By Jeremy McDonald
SALEM, Ore.– It was almost like a blast from the past almost Tuesday in Salem Academy’s basketball gym.
There was Sydney Brown. Earbuds in. Putting up shots. Preparing for her redshirt-senior year at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California.
“It’s a beautiful city and one of the reasons why it’s drawing me back for a fifth-year is the community,” Brown starts. “I’m going back with another teammate who’s in my class (Stefanie Berberabe), who was the Player of the Year last year. She’s actually just getting back from playing in Vietnam for the Philippines. Their pro team in their age group, so she just won Gold so that’s really cool.
“So yeah. I’m going back for the community and getting to play with her for another year. It’s exciting to play with an amazing player like that and she’s a great person.”
Berberabe was also named NAIA All-American for the second-time of her career following the Warriors 27-5 season before falling in the NAIA National Championship game to Central Methodist from Missouri.
Going through shooting exercises, it wasn’t too long ago that Brown helped the Crusaders to four-straight Top 3 finishes. Graduating in 2018, Brown’s teams went 102-12 before the six-footer headed South to Southern California.
After a successful freshman season that saw Brown played in and started all 32 games, Brown was named Team Captain as a sophomore. Only to suffer a season-ending ACL tear that sidelined the then sophomore for the reminder of the 2019-2020 season.
But through the adversity, she learned how to be a leader in another way other than through play on the court.
“That year was crazy because before I got injured, I was voted as the third team captain. So I was a young captain and just excited to play my sophomore year…then I tore my ACL and I had to learn how to lead from the bench and how to use my voice to be there for my teammates and not on the court leading,” Brown starts. “Showing that I got their back outside from the court. Also too I had a lot of conversations with the coaches and they challenged me. ‘Hey look at the game plan from a different view’ so I watched how they coached and how the resilience in my teammates from the side. It was really cool to see and I learned a lot that year.”
That year also taught Brown in not letting the game of basketball show her worth. It’s been her identity for so long that he showed her it was a game. A game that she gets to play with her friends, teammates and family having played with younger sister Grace as the two played under their father Ben.
Here’s what was fun. Brown returned, healthy and ready to go and helped contribute to Westmont’s National Championship win in 2021 through the unique season fighting through Covid-19 protocol’s and the like. Then following the championship victory, Brown joined the bench alongside her father in Ben to coach alongside her parent and former coach. All while coaching younger brother Chase during the six-week shortened season at Salem Academy.
“It helped that I knew my dad and I knew the system he ran. I knew by watching my brother and his teammates when they grew up, I knew how each of them played. So I think that helped me come in…I knew the personel and the system but some things I could bring to the table were things I learned at Westmont,” Brown said.
Things like drills and how to do a scouting report, the latter was what the younger Brown was doing. Diving in some film on teams and drawing up a scouting report for the boys, who in turn looked at them on their phones leading up to gametime. And the squad ate it up, they enjoyed being able to take that scouting report and using it to their advantage.
“It was really cool to see as a coach. You could do all that work and the boys don’t want it as much, but they wanted it and it was exciting to do it with my dad. To share the game with him again from a different perspective and with a group of boys who wanted it as much as we wanted it for them,” Brown said.
And as her workout ended and she sat down on a chair on the sideline where Brown would sit during games, watching the younger wave of Salem Academy student-athletes start Open Gym, Brown knew she hadn’t learned everything she could at Westmont. But she has learned a lot as she sets off for one more season with the Warriors. Hoping to lead those coming into the program before she finishes up here in a few months.
“I felt like I’ve learned so much at Westmont already. I can take what I’ve learned and take it into this year and still be open-minded that I still have so much more to learn,” Brown starts. “We’ve got a lot of new players coming in and I’m excited to build those relationships and see how I can help them as an older player in the system for four-years now. So how can I help them come into the system. But I know they’ll be resilient characters as is and I’m excited for them, they’re ballers. And what my coach preaches a lot is hard work and I think that’s exciting coming in for my fifth-year is being able to experience that fire again.
“It’s going to be hard, but it’s going to be worth it in the end. I love the community there.”