Sweet music: Dragons junior Brown finding rhythm on and off the basketball court
Minnesota State Moorhead junior Nicole Brown is expected to play an expanded role for the Dragons women's basketball team this season
As a 6-foot-3 post player, Minnesota State Moorhead junior Nicole Brown is a physical presence on the basketball court.
Off the court, she oozes creativity. Brown plays three string instruments and paints.
“They think that she’s this tall, muscular athlete that must be just a basketball player,” said Becky Brown, Nicole’s mother. “She’s definitely one of the kindest people I know. She really cares about others and is really artistic.”
Nicole plays the guitar and ukulele and recently started learning to play the banjo, a birthday gift she received from her father in June.
“It’s a really good stress relief for me,” Nicole said.
Nicole is expected to play more of a lead role for the Dragons women’s team this season after playing limited minutes during her first two seasons in the program. She’s off to a strong start, averaging 13.5 points and 8.0 rebounds through two Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference games.
“She has all the physical tools,” Dragons head coach Karla Nelson said. “She has everything to be a great player.”
The Dragons (1-1, 1-1 NSIC) host Minnesota-Crookston on Friday and Saturday at Alex Nemzek Fieldhouse — the team’s first two home games during this pandemic-altered season.
Nicole had a breakout performance last Sunday, Jan. 3, in the Dragons’ 71-66 victory at Augustana University. In that game, she had her first career double-double, scoring 17 points and grabbing 15 rebounds.
“In the offseason, I worked really hard and I wanted to make sure that I came back and I was able to be that person that coach expected me to be,” said Nicole, from Madison, S.D. “I wanted to become someone the team could count on to show up and do my part.”
Since Nelson likes to coach an inside-out style of offense, post players like Brown, junior Peyton Boom, freshman Paige Thompson and junior Emma Thuringer (in some lineups) are expected to be key players for the Dragons.
Nelson said it’s evident that Brown worked on her game and conditioning during the offseason.
Brown said she trained with her brothers over the summer, and one of them purchased weight equipment so they had a fitness setup in the garage during the pandemic.
“Physically, she’s in much better shape, she’s transformed her physique,” Nelson said. “She loves the weight room. The weight room is probably a good outlet for her and she’s embraced that part.”
Nicole’s younger brother, Cody, plays football at Dakota State in Madison. Her older brother, Jesse, played men’s basketball at Columbia College in Missouri. Her parents, Becky and Danny, were also college athletes. Danny played football at the University of Arizona for a couple seasons.
“We’ve had basketballs in our hands since we could walk,” Nicole said. ”Our whole family is into sports.”
Brown played behind former Dragons post players like Megan Hintz and Madi Green in recent seasons. However, she knew in her third year in the program there would be opportunity for a larger role after some ups and downs during her first two seasons.
That’s part of the reason she had a more intense offseason, particularly when it came to strength training.
“I knew if I couldn’t be the fastest, I wanted to be the strongest,” Brown said. “That was my mindset in the offseason was to get as strong as I possibly could. … Definitely, my composure and confidence has grown immensely. I know that my teammates trust me which is really cool.”
Her artistic side provides balance with her athletics and academics. She started playing the guitar in junior high and the ukulele in high school. She’s new to the banjo, which she said is much more difficult for her to play than the other two instruments.
“I love music. My roommates love it when I play, they always leave their doors open,” said Nicole, referring to teammates Thuringer and junior guard Nicole Herbranson.
Nicole likes her ukulele because it's smaller and more portable. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” is one of her favorite songs to play on that instrument.
“It’s just a happy instrument,” she said.
Her family also enjoys her artistic ability. Nicole painted a butterfly that she gave to her mother for Christmas.
“It’s really awesome,” Becky said. “She’s very musical and artistic. She taught herself how to play guitar and we would just hear it coming from her room and she sings. She’s very modest. She won’t toot her horn at all, but we think she is pretty good.”