Rancocas Valley follows Brown's lead

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Rancocas Valley senior girls' basketball player Deja Brown (5) playing against Eastern on Jan. 29, 2015. (Curt Hudson/Staff Photographer)

In the moments before Deja Brown hit the biggest shot of her life, most didn't even realize she was on the court.

And of those who did, many likely wondered why.

Two years ago, Brown could have passed for a middle-schooler.

Her Rancocas Valley girls' basketball teammates didn't help the matter: Lauren Moses was a 6-foot-2 wrecking ball. Dominque Ward was a 5-11 guard who could dunk a basketball.

Brown was a slight, 5-6 sophomore in a baggy uniform who most outside of Westampton had never heard of.

"It feels like a long time ago," Brown said. "But I remember that shot like it was yesterday. We had a bunch of stars, they had a bunch of stars. So a lot of times when I was on the court, I was open. And if I'm open, I'm going to shoot it.

"I was open. I waited a second, and I said to myself, 'Shoot it.' "

Brown hit a go-ahead three-pointer - her only basket of the game - in the final minute of a win over Red Bank Catholic that sent RV to the finals of the 2013 Tournament of Champions, a feat accomplished by only five other South Jersey teams ever.

The moment underscores just how far Brown has come.

That year, Brown was a sniper off the bench. Last year, she was first-year starter, a complementary piece to a team still loaded with top-tier athletes.

This year, in some respects, the Red Devils are her team.

Gone are the big names and high-level Division-I prospects.

But here is RV, still sporting a 13-1 record. And here is Brown - a fiery, slick leader whose game is bigger than her stature - averaging almost 15 points per game.

Just as they always have, some still overlook Brown. This entire season has been a testament to why that's such a mistake.

"She's a true product of what our program is all about," said RV coach Anthony Corrado. "She's worked her way up. Each year, she's gotten better. Each year, her role changed. This year she's one of our captains, she's one of our leaders.

"And she's picking up a lot of the scoring that we lost from last year. She made sure there wasn't a drop-off."

Brown, at shooting guard, and forward Kristin Smith are the only senior starters on a team stocked with underclassmen.

In fact, Corrado said the varsity roster has only one junior.

Graduated players like Ward, Moses, and point guard Brianna Logan taught Brown how to win. Now Brown is following their lead.

"That's what it's all about," said Brown, who wants to play in college but is undecided. "When I was a younger player, I had Bri and Dom there to pass on their experience and teach me. It was big for me to watch them and learn from them, it helped me grow as a player.

"Now, especially because we have so many young players, I feel like I'm the teacher. It's definitely a different role, but it's something I'm accepting well."

And she has thrived this year in teaching by example.

Every aspect of Brown's game has elevated in her senior season. Her long-range shooting is more reliable. Her handling and defense are quicker and more efficient.

As for driving to the basket against bigger players . . .

"I just go right past them," she said with a laugh.

The speedy combination of Brown and sophomore point guard Jonise Ledbetter has been dynamic.

The team may not be in conversation for best in the state at this point. But the Red Devils are talented, overachieving players who aren't expecting to bow out quietly this postseason.

"Being a smaller player, I know people are going to underestimate me. But I don't let that affect me. I just play my game. I know what I'm capable of," Brown said. "I just want to get as far as I can with this team. I want to go out with a bang."


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