Carrollton's Brown happy to stay home

BY COREY CUSICK
THE TIMES-GEORGIAN

Perhaps Taylor Brown was destined for the University of West Georgia all along.

After moving to Carrollton from Chicago prior to her sophomore season of high school, the young basketball talent suddenly found herself literally living just a few miles from the UWG campus.

And after leading the Lady Trojans to three consecutive state quarterfinal appearances before wrapping up her prep career, several collegiate programs were hot on Brown's trail, including the hometown Wolves.

Even though Brown felt deep down that West Georgia was her No. 1 option, she believed branching out of her comfort zone would be good for her personal growth in becoming more of an independent young adult.

That ultimately led to the all-state guard signing with Arkansas-Fort Smith this past spring to play for head coach Elena Lovato.

Fate intervened, however, when Lovato stepped down in mid-June to accept an assistant coaching position at Division I power Mississippi State.

"It just changed my whole perspective on going there because me and her had a really good connection and she made me comfortable. That's a big part of just who I am and feeling comfortable with people," Brown said. "So when she left, it just didn't feel right. It wouldn't have been right if I still went there. I wouldn't have felt comfortable and I was so far away from home. I didn't want to put myself in a predicament where I wasn't happy."

Despite being late in the game, Arkansas-Fort Smith's loss turned into UWG head coach Scott Groninger's gain. Upon getting a release from her scholarship at UAFS in early July, West Georgia just happened to have a roster spot still open — and the Wolves were more than excited to land such a proven talent that late in the recruiting process.

"As soon as I heard that and got the word that she was probably going to be looking for a de-commit or getting a release from her scholarship, the first thing I thought was, 'OK, what are the options now?'" recalled Carrollton head coach Shon Thomaston. "West Georgia had already offered her previously and my mind automatically started telling me that option could possibly still be there. I think for her and coach (Groninger) and me that the fit would just be natural."

Although it wasn't the manner in which Groninger intended to land Brown, the UWG head man was just as happy to bring her on board a few months later than originally planned.

“I think she comes to us college-ready a little bit because of her strengths," Groninger said. "She played for a great program. She’s been coached well by Shon over there at Carrollton High School. Sometimes freshmen need a year or some time to adjust, but I didn’t think the adjustment was too hard for her.”

Brown and the Wolves are off to a 3-1 start to the season leading up to the start of Gulf South Conference play next week. The freshman has started three of the four games thus far and is averaging 5.0 points with 1.5 rebounds in 21 minutes of action per outing.

Brown noted how she hit it off with Groninger from the start and that she's looking forward to developing a strong chemistry with her new teammates over the winter.

"I'm excited. It comes down to effort and working hard. That's really what I've been focusing on. When I've been training, I've just focused on having confidence in myself," Brown said. "Confidence is the main key. That and just outworking other people. That's really all I'm focused on right now."

Thomaston was confident his former standout would step in and contribute as a true freshman this season, adding that she's been groomed for this level through the years.

"I always thought she had a college game, anyway," Thomaston said. "She always played that physical style that you rarely see out of high school girls. She had already been trained by her granddad and her dad and all those other people that have spent time helping her game. She was trained for the collegiate game, so she just falls right in from where she really, from a mindset, where she's already been prepared."

Brown had to play a little bit of everywhere at the prep level, whether it was getting down and dirty in the paint or running the show as the floor general. In the collegiate game, Brown serves as a combo guard that can play the one, two or three.

There's also a familiarity for Groninger in knowing what to expect and understanding what he's getting in Brown.

"He's been watching her play for a couple of years. A lot of times coaches go out and recruit kids and they see them once, see them twice and you're hoping what I saw is what I'm getting. He knows exactly what he's getting with her with her being in the backyard and the relationship that I have with him and being able to give him my thoughts on her," Thomaston said.

Groninger added one aspect the dynamic play-maker brings to the UWG program outside of pure talent is coming from a program that has a tradition of winning.

“I think the thing is she’s confident. She just brings a calmness to people because she’s confident," Groninger said.

Along with the satisfaction of getting one of his top players off to a quality program for athletics and university for academics, Thomaston was also excited to finally have one of his players stay and play for the hometown team.

"To me, that's big and I think it's big for our community because a lot of people who have been able to come and watch her play for me will get to watch her play for them," Thomaston said. "Of course, they've got that big Coliseum over there and we need to put some people in those seats. With her being from here and graduating from here, hopefully more people will go watch that team play since somebody familiar is on their roster."

Brown is also eager to tip the next chapter of her life and basketball career, and she still has those same goals of doing right on and off the court.

"Even though I'm at home, I want to try to be as mature and responsible as I can," Brown said. "That's really important to me. I'm kind of a sheltered child. I always stayed in the house with my mom and was always up under her. So I want to branch out and coach (Groninger) talked about how relationships are a big factor in college with making friends and talking to my professors and advocating for myself. So that's a couple of things I really want to try to work on, even if I'm still living in my hometown."