WARNER ROBINS — Searching for experienced backcourt depth, Northside girls head basketball coach Casaundra Wilson turned to star forward Tai Brown during the offseason.
The senior was no stranger to ball-handling. Hundreds of the more than 1,000 points Brown scored in her first three varsity seasons came off the bounce, including frequent coast-to-coast magic off defensive rebounds.
But Wilson wanted efficiency in the halfcourt, as well. She knew the Lady Eagles had several scoring options with Chan Fann in the post and Ladarria Clark and Jasmine Wilson on the wing. What Casaundra Wilson needed was someone with heavy varsity experience who could get them the ball.
At 5-foot-10 and 165 pounds, Brown presented a matchup nightmare for shorter, lighter defenders at the point. And her basketball intelligence made her a natural fit for the position.
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During one telling moment this year, Brown made eye contact with Jasmine Wilson on the right wing, then motioned her to switch places. Still with a live dribble, Brown was then in a better position to find Fann, who had sealed her defender.
Pass. Bank. Two points. Brown went on to lead the team in assists throughout the 2009-10 season.
Charity, however, begins at home. Brown still got her shot and still made her presence known on the glass. She finished second on the team in both points and rebounds. And for leading Northside to a 26-3 record and the Region 1-AAAAA title, Brown is The Telegraph’s GHSA Girls Basketball Player of the Year.
“She can be an awesome player at times,” Casaundra Wilson said. “She does some things that you don’t believe a female is doing.”
Brown’s brilliance was fully on display in the post-season. During the region tournament, she led the Lady Eagles back from nine-point deficits in both the semifinals and finals. She averaged 20.5 points in Northside’s four postseason games, including two in the Class AAAAA tournament.
“I know that we wouldn’t have gotten as far had she not stepped up and said, ‘I’m going to do whatever it takes for us to win,’ ” Wilson said.
While following her mother Yvette and sisters Tari and Trycee as Northside basketball players, Brown’s career embraced a certain inevitability. In middle school she was already drawing comparisons to her sisters.
“When you grow up around something so long, you just get immune to it, and that’s how I was,” Brown said. “Everybody in my household played basketball, and everybody played here, so it was a big deal for me to come and play and try to make a difference at this school. Make my own name.”
Brown should get the chance to play on at either a mid-major NCAA Division I school or in Division II. A knee injury suffered prior to the beginning of the 2008-09 season dampened her prospects, but not her spirit.
“It was hard, but it was motivating at the same time because you had girls before you that (suffered the same injury) and you see them come back strong,” Brown said, citing Wilson’s daughter Janay as a prime example. “You look at them and say, ‘Well, I think I can be able to do that.’ ... You’re forced to work harder so you can be better.”
Wilson ranks Brown with Mary Persons and Tennessee legend Latoya Davis as the two best players she has coached. Wilson believes her injury serves as evidence that Brown has the work ethic to succeed at the next level.
“That’s a major injury for a young teenager to come back from and not be afraid when they step back on the floor,” Wilson said. “I think it makes her a stronger person that can overcome obstacles.”