Kalani Brown — the daughter of an NBA star and mother who played collegiate basketball with one of the legendary programs of the game before turning into a coach — wasn’t going to be able to avoid her legacy completely.
Her mother, Dee, coached her from the time she was six years old. But she would make sure she was doing what she wanted to do, as well – so there were piano lessons and dance lessons and volleyball. And then the legacy became the love.
Brown, the 6-foot-7 center from Baylor, closed out her collegiate career Sunday with an NCAA title, posting 20 points, 13 rebounds and 2 blocks in the championship game. On Wednesday, she is expected to be one of the top picks in the WNBA Draft 2019 presented by State Farm. Her size, physicality, agility, and strength both on the boards and in the paint is going to make her a coveted young talent for teams looking for an anchor in their post or depth in the paint next to a veteran who can mentor her into dominance.
Brown has been focused on her team’s magical NCAA tourney run, culminating in her first trip to the Final Four and first title. Getting there has lifted a weight she has been carrying for four years, since she got to Waco with big expectations from both herself and her hard-driving head coach, Kim Mulkey.
But now it’s time to change gears and focus on something new, her about-to-begin life as a professional basketball player. She joked over the weekend that she hadn’t even begun shopping for her Draft Day outfit yet.
“My mom is running around like a chicken with her head chopped off trying to find me some clothes and help me get ready,” Brown laughed. “For a big girl like me, I feel like you need seven business days just to get something ordered that will fit. I am excited.”
Brown was in elementary school, a wide-eyed 9-year-old, when she sat in the stands back in 2008 and watched her father, P.J. Brown, play in the only NBA Finals of his 15-year career with the Boston Celtics, winning his only title. Her mother, Dee, played at Louisiana Tech for now-Baylor head coach Kim Mulkey before turning to coaching. She coached her daughter in youth basketball, AAU and was an assistant on her high school team.
Kalani, who lived in five different cities in her childhood as her family followed her dad through his career, had been attending Baylor basketball camps since she was a kid, and said that Mulkey had her eye on her since she was in the sixth grade.
“She’s fiery and passionate and she knows how to motivate me,” Brown said of Mulkey. “I wouldn’t be here today without her, that’s for sure. She’s definitely made me more aggressive. I was always kind of laid-back. I wasn’t as aggressive.”
When she got to Baylor, she was a nice kid — who played that way.
“I thought that she just really kind of wanted to blend in instead of really using her size to be dominant,” Mulkey said. “Even if it was just asking for the ball, I would tell her that it’s okay to raise your voice and holler, ‘Give me the ball!’ Sometimes that doesn’t come natural for kids.”
Brown eventually grew into it, admitting that she “didn’t want to step on toes.”
“But coach Mulkey definitely put that dog in me, that aggressiveness,” Brown said.
Brown, who finishes her career as a two-time All-American, averaged 15.6 points and 8.1 rebounds this season, shooting 61.3 percent from the floor as she shared post duties with fellow standout Lauren Cox. Her left-handed, back-to-the-basket style is called “old school” by some, but it has worked quite well for her. She is, above all, a finisher. As a junior, Brown averaged 20.1 points and 10.2 rebounds a game. Brown and Cox became the most dominant backcourt duo in the country this season.
“This is the most unselfish team I’ve ever played on,” Brown said. “Anyone can go off on any given night, but no one gets upset that they are going off.
“I could easily say ‘Hey, I need my numbers for the WNBA Draft,’ but it’s not like that because when you’re scoring, when everyone is scoring, you’re happy for each other, you’re winning. And I think that’s why we’ve come so far.”
Brown, who says she is a big fan of Minnesota Lynx All-Star Sylvia Fowles, said she has been working on improving her defense of the pick-and-roll because she knows she will see a lot of it in the WNBA.
“I saw a great example in Oregon (in the national semifinal),” Brown said.
And the assertiveness that she learned from Mulkey, she knows she will need that too.
“I used to be aggressive, but not like where I thought I could take over a game,” Brown said. “But she’s definitely instilled that in me.”
Longtime WNBA reporter Michelle Smith writes a weekly column on WNBA.com throughout the season. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the WNBA or its clubs.