With March Madness just around the corner, we introduce to you Donna Brown-Wynn, a basketball legend who has changed the face of women’s basketball in Nashville and in her Mississippi hometown. A four-year, starting point guard at Mississippi State University from 1989 to 1993, Donna continued her lettered career as the assistant head coach at Belmont University and then at Tennessee State University. In 2012, Donna joined the Franklin Fieldhouse, a state-of-the-art sports venue where she gives lessons to and puts on private clinics for boys and girls of all ages. A beacon of enthusiasm and professionalism, Donna joins us today to talk life, love and basketball. Welcome, Donna!
Where were you born?
I was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi.
What brought you to Nashville?
After getting my master’s degree from MSU in 1996, I moved to Nashville and began applying for Division I coaching jobs. I was hired at Belmont University in 1997, and haven’t left Nashville since.
You were a four-year starter at Mississippi State University. Can you share a bit about your experience playing basketball at the collegiate level?
I had some of the best times of my life on that campus. Playing in the SEC — playing some of the best players in the world — was incredible. I loved the competition and the physicality in the SEC.
Who was an early mentor to you?
An early mentor to me was a childhood friend named David Brooks. He was a really good basketball player who continued his career at Hinds Community College, and I patterned my game after his. He was tough on me … really physical and never gave me a break, not once. I look at him now as another brother. Do we ever compete now? No! But we still love to talk life and sports.
Basketball has always been a big part of your life. How has it influenced you in other areas of your life?
It taught me discipline, structure and to have a really strong work ethic.
Which qualities do you think make a coach or teacher successful?
Positive reinforcement is huge, and you must understand each player individually.
What has been the most challenging part of your career as a coach?
Understanding that I played a certain way, with a different mentality than most of the young ladies that I have coached. I wanted them to be me, and that wasn’t fair to them.
Can you tell us a bit about Franklin Fieldhouse and your responsibilities there?
Franklin Fieldhouse is a multisport and events venue that was founded with the mission to serve God, serve the community and serve others. I am the director of operations there, which means I’m in charge of scheduling all sports and non-sport-related events, such as birthday parties, fundraisers and private dinners with professional athletes. I also run Play 2 Wynn Basketball at the Fieldhouse, where I teach private lessons, host camps and lead group clinics for boys and girls ages 6 to 17.
You still hold basketball camps for boys and girls in your hometown of Vicksburg. What’s your favorite part of returning home?
Giving back to my community and feeling like I have made a difference there in 12 years. I have one niece, Mariah, who loves basketball like I do. It’s been a pleasure teaching her the fundamentals of the game.
What advice would you give to young female athletes looking to continue their career in sports?
To work hard and to stay focused on your goals, but to enjoy the journey doing it. I had two assistant coaches in college, Jeff Norwood and Burnadette McDonald, who made basketball so simple for me. They pushed me daily in the classroom and on the court, and the results were incredible. We still talk today. That’s what I love about coaching — building relationships beyond the basketball court.
Women’s sports have changed dramatically over the past 15 years. What excites you about these changes?
I’m thrilled women are getting such great exposure from commercials and televised games.
Who are some women you admire, and why?
I admired my mother because she always believed in my dreams. She knew how much I loved playing and how passionate I was then, and still am, about the game. She said, “If it’s what you love doing, keep working hard, even on days when you want to take time off.” She also made me practice with the neighborhood boys!
Tell us one thing people would be surprised to know about you.
I love being around people, talking, encouraging and motivating. But I also love to recharge with some quiet time alone.
How do you like to spend your free time?
I love spending free time with my husband, Michael, and my son, Kameron. I also enjoying catching up with my family and friends across the country.
What books are on your bedside table?
The Bible and To Kill a Mockingbird. I read this book when I was 11 or 12, and it has always meant a lot to me. My husband surprised me with a copy a couple of months ago. I’ve asked my nieces to read it.
Name three things you can’t live without, excluding faith, family and friends.
Smiles, laughter and positive reinforcement.
Thank you, Donna, for taking the time to share your experiences with us!
And a special thanks to Ashley Hylbert of Ashley Hylbert Photography for the fabulous photos!