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Dec. 15, 2015

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – The first game of the season is always exciting. Not only is it the return of something familiar, Cavalier basketball, it’s also venturing into the unfamiliar with new faces wearing old numbers. This year, in addition to the four brand-new faces on the bench and on the court, there is a familiar face that after a year’s wait, the fans can now put together with a game.

Fans have known the smiling face of J’Kyra Brown for a year. The bright and cheerful guard sat at the end of the bench all last season, dressed in warm-ups, but cheering as loudly as anyone else who might be called upon to enter the game. Fans got to know her at meet and greets and autograph sessions all of last year.

Finally, after sitting out a season as a transfer from East Carolina, it’s time to meet the native of Rocky Mount, N.C.

It took Brown two quarters of the Middle Tennessee game before she offered up the fans a proper introduction by taking over the third quarter, scoring ten points in that 10-minute span and helping lift the Cavaliers to a crucial road win.

“It felt great and I was excited going into that game, getting a lot of encouragement before it,” Brown said of the game in Murfreesboro. “I was kind of nervous at the beginning, but then it kind of picked up. I told myself, ‘I know I’ve been here before. I’ve done it before. Why am I nervous? I spent the whole year working on it.’ Once I get going, I get going, which is what happened in that third quarter. The coaches always tell us to start the third quarter strong. I felt like I could make a difference by bringing the energy and we started out doing well. I feed off of the energy and like to keep it up.”

Brown has been a huge spark coming off the bench for the Cavaliers this season, playing an average of 16 minutes a game. Brown can shoot from the outside, drive through the lane while also having great court vision and an ability to make smart, strong passes to set up teammates. Brown has also been a key element to the Cavaliers’ group rebounding effort this season. Watching her game, it is immediately apparent that Brown loves basketball.

“When I step on the court, I love that I don’t have to think about anything other than basketball,” Brown said. “All of the problems on the outside go away. I’m out here with my teammates, which is something else that I really love. And the atmosphere is crazy. I love the support of the fans. There is also my family that supports me and I love to see them smile.”

As much as she loves basketball, however, Brown has several other passions and interests that might have diverted her from this path. Like many college athletes, she competed in a number of different sports in high school, including track and field. Unlike most basketball players, however, she was a field athlete as opposed to running track. Brown threw the discus, earning team MVP honors in 2013 when she was the NCHSAA State Runner-up.

But it was not discus that was her other true passion.

“I’ve been bowling since I was four years old,” Brown said. “At that age, they call them ‘pee-wee bowlers’. I was the first one out there bowling without the bumpers. As I grew older, like basketball, I was bowling every Saturday morning in a league and in tournaments and traveling. My Uncle Tracy could get a 300 and I could get a 278, so we were competitive and could compete with each other. He would help me and I had a bowler trainer, Mrs. Donna. They helped me get into that and do that every week.”

Yes, Brown, who still owns several lane records at the Rocky Mount Bowling Center, her name displayed on the wall alongside some of her championships, has scored a 278.

“I was 14 or 15 when I bowled the 278,” Brown recalled. “It was a Saturday morning and all the kids were bowling. We had teams and I was just hitting strikes and hitting strikes. Everyone noticed what was happening and came down to my lane. Once I got up there, it would be so silent. Once the ball curved in and hit the pins, everyone started screaming! It was like a basketball game. Silent and then it was exciting.”

Brown, who says her average is around 180, “but I can get 200 when I focus,” has five or six bowling balls in her closet, spare balls, curve balls and, most importantly, a SpongeBob Squarepants ball. She also has quite a collection of shoes, gloves and two bowling bags.

In the end, she chose to focus on basketball because it was easier to find competitions, but in her heart, she still really loves bowling.

“There are not that many people that bowl, especially competitively,” Brown said. “People do that for an activity, like swimming. I do that seriously. Not a lot of kids bowl. It’s fun, but not a lot of kids bowl. I like the competitiveness. As I was breaking records, I felt it was something that I enjoyed and could continue to do. I was meeting pro bowlers who would come down sometimes to bowl with the amateurs and it was just a lot of fun. I had to travel to compete in bowling and traveling for basketball. In the end, I had to focus on one.”

And still having fun with the one she chose.

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