Kalani Brown presser

Former Baylor center Kalani Brown takes questions from the media following the Lady Bears’ Tuesday press conference.

As an alumnus and fan, Kalani Brown is just as gracious toward her teammates as she was when she helped Baylor win the national championship last spring.

While Brown, the Lady Bears’ former all-American 6-foot-7 center, was the focal point of almost all television broadcasts of Baylor games, and the lead bullet point for ESPN analysts, she was a different person in real life. Those who closely watched the Lady Bears could see Brown operating as a willing role player on a great team.

Now, a season removed from her college career, Brown doesn’t bristle at the idea that Baylor might be even better without her this season. In fact, she embraces it.

“I think we’re slightly different,” Brown said. “We’re more athletic this year. More versatile in the post area. … It’s the same, but it’s not the same because you don’t have me. I have to say I’m a little slower than most. I can get up and down, but they can really get up and down (on fast breaks).”

Brown, on a break from her first season in the Women’s Chinese Basketball Association, is set to be in the stands again when Baylor hosts TCU at 7 on Wednesday night at the Ferrell Center.

Like most former players, Brown uses “we” when referencing the Lady Bears. But the pronoun seems even more intimate considering she played with most of the members of this year’s squad.

“We won without the 3-pointer last year,” Brown said. “But I feel like we’re even more dangerous this year because we have that perimeter game. I could say we’re better this year.

“We still go inside out. But we’re really going inside out this year. Having those shooters around really opens up the paint for our bigs to go to work. Watching the games, I wish we had that because we probably would’ve won the national championship by more than one point.”

Brown has been working out recently in the Lady Bears’ practice gym, attempting to stay basketball ready during her first extended time away from live games in more than 16 months.

After Baylor defeated Notre Dame in the national championship game on April 7, the Los Angeles Sparks selected Brown with the seventh overall pick of the WNBA Draft on April 10. Then the Sparks season began in late May.

Brown averaged 5.1 points and 3.5 rebounds on a veteran Sparks team during her rookie season, which finished in late September. Then it was off to China in November to play for the Xingjiang Magic Deer.

However, following a break from the season in early January in which Brown traveled back to the United States, the outbreak of the Coronavirus in Asia has delayed her return to the Magic Deer. She’s in a holding pattern now to see if the Women’s Chinese Basketball Association resumes play in time to complete the season before WNBA training camp.

Regardless of how the Coronavirus affects Brown’s basketball life during the next couple of months, she’ll be reporting to a new team in April.

On Monday, the Atlanta Dream sent two players to the Sparks for Brown.

“The night before I got a call from my agent saying that they traded me to Atlanta and I was like “Oh! Ok,’” Brown said. “It was kind of by surprise, but I think it was a good move. They were like, ‘We were hoping that you would fall to (the Dream’s first draft pick at 11th overall last April), but we knew probably that wouldn’t be possible.’ According to them, they were pursuing me for a while, for some months, and finally the opportunity presented itself.”

Brown revealed on Tuesday that she strained a calf muscle during the Lady Bears’ national championship game versus Notre Dame. Thinking it was merely a cramp, she fought through it, but the injury resulted in her sitting out the Sparks’ training camp prior to her rookie year.

While she waits on the situation in China to be resolved and gets ready for her first training camp with the Dream, Brown is cheering for as well as motivating her former Lady Bears teammates.

A native of Slidell, Louisiana, just east of New Orleans, Brown wants to see Baylor reach the Final Four at the Smoothie King Center in the Crescent City.

“It means a lot to me because it’s New Orleans, this is my city,” Brown said. “So I’ve already put the pressure on the girls. Sometimes I wish I was redshirted so I could play in my city.”

Brown said she’s excited by the way Baylor is maximizing its athleticism — running the floor in transition at every opportunity and letting it fly from 3-point range. She sees that as the formula that could bring the Lady Bears another national title this spring.

“I’m proud of them,” Brown said. “They’re more dangerous than our team last year, for sure.”

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