Perhaps nothing more greatly weighed on J’Kyra Brown than the expectations.
From the first day she walked into Rocky Mount High School, she was expected to be able to do everything on the basketball court. She was expected to lead Rocky Mount High girls’ basketball back to glory.
Even through a torn ACL during her freshman year, she accomplished most of it, everything that was expected of her.
She just never planned any of it – the records, the honors, the deep playoffs run, the recognition.
“I think it’ll finally hit me later in life,” she said. “I just love the game, that’s all. I just love the game. I just play.”
Brown, who will play basketball next year at East Carolina, is the 2012-13 All-Area Girls’ Basketball Player of the Year. It’s the third time she has achieved the honor.
Brown will graduate in May as Rocky Mount’s alltime points leader in girls’ basketball, the N.C. Coaches Player of the Year and largely responsible for the deepest playoffs run her long-time coach had ever been a part of.
But Brown never anticipated accomplishing all of that – the expected.
“At the beginning, I thought about the record-setting, but I just wanted to play,” Brown said just moments after wearing her Gryphons’ jersey for the last time. “I really didn’t think I was going to get to that point. I just wanted to play.”
She’s far from the girl who first put on the No. 20 jersey, hoping to be like her older family members. Although it has been washed a few times, it’s the same jersey she injured her knee wearing. It’s the same uniform she had on when she broke Kim Taylor’s alltime record.
She wore it when Rocky Mount lost in the NCHSAA 3-A Eastern Regional finals last year, and when she walked out onto the court for the last time this year.
She’s grown as a player and as a person since she first pulled the uniform over her head.
“It means a lot, all the stuff that I’ve done, I’ve accomplished, in that jersey,” Brown said.
Brown, who averaged 25.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.5 steals per game in her final season, never was forced to be a leader for the Gryphons before this year.
She always was just another player, albeit an elite scorer.
“She always knows what it takes for the team to be successful,” Rocky Mount coach Pam Gainey said. “She always comes from that angle. I’ve never seen her play a game and try to get hers. It’s never been that. She doesn’t bring that to the table.”
Gainey has two children of her own, but looking back on the past four years, she feels proud watching the growth in Brown, who was stalwart in her conviction to be a role model this season.
Brown hadn’t been tracked down through social media before this year, but during the season, she received a few peculiar text messages. They came from middle-school basketball players. Brown was their role model.
“That’s what inspires me to be the person that I am,” Brown said. “I’ll talk to the girls and everything, go out to the gym and work out with them. That’s what makes me a better person. ... I like being a good person. That’s just how I am.”
That same unselfishness is what has made her a better player as well.
With all the expectation surrounding her, not many would have faulted Brown for scoring 30 or 40 points every game, walking off the court and saying she had done enough regardless of how well her team played.
But that’s not her.
She drew double and triple teams this year but found open players. She passed up difficult shots to find easier ones for her teammates. She recommitted herself on the defensive end of the court.
Brown sees that growth in herself, and Gainey sees it too.
“She has never acted like she is larger than the game,” Gainey said. “Every piece of advice I would have for her, she was more than willing to listen and try to apply. As a coach, I can’t help but appreciate that. She has never been cocky or arrogant or any of those things. She has been willing to learn, eager to learn and really eager to please.”
A lot was expected of Brown from an early age, and it persisted through her severe knee injury. Even on one surgically prepared knee, Brown always was expected to carry the burden of scrutiny.
Fulfilling most of the expectations, except for her own of making the state title game, brings up one single question: Is she the best girls’ basketball player in Rocky Mount history?
“I believe J’Kyra is the best all-around player that has come through,” said Gainey, who played against Taylor in high school.
Just like everyone expected.
Justin Hite can be reached at 407-9951 or firstname.lastname@example.org