Archive for Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Jayhawks persevered to sign Brown

November 26, 2003

By Jeff Myrick

Baldwin City Signal Editor

Emily Brown was chased, and chased hard, by around 100 universities to play volleyball. But, in the end, her roots which bleed Crimson and Blue won out. She's a Jayhawk now, officially, after signing her national letter of intent to play at the University of Kansas Nov. 13.

But, it wasn't a cut and dried deal, despite the fact that both her mother, Jill, and aunt, Jo Huntsinger, played at KU. Nor the fact that she's just 15 miles away from Lawrence. And of course, there's that bedroom full of KU posters, stuffed toys and wall paper that have signified her long-standing preference for KU.

That's the room that KU volleyball coach Ray Bechard wasn't allowed to see until Brown orally committed to KU back in September.

"I asked, actually, on my first visit to see the room, but was told it wasn't in shape to see," Bechard recalled. "I would have felt a lot better if I could have seen it. I knew there was some KU stuff, but I didn't know it was wall to wall.

"It was pretty clear that she was fulfilling what was a lifelong dream," he said after seeing the room and getting the commitment.

But, it wasn't that easy. Brown did look at several other schools, including national power Nebraska, Missouri and Minnesota. As the 44th ranked graduating senior in the country, she was highly sought after. There were tons of calls in addition to the non-stop mail. In the end, it was just good to have it over.

"I'm really glad it's over," said Brown. "The whole process was so stressful. Twenty years from now, maybe it won't seem like it was."

Her mom, who was also her high school coach, was glad when it was over, too.

"There were no horror stories," said Jill Brown. "She was the last out of the class of top recruits to actually commit, so the coaches used that in phone calls. We were glad when it was over and I think everyone is happy with what she chose."

The recruiting ordeal

After her freshman year and, even more importantly, the club teams she played for then, the nation's volleyball coaches caught wind of Brown. The recruiting started in earnest when she was a sophomore.

That's when the letters started showing up at the Brown household on Chapel. More than 100 schools would at least invest a stamp on Brown. The letters and college propaganda started pouring in.

Before it was over, there were two large bins of letters filed alphabetically. One of the bins had just the "major" interest and those files were thick. Minnesota won that recruiting war, easily sending the most information. That was despite Emily having told the coach there, Mike Hebert, her thoughts on living up north.

"I had already told him I probably wouldn't go there because it was too cold, but he'd send me stuff about what the average temperature was there," she said.

But, there was more than just propaganda. There were those visits to the major schools. They proved interesting, too.

Campus visits

There were many visits made by Brown to the "final four." But there was another one that sticks out and that was to the University of California at Berkeley.

"I just wanted her to go to one far away and she chose Berkeley," said Jill Brown.

Sunny California didn't turn out to be what Brown had in mind.

"I thought, 'why not California?' I went to see it and said 'no way, I'm going home,'" Brown recalled. "I saw a guy in a pink skirt and I said 'no way.'"

That one still makes her mom laugh.

"I remember that phone call," said Jill Brown. "Emily said 'there are people here wearing dresses that shouldn't be wearing dresses.'"

Aside from that one, Brown remembers the trips to Nebraska most. The Cornhuskers have been ranked in the top five nationally for years and were very interested in the 6-foot-2 hitter who can also pass and set. There aren't too many of those around the country, said Jill Brown, adding that all the coaches had game plans for how they would work Brown into their teams.

But it was Nebraska that had the upper edge with the strong tradition of national excellence.

"I had a really good visit there," said Brown. "I went to their camp. They're top five in the nation and it would have been cool to go there. It was fun.

"At the camp there were three Olympians and four on the national championship team that I got to play with," she said. "I was the only one out there without a ring."

The decision

It pretty much came down to between Nebraska and KU. There was the lure of a nationally ranked team, but there was still that life-long affiliation to the Jayhawk. The two combined to leave Brown wondering.

"There was a little bit of doubt about KU," she said. "I was close to going to Nebraska. There wasn't anything I didn't like about it. But, I wasn't 100 percent. I could see myself going to Nebraska, but not the others."

Brown was torn. Ironically enough, the decision came to her while talking on the phone to the Nebraska coach one night.

"My mind was thinking I should go to Nebraska, but my heart was saying go to KU," said Brown. "So, I went with my gut feeling."

That certainly was music to the ears of Bechard, the KU coach.

"We were delighted," said Bechard. "I think I could arguably say she's the top prospect in Kansas, as well as the midwest and the country. It's great that we can get a player of her caliber.

"Kansas persevered," he said. "We gave her the time and space she needed. She always wanted to be a Jayhawk. There were some signs in our favor. They like to spend time as a family. It's what the Browns are all about -- spending time together at the lake, spending time with grandma and grandpa."

And, yes, Brown admits that was a strong pull. She wanted to be close, but not necessarily as close as it will be.

"My family has always supported me and I couldn't see them not being there for my games," she said. "I always wanted to stay close. But I didn't necessarily want to be 15 minutes away."

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