By David Villavicencio
CORAL GABLES, Fla. - Maria Brown is a consistent contributor on the court for Miami's women's basketball team.
The junior provides a lot energy and aggressiveness on defense, mixed in with a talented mid-range game offensively. Despite being an important player for Miami, Brown is proudest of her off-court work.
Brown is very active in the Miami community, helping with a variety of charities, but she recently spent time with Miami native Deja Webster and the experience made a big impact on Brown.
"My experience with her was amazing," Brown said. "She's such a great kid. Her smile is amazing. How could she be going through so much, doing chemo and just the thought of having cancer and still keep a smile on her face and being so positive about life?"
Webster, who is battling Stage III Hodgkin's lymphoma, spent two days as an honorary member of the women's basketball team. She is the first person to be recognized by the University of Miami in conjunction with the Austen Everett Foundation. Everett was a soccer player at Miami before succumbing to non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in August 2012.
"She was with us for two days and she just hung around the team and watched us practice. Before shoot around, she ate with us for our pre-game meal," Brown said. "I asked the guy she was with if she wanted to stay with me before the game. She said she wanted to stay, so we just went to the lounge and watched TV. A few of the other players were in there so we were talking and just having fun, just enjoying each other's company and sharing stories. "
Miami coach Katie Meier knows that Webster enjoyed her time with the team, but Meier is confident that her players benefitted just as much from spending time with Webster as she did by being with the team.
"The day was a blessing for us," Meier said. "We thanked her for letting us spend time with her and I truly meant it. We did nothing for her. She did everything for us. That's usually the case when you choose to give instead of complain. You end up receiving without knowing it."
Like Meier, Brown feels the team benefitted immensely from spending time with Webster.
"She was really an inspiration to me and I let her know that," Brown said. "I told her that she inspired me to be great and to be the best person I can possible be everyday. My experience with her was very touching because I have personal connection with that. My grandmother had ovarian cancer, so I really enjoyed connecting with her, and I made sure we spent quality time together and she enjoyed herself."
A Louisiana native, Brown has always been involved in community service. The daughter and granddaughter of nurses, she was taught at a young age about the importance of helping others.
"It's just my character," Brown said. "My family has always been a very helping family. My grandmother always took people in and helped them get on their feet when they had nowhere to stay or no job. She would let them come in and she would cook for them. It's always been helping, helping, helping. That's just how my family is. My mother and grandmother are nurses so I guess it's kind of instilled in me. I am a giving person. I love positive energy and seeing people smile."
Brown spends a lot of her free time making people smile at the Yes Institute. The 20-year-old has spent several months volunteering her time to make sure that others who need help are receiving it.
"Their mission is to keep children safe," Brown said of the Yes Institute. "They basically focus on gender and (sexual) orientation. We talk to teachers, parents and administrators on how to approach people in that population because there are a lot of students that are not educated about homosexuality. It's a topic that's not talked about a lot because people don't feel more comfortable. We also talk to troubled teens and anybody who needs help getting through things. People being bullied, that may be suicidal or maybe something else is affecting them. I just go talk to people and give them my story and the experience I've had."
While Brown helps others off the court, she helps her team and coaches on the court.
"She calms me down," Meier said. "Maria and I have a good relationship. It's deep. I can usually get the pulse of them team when I look at her, she has a really expressive face. I know when things aren't right and I can know when things are good. She always says, 'We got you coach, it's going to be okay.' She's one of those kids that really thinks about the coaches and let's us know 'we're good and we've got it.' She's a very caring individual, and I really appreciate that about her. She honestly cares about people."
Brown uses her energy and magnetic personality to get the most out of herself and her teammates.
"I'm a very energetic person," Brown said. "I like seeing smiles on peoples faces and just making people happy. That's just my character. For me to be able to give that to my team and get it back from my team, it's important to me."
While stars like Morgan Stroman and Stefanie Yderstrom get most of the accolades, Meier feels players like Brown are instrumental in Miami's success.
"We can't win big time basketball games without her. We just can't," Meier said. "She brings physicality off the bench, keeping our spirits up, making sure everybody settles and she has a tremendous amount of poise. Most nights, if we're having a special game and we're clicking or playing with passion or intensity it usually goes back to something Maria did."