Ex-Missy Gator giving back

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 1, 2003

But despite all her intense practicing and conditioning, Brown never gave up on her studies, thanks to some strict parenting. It helped her earn induction into the National Honor Society.

“My mom was just a stickler for making sure we had things going right in school,” she said. “If we didn’t get it done right, we were going to get it when we got home. That’s the bottom line. Thankfully to say, I did pretty well in school.”

The enamorable athlete also made friends everywhere she went, from teachers to classmates to coaches.

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Brown still talks to many of her high school friends, and she’s looking forward to her 15-year class reunion next year.

“I don’t know if I have any bad (memories) about Vicksburg, and that’s being totally honest,” Brown said. “My experience in high school was exceptional. From the teachers I had to the teachers I see now when I come home from Nashville, it’s just a great, great profession of what they did in my life when I was here.”

After graduating from VHS, Brown earned and she emphasizes the word “earned” a scholarship to play for Mississippi State in 1989.

In her four years in Starkville, she was the starting point guard from the beginning to the end of her collegiate career.

Brown said she experienced a period of adjustment when she entered the college ranks and faced the talented competition in the Southeastern Conference. The challenge forced her to work extra hard in the weight room and the gym to get stronger and faster.

Her commitment and dedication singled her out for her coach.

“I was always ready to work hard,” Brown said. “Even as a freshman, coach (Jerry) Henderson always told me to be a leader on the floor because I had a leader mentality.”

Brown’s leadership earned her a spot as a graduate assistant coach at Mississippi State in 1994 and as an assistant coach the next season while she completed her education. She earned a business management degree before earning a master’s in sports administration in 1995.

Brown said too many athletes today use their involvement in sports as an excuse for a lack of effort in school and poor grades.

“All that takes away from your studies,” she said. “But that’s not an excuse not to work hard in the classroom because of basketball. That’s what we teach our girls at Belmont. I’m thankful that I had coaches at State that taught me the same thing.”

The end of college appeared to be the end of Brown’s involvement in basketball.

Brown leaned on her business degree to get a job at a Holiday Inn Select in Nashville as a food and beverage manager.

For nine months she supervised waiters, ordered supplies and fielded customer complaints, while hoping for something better to come along.

“It was the toughest job I’ve ever had,” she said. “I’m telling you, you have no idea. That’s why I can appreciate now when I go out to restaurants.”

Out of the blue, Brown received a call from the Belmont coach.

Cross was searching for an assistant coach and discovered that Brown had worked as an assistant at Mississippi State.

Brown interviewed and was hired within a week as an assistant.

“She came in during a tough transition period for us when we were moving from NAIA to Division I,” Cross said. “She’s done a tremendous job and has grown as a coach each year.”

Brown’s duties include recruiting, conditioning the players and training the guards. She also has one other duty that she takes a special pride in acting as a fill-in mother for her players.

“If they need somebody to talk to, they’re comfortable enough to call me about it,” she said. “I’ve told them that it doesn’t matter if it’s 2 or 3 in the morning. I might be sleeping, but call me. That’s what I’m there for.”

Brown said it makes the players, especially the freshmen, feel more comfortable living away from home.

Cross also said Brown’s parenting role is very important to the team.

“If it has anything to do with the players, whether it’s social, academic, dorms, discipline, she’s the first one in charge,” he said. “A bond has grown with her and the players.”

With Cross and Brown at the helm, Belmont has finished .500 or better in each of the last six seasons, including last year’s 19-10 (9-7 Atlantic Sun Conference) mark with the program’s first postseason victory in a conference tournament win over Troy State.

With all the years Brown has put in coaching at Belmont, she still feels like contributing more to the sport. Starting the summer basketball camp in Vicksburg was just another way for her to repay the coaches she has learned from through the years.

“What motivates me is when I look at these kids out here and think back to when they started on Monday and see they’ve worked and gotten better during the week,” she said. “That motivates me to do this again next year, and the following year.”

Brown received more fuel for her high-octane drive four years ago when she took a missionary trip with her team to Rio de Janiero, Brazil.

Brown found it to be a mind-blowing experience as she observed the people, the culture and the environment over her two-week stay.

“It changed my life,” she said. “I love kids anyway, but it just humbled me to where I appreciate what I have more, compared to saying, I want that. I want that.’ It’s not about what I want, it’s what I need.

“The love of those kids and how they appreciate and love things, it made me humble myself.”

Since then, she has made every effort to give rather than take something into which coaching fits nicely.

Eventually Brown has aspirations of taking a head coaching position, but she’s not rushing it.

Brown recently was a finalist for the top coaching position at Austin Peay in Clarksville, Tenn.

Ideally, she would like to run a program where she will have free reign to recruit nationally, not just regionally, but she said she knows that good things come to those who wait.

“My thing is just time and patience,” Brown said. “I know that I have to be patient about it, and hopefully that opportunity will come along.”

With Brown’s upcoming promotion to associate head coach, it may only be a matter of time before athletic directors come knocking.

Cross said he knows his days with Brown are limited.

“Every time someone calls about Donna my loyalty to her makes me put in a good word for her,” he said. “But my selfishness wants me to keep her here. She’s certainly ready to be a head coach.”