Rest in Peace Keisha Brown

I had my second blog for “Extra Points” done and ready to post this morning. But something occurred to change my priorities of what I wanted to say this week.

A great woman passed away last night.

Keisha Brown, 42 years young, died Thursday evening at her home after a long battle with cancer.

She fought to the end, but the terrible disease finally succeeded in taking her away from us.

For me, last night and now today have been a struggle to get through. Tears keep coming to my eyes as I attempt to put into words what this woman meant to me. I write this with the realization that whatever I say does not do true justice to who she was and what she represented. But, it is important to me that I try.

Terms too often are overused as hyperbole: ‘Warrior’, ‘Fighter’, ‘Battler’, ‘Champion’ and ‘Hero’. These are words that should be used sparingly and with just cause.

Any of these words can justifiably be used to describe Keisha Brown.

I first met Keisha in the early summer months of 2009. I was on the search committee to find and hire the new women’s basketball coach at Alma College. I was only nine months into my new role as sports information director at the school and this was my first committee assignment.

I took my role seriously and was diligent in my research and understanding of the candidates.

Keisha was interested after seven incredibly successful seasons as the boys coach at Sacred Heart Academy in Mt. Pleasant. I don’t recall exact numbers but I know she had won close to 80% of her games and had won many conference, district and regional titles during her tenure.

But, it was not the on-court accomplishments that drew me to Keisha. It was her absolute, total commitment and caring for her student athletes that made me come to the easy conclusion that she was the right choice for our position.

Our Athletic Director, John Leister, hired Keisha in July of 2009 and she became our new women’s coach.

For the past five years, I have had the privilege and honor to work side by side with Keisha in the Scots’ athletic department.

We knew in the interview process that Keisha had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007 and that she was a survivor. I watched as the disease kept coming back and watched some more as Keisha fought back at it every time. In her own words, she was a “lifer”, not just a survivor.

Her tenacity and resolve was something I may never see again as long as I am on this Earth.

Three different times, Keisha had fought the disease and pushed it away, but in January of 2013, it was discovered that the cancer was back and had metastasized into her bones.

She endured a grueling summer of treatments, but was back on the court with her team when fall practice started on October 15.

Through it all, Keisha stayed upbeat and her focus was her family and her team. A quote from her that appeared in the Morning Sun newspaper on October 25 of this past fall, clearly illustrated who Keisha was and what lived in her core.

“Being on the court coaching the girls is my time to get away from everything else that has been going on and I can just forget about everything else,” Brown said then. “My faith has allowed me to wake up every day and allow me to keep fighting. What are the odds that a person is going to be told four times in six years that the cancer is back? I couldn’t get through this without faith in God and the strength that I can endure anything because of that faith.”

That strength and commitment shaped her every day I saw her in the athletic department offices, with her lovely family and on the court.

When I confronted an illness of my own and let it become known in February of 2013, one of the very first people in my office was Keisha Brown. Never mind that she was dealing with the fight of her life – she wanted to make sure I was ok and to let me know she was there for me.

That is something I will never forget and my gratitude to her cannot be expressed in words.

The last time I saw and spoke to Keisha was a few weeks back when it was announced that she would no longer coach the team, but would work with John as a special assistant until the end of her contract.

We sat behind closed doors in my office and talked about things other than basketball. Again, she was worried about me and wanted to know how I was doing with my situation. She insisted I keep in touch and to call her if I was having a down moment.

That kind of selfless attitude best describes the kind of woman she was every day of her life. I am a better man for having known her. I can only hope to leave behind a legacy that is close to hers.

Rest in Peace Keisha Brown. We miss you already.

EXTRA POINTS THOUGHT OF THE DAY:

“There will be a time when all of the pieces will fit together and we will understand the reason for the pain. We must embrace that pain and burn it as fuel for our journey.”

Shot Clock in High School Basketball—Necessary or Not?

As I embark on another chapter of my professional life, I introduce to you “Extra Points,” a new blog that will appear weekly on GoAlmaScots.com. I hope to discuss topics that you, the audience find interesting, thought-provoking and maybe even blood boiling.

Only time will tell and you will be the judge. So on to our first topic.

At this time of year, high school basketball tournaments are being played out across this great country, as boys and girls chase a dream of championships and first-place medals. For the most part, the games are decided on a level playing field and with rules that make sense for all parties.

With one big exception – shot clock rules.

Only seven states in the USA employ a shot clock rule – California, Massachusetts, New York, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota and Washington. Every year it seems, more so in the past few, the debate becomes very vocal in the states that do not have one.

Each season there are instances where the debate becomes a scream, as both sides argue the merits of the rule and cite examples that have occurred in their domains.

In Minnesota two weekends ago, a situation arose in a boys’ state semi-final contest pitting two schools in the large school bracket of the tournament. Hopkins High School, a perennial state power with several Division 1 candidates this year and in the recent past, was taking on Shakopee High School, a relative newcomer to boys’ basketball prowess and considered overwhelmed in this matchup.

The teams fought valiantly for two 18-minute halves and found themselves tied 41-41 at the end of regulation. On to a five-minute overtime they went. Hopkins won the tip and took possession of the ball. What ensued was basically a game of chicken as Shakopee lined up defensively in a tight 2-3 zone and Hopkins set up their offense. The Hopkins player tucked the ball under his arm, literally refusing to try to score. Shakopee just waited and watched, refusing to defend the ball and press the action.

Hopkins HS vs. Shakopee HS (Minnesota) semi-final game (photo from Minnesota Star-Tribune.com)

Hopkins HS vs. Shakopee HS (Minnesota) semi-final game (photo from Minnesota Star-Tribune.com)

This went on and on, from one overtime to another, until a spectacular halfcourt shot finally gave Hopkins a 49-46 four-overtime victory. But even an ESPN Top 10 highlight was overshadowed by the strong feelings about the strategies that played out in the game’s final minutes.

To me, this was a very disappointing way to have a game of that magnitude decided, and the Hopkins coach should be ashamed of himself. That opinion begs the question as to why I don’t feel that way about the Shakopee coach.

Simple. The 2-3 zone is a common strategic defense and Shakopee believed it gave them the best opportunity to compete against a superior opponent. Hopkins on the other hand, employed a strategy that was non-offensive (or offensive, if you get my drift) and they had the talent to play basketball the way it was meant to be played.

If there was a shot clock, this would be a non-story and my first blog would be entirely different.

High school basketball is the only competitive organized form of the sport that does not force teams to keep the action moving. This Minnesota example is only one of many that have jumped out in recent years – other instances that have spurred debate have happened in Nebraska, Ohio and Maryland, to name a few. It seems to become more prevalent with every new season.

Of course, Michigan is one of the states without a shot clock and you do see it become a factor from time to time. Kudos to the Crystal Falls-Forest Park Class D girls’ coach, whose team led Sacred Heart by as many as seven points late in the April 15 State Championship contest. He implored his squad to play on and win the game by forcing the action. In this case, it did not work, as Sacred Heart pulled off the improbable comeback and won the game and the title.

Many would criticize this coach for not stalling or holding the ball with that sort of lead. Not me. He taught his girls a valuable lesson – we will win or lose by playing our game and not by some sort of last-minute gimmick. Good for him.

Now, many will disagree with my opinion and would point to the fact that Hopkins won and Crystal Falls-Forest Park lost. I say, so what? Winning is important, but so is winning in an honorable way. The Crystal Falls-Forest Park coach lost with honor and has nothing to be sorry for with his team’s second-place finish.

High school basketball is a great spectacle when played (and coached) correctly and a shot clock would only enhance the integrity of the game.

It is time that all 50 states move to improve this wonderful game and add a shot clock to the rules. It does not have to be cost prohibitive and every school district in every state could make it happen.

It will only make things better for all involved.

EXTRA POINTS THOUGHT OF THE DAY:

“Has listening become a lost art? Listening is assuming the responsibility, generosity to do something with whatever you hear. After all it is someone’s gift to you.”