Coach Rhonda Blades Brown has been investing in the lives of young girls in Brentwood for more than a decade. Spend a few minutes with this girls basketball coach at Brentwood Academy, and you’ll hear her talk about the ladies on her team who work hard, are determined and disciplined. In the very next breath, she remarks about how proud she is to see these girls excel both on and off the court. Brown, who teaches anatomy in addition to her BA coaching duties, played point guard at Vanderbilt University and was a member of the only Commodore’s team to reach the women’s Final Four in 1993. Following college, she played for the WNBA. Today, we welcome her as our FACE of Williamson County.
What led you from small-town Missouri to Vanderbilt, and what about Nashville kept you here after graduation?
I was attracted to Vanderbilt University by the chance to play at an SEC-level program with some of the best academics in the nation. My teammates were 6-foot, 10-inch Heidi Gillingham (tallest in the nation) and Misty Lamb, USA Today player of the year. Julie Powell led the nation in three-point shooting percentage. They all made me look really good, and as a point guard, it didn’t get any better than those ladies. I was the first student athlete at VU to attempt the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing and play a sport. I did my undergraduate in three years and completed the VUSN graduate bridge program the last two years. It was wild my senior year, playing and traveling all over the nation, while fitting in clinicals at the VU Hospital. The VUSN staff was amazing, and now they have had several athletes complete the program. I walked out of Vandy with a MSN and as a Family Nurse Practitioner.
My senior year, I met Parke (my husband), and we were married during Christmas the next year. He has a tree company called The Parke Co., so that kept me here. I love Nashville!
What are the biggest joys coaching a high school basketball team and teaching this age group at Brentwood Academy?
The biggest joy for me is having the chance to impact the young ladies’ lives in a positive way and point them to Christ. Basketball and coaching are simply platforms to challenge the players I work with to do more than they could ever think they can do. I embrace the joy in seeing them push through hard situations, learn to love their teammates well and compete for something bigger than themselves. I love having new players every year and the challenge of getting them to play for each other. We talk a lot about the “WE” is greater than the “me.”
How many times has BA won the girls basketball state championship under your tenure?
BA has won the girls basketball state championship three times, all three during my tenure. They won in 2006, 2014 and 2015, and they were runners-up in 2005, 2007 and 2013.
What advice do you have for parents and kids wanting a college athletic scholarship?
Pray. Is it God’s plan for your child to play at the next level or yours? Does the player really love the sport enough to work at the level required that hard in college? What are they willing to give up to get there?
Everyone these days is caught up in their child getting an athletic scholarship. About two percent of high school athletes receive an athletic scholarship. Sports needs to be more about playing something you love, working hard to improve and learning some great life lessons about setbacks and success, as opposed to spending thousands on private lessons and traveling all over the nation to be seen. Is it really worth it?
A lot of things have to go right for a player to live up to their potential. Life happens. Players get injured, family situations change, sometimes things just don’t go as planned. Study hard and make sure the child is academically ready for college and can get an academic or leadership scholarship, just in case.
Can you spot a superstar at a young age, or is there a big change in middle school and beyond?
Superstar might be too strong of a word. A lot can change from middle school to high school. Yes, you can see a very gifted middle school player and predict that they will do well. A lot. Many things have to go right for a player to live up to their potential, though.
Has your coaching style changed any since having kids yourself?
I’m sure it has changed over the years a lot. I try to treat my players the way I would want someone to treat my kids. Be tough with them, but love them, too. Raise the bar for them, but get to know them and love them as people, not just basketball players. I would hope my players say I am about them or our team.
I think it is important to have my own children around them, so they can see me interact with them. I think it’s good for them to know I am human, too, and mess up just like them.
Do you have a motto or saying that you have leaned on or you are known to say?
My dad has been my biggest supporter. He has always said to me to “say you can.” I was a small kid coming from a small town in Missouri, but I had big dreams. He was one of the few growing up that really believed in me and constantly told me to “say you can.” He always said don’t worry what people say you can’t do … just work hard to get where you want to go. So I did.
After a particularly hard day, how do you unwind?
I love to work out. Strangely, even when I am tired, I love to go run or work out especially with my daughter, Millie, or one of my close friends. We love to play pickup basketball, so me, Millie, Blades (her son) and our neighbor’s boys play lots of full-court basketball in our backyard.
What books are currently found on your nightstand or e-reader?
I love to read John Maxwell books. One of my all-time favorite books is The Pursuit of God by Tozer. Unbroken is another favorite. (The book is better than the movie!) My Bible. I have several favorites. They travel well.
Name three things you can’t live without (excluding faith, family and friends).
Basketball (watching it, coaching it or playing it). Nike running shoes for working out. Smoothie King.
Thank you, Rhonda, for the inspiration you provide not only for your players, but the Williamson County community, as well!
Photography by Heather Sisemore Photography.