In waters rife with adversity, Dallas Wings center Kalani Brown symbolizes a calmness at sea.
On May 30, the Wings were awarded a hardship contract when it was announced that veteran wing Diamond DeShields and rookie Lou Lopez Senechal would be out indefinitely due to knee injuries.
Since her original signing, Brown hasn’t missed a day after being waived in late June to bring veteran guard Odyssey Sims back on a rest-of-season contract. The Wings then waived second-year pro Jasmine Dickey and rookie Ashley Joens, thus having a roster spot to bring Brown back on a rest-of-season contract as well.
Originally with the team in training camp, Wings head coach Latricia Trammell saw Brown’s return as a plug-and-play scenario due to her familiarity with the team and new system, but also Trammell’s approach to coaching.
“She’s someone that wants and deserves to be in this league. I had her when she was a rookie, so that was special…going full circle to come back and, and be with me here.”
Brown began her career when the Sparks selected her with the No. 7 overall pick in the 2019 WNBA Draft. She came into the league as one of the top players in the country after winning a national championship at Baylor.
During the championship game against Notre Dame, her current teammate Arike Ogunbowale missed a free throw that led to Baylor's victory. Brown scored 20 points, locked in 13 rebounds, and blocked two shots, showcasing her readiness for the next level.
Making a WNBA roster is no easy task. With only 12 teams with a maximum of 12 roster spots each, it’s become the hardest professional sports league to break into. Due to salary cap limitations, most teams only carry 11 players bringing the true number of roster spots down from 144 to about 136.
If anyone can speak to the difficulty of not only making but staying in this league, it’s Brown.
“I just have to stay true to me and enjoy the game. This organization actually gave me the chance that I’ve been waiting for the last four years. Despite everything with COVID-19 and my dealing with injuries, they still gave me a chance and I can’t thank this organization enough for that. I was just waiting on my moment to take advantage and contribute in a way that I know I can.”
When Brown was a rookie with the Los Angeles Sparks in 2019, Trammell was an assistant coach whose main responsibility was crafting the team’s defensive identity. The same defensive identity that brought her to Dallas as well as having four players selected to WNBA All-Defensive teams, including 2020 Defensive Player of the Year and future Hall of Famer Candace Parker.
Brown’s connection to Trammell aided her in a rather seamless fit with the Wings’ new identity, making it an easy decision to start her in place of Teaira McCowan while overseas competing for the Turkish national team this past June.
In five starts, Brown averaged 11.2 points. 8.8 rebounds, and a block, owning shooting splits of 55 percent from the field and 80 percent from the free throw line. She also had two double-doubles, one coming in a win over the Phoenix Mercury (17 points, 15 rebounds) and the other in a loss to the Los Angeles Sparks (21 points, 11 rebounds).
The running joke with McCowan’s absence and Brown’s return to the team was that Natasha Howard would be free from playing center when speaking to the media. She always said she goes wherever Trammell deployed her, but best believe she was relieved to have her fellow sister in the post back in town.
“She was with us in training camp, so she didn’t miss a beat at all. Having her out there is huge. I was really happy that she was out there, so I could play the 4. I feel like bringing Kalani back was a good decision overall for our team.”
Bench Mob Vibes
With McCowan and Howard locked in as the team’s starters in the post, Brown’s role off the bench is integral to this team’s process. As a 6’7” true center, the Wings are the only team in the WNBA to possess two players with similar stature and skill type at arguably the most important position in basketball.
Not to mention reserve forward Awak Kuier standing at 6’5 with a 7’3 wingspan. When this group is locked in, there isn’t a frontcourt rotation in the league that can withstand nor outlast them for 40 minutes.
In her last five outings before Tuesday night’s defeat at the hands of the Minnesota Lynx, Brown was averaging just under 12 points (11.8), 3.6 rebounds, and a block in 17 minutes. In three of those games, she finished with nearly as many points as minutes played.
During this stretch, she’s shooting a scorching 81.8 percent from the field. In the minutes she’s played lately, her scoring ability has been front and center in a myriad of ways, whether it be her face-up game in the midrange or putting in work on the low block. The rebounding numbers may have dipped, but the efficiency is what caught my eye, which led to her explaining the feeling of being depended on in her role, and how she deals with sporadic playing time.
“It feels good because my coaches and teammates trust in me, and that’s huge”, she replied. “I think when I come in, there isn’t a step-down [in talent] because they hold me to a high expectation too. I’m supposed to come in and do my job and I think that helps me tremendously knowing that my teammates have my back. I just come in and do what I do. I could play five minutes or 20 minutes. I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum this season. I just stay focused and do what I can. I’ve been saying all season that I’m wherever they need me to be. We’ve got a goal to get to so that’s where I want to be at.”
A key part of Brown’s game that makes her so special in this league is that at her height and position, she has the innate ability to put the ball on the floor and drive to the rim. This skill is the main reason why she’s averaging a career-high six attempts from the free-throw line in the last five games, shooting 76 percent.
“Free throws are important, especially if I don’t finish them. They’re [teammates] always on me about missing an and-one opportunity. I think they’re very crucial. They’re free, so why not take them? It’s all about muscle memory and focus. I’ve always been a good free-throw shooter as a big girl. I take pride in my jumper, range, and free throws. I’ve been that way since college. It’s always been in my bag.”
With seven games remaining in the regular season, Brown is hitting her stride in perfect time for the playoffs looming around the corner.