Duke’s roster boasts several electric backcourt players this season, but the guard that may have the biggest impact on the team will never see the floor during a game.
Lexie Brown was a third-team All-American as a sophomore last year at Maryland, leading the Terrapins to back-to-back Final Four appearances before deciding to transfer to Duke in the offseason. She will have to sit out of competition this year due to NCAA transfer regulations, but the Suwanee, Ga., native will still practice with the team and challenge the Blue Devils’ young backcourt in practice all winter.
“It’s definitely going to be hard [sitting out], but I’ve talked a lot with [Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie] about it. I still contribute a lot in practice. I basically do everything that everyone else does except for play in the game, so it’s my job this year to make everyone else better,” Brown said. “If I’m feeling down one day, I can’t act like that because I need to be able to push everybody in practice. Coach P said I need to be a practice All-American this year, so that’s what I’m trying to be.”
The 5-foot-9 point guard did it all at Maryland, starting 66 games during her two seasons there and averaging 13.3 points and 4.5 assists her sophomore year. She also tallied 2.2 steals per game last season to earn a spot on the All-Big Ten Defensive Team.
Brown faced off against her future teammates when the Terrapins beat the Blue Devils 65-55 in the Sweet 16 during their run to the 2015 Final Four. Duke shut her down in the loss—holding Brown to just one point on 0-for-7 shooting from the field—but Brown rebounded in the Elite Eight against Tennessee, leading her team with 15 points to advance to the Final Four.
Brown’s postseason pedigree commands the respect of her teammates.
“She’s been to a Final Four multiple times, so she understands and knows what it takes to get there, and her being at practice and her leadership in practice helps us a lot,” sophomore forward Azurá Stevens said. “She’s just a phenomenal player—she’ll knock down four or five threes in a row in practice, and we might not get that every time, but to have that in practice and play against it is helpful for when we do play against guards that are that talented.”
After so much success in the first half of her college career, it will be difficult for Brown to sit on the bench and watch for an entire season. But the junior is embracing her unfamiliar role with a positive attitude and an open mind. She will mentor highly touted freshmen guards Kyra Lambert, Angela Salvadores, Faith Suggs, Haley Gorecki and Crystal Primm in practice.
“Lexie has a huge role, and I think it’s going to be important for Lexie to own it, meaning a role of teaching, showing and communicating,” McCallie said. “She’s got to become somebody who wants this team to be a championship team more than anyone else.”
Duke has not had any incoming transfers of Brown’s caliber in recent memory, but the men’s team has had great success with high-profile transfers in the past few years. Rodney Hood helped prepare his teammates for the opponents’ best player in practice during the 2012-13 season, which he sat out after transferring from Mississippi State. The Blue Devils advanced to the Elite Eight that year. Seth Curry transferred to Duke from Liberty and had a similar role on the 2009-10 national championship team. Rice transfer Sean Obi is eligible to play this year after spending last year battling Jahlil Okafor down low in practice.
Brown said she is hoping to have a similar impact on this year’s team and is excited about how the experience will help her future with the Blue Devils. She will learn from watching every game this year and see things to help her improve that she would not be able to see as a player on the court.
Brown will also sit next to McCallie on the bench during games so that they can talk about what is happening on the floor. The All-American will keep track of the little things she notices as she prepares to lead Duke as a new and improved point guard next year.
“Sitting right next to Coach P on the bench—to have a new perspective on the game this year—I feel is going to be critical to my growth as an individual,” Brown said. “Even though I’m sad about it, I’m really looking forward to this. I feel like this is going to bring a whole new dimension to my game.”