. “She learned.”
As a freshman, Brown was part of a team that started five freshman and made it to the state semifinals. After the family moved to Atlanta, she led North Gwinnett to the state title game.
In college Brown was on two Final Four teams, earning the nickname Big Shot Brown.
And then she was drafted by the Sun.
“I had never faced a situation like that,” Brown said of sitting on the bench. “But I’m kind of happy it happened early in my career. I still learned a lot. It ended up working out.”
Brown spent hours working on her game, tried to stay ready for when minutes did come, tried never to be a negative drain on a playoff team. But she wishes she’d worked harder at developing relationships with the coaching staff rather than being more of a loner.
“I was kind of, ‘To heck with you all if this is how it’s going to be,’ ” she said. “ ‘I’m just going into my corner, trying to learn and develop on my own, do everything on my own. Be by myself on the road.’ ”
Then, after this year’s draft, she learned she’d been traded to the Lynx.
Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve has given Brown minutes and the freedom to shoot. She has also demanded a few things, too. Among them? The maturity to not let difficult times affect the way she acts or plays. Brown has a tendency to get down on herself, something that manifests itself as bad body language. Reeve has seen a lot of progress in that area.
“For every player, when you come here, the accountability is something that can be surprising,” Reeve said. “We see something, we say something. Lexie wants to be coachable, a good teammate. There is no question she has grown. She has a big role on this team, and she’s embracing that.”
Brown, meanwhile, appreciates both Reeve’s honesty and the opportunity she’s been given. As well as the challenges ahead.
Brown, who has hit at least one three-pointer in every game, has begun attracting a lot more attention from defenses, much of it physical in nature. Now it’s on her to adjust. In just nine games, though, Brown has shown she belongs. All it took was talent, and an opportunity.
“It’s amazing how things work out,” said Miller, her former coach in Connecticut. “Because of this opportunity she’ll never look back. There will be a place for her in this league for a long time.”