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'Always there': Inside the family culture that helped shape Duke women’s basketball’s love for the game

Kennedy Brown is new to Duke in 2022-23.
Kennedy Brown is new to Duke in 2022-23.

As the sun cracked through the last lingering clouds on a brisk October morning, spectators looked on as senior guard Celeste Taylor booked it across the court at Duke’s open practice, eventually catching her breath at the baseline after completing the three-man-weave drill. What they didn’t see was years ago, when Taylor would book it across the parking lot after dinner, determined to be the first of her family to reach the car. And while Taya Corosdale’s versatility was on display for the Blue Devil faithful, the slightly cramped atmosphere of Cameron Indoor Stadium stands in drastic contrast to the colorful coastline of San Diego, one of many stops her family made on basketball trips to make the sport something fun for her—to protect her younger self from burnout.

There are certain ways that fans will talk about basketball players—nitpicking their shooting ranges, playmaking, assist-to-turnover ratios, court vision, or whatever stats the position warrants. The things they are missing in the conversations about Duke’s players, though, are not necessarily visible on the court—they happen in the car rides home from YMCA games and under the rickety basketball net in the driveway on a Sunday afternoon.

Duke dubs itself “The Sisterhood,” just as the men’s team has come to flaunt “The Brotherhood.” But just as the team, The Sisterhood, is built on family, so are the individual players that bring to it the grit, game and love of those that raised them.

‘We’re gonna support you with whatever’

Kennedy Brown and her siblings started in sports—basketball, recreational soccer, and a swim team for the summertime—when they were around five. The now-junior center’s love for soccer led her to eventually participate more competitively at the club level in Derby, Kan. And meanwhile, over 1,000 miles away in Willingboro, N.J., graduate forward Imani Lewis was following a similar passion for the sport.

But Lewis’ uncle soon encouraged her to try basketball, too. It was “Come on, you’re this tall—you can hoop” against “No, I like soccer. I’m in my element,” the graduate forward, who hails at six-foot-one, explained of the conversation, though she did end up eventually balancing soccer with basketball.

She was happy with the dynamic she established for a while, but as she grew older, her schedule began to overflow. She needed to re-prioritize. Lewis was supported by her parents in deciding where she wanted to keep growing.

“‘We’re gonna support you with whatever,’” she recalled her parents telling her. “‘So if you want to do both, we’ll help you do both, even though it’s probably impossible. But if you love basketball more, we’re going to invest our time and effort into you doing basketball.’” (Lewis’ father, Edward Lewis III, played golf at Johnson C. Smith University—he’s an “avid golfer,” Lewis says—while her mother played soccer and coached Lewis throughout her career.)

“I feel like as soon as I got into basketball, they were supporting me and figuring out how to help me be the best I can be,” Lewis continued. “They were very impactful in that sense.” 

Brown joined volleyball in middle school at her parents’ encouragement. She stuck with it until her junior year of high school, but by her freshman year, she had realized volleyball was a sport she “never really loved,” her mother Danika told The Chronicle. “She knew pretty quickly that basketball was where she was headed.”

Brown’s father, Mike, and Danika, both Derby natives, played basketball at Butler Community College before Danika went on to play at Michigan State from 1993 to 1995. Even though their backgrounds were in basketball, Brown and her siblings—McKenzie the oldest, Addyson the youngest—were free to pursue whatever sports stuck with them the most.

“They never pushed me to only play basketball,” Brown said of her parents. “They just kind of let me develop that love on my own.”

‘Not something everybody gets to experience’

Like Brown, Corosdale started off in a myriad of sports—track, softball, dance and gymnastics—but knew she wanted to pursue basketball as early as five, which is around when she began playing at her local YMCA. As a young player, her father, Terry, “did more of the advice about basketball,” her mother Tricia Lynn explained, “which I think was a good blend as she got older, because I was the one that was just the little cheerleader, like ‘Oh, you did great! You tried your best!’” (Terry’s side of the family is extremely athletic, Lynn says, citing that Corosdale has cousins who play basketball at Georgia Tech and Nevada. Several members of Terry’s family also played professional football.)

Danika started coaching Brown when she was five. “We found some 30 kids around here, kids her age; we wanted her to be able to maybe play with some kids that she grew up with,” Danika explained. Eventually, she coached Brown’s seventh- and eighth-grade teams. Both went undefeated.

Brown would also go to the gym to practice with her father, Mike, who’s closer to her 6-foot-6 height than Danika. When Kennedy played with her parents, they would let her guard them and practice her post moves on them—until her elbows got too sharp, Danika joked.

“I got to learn from both of them, which was really cool,” Brown said of her parents. “It’s not something everybody gets to experience, you know, parents with knowledge of the game. That was really fun for me.”

“As I got older, he was always there, right on the sidelines,” Corosdale said of her father. “He wasn’t my coach, but he was always acting like the coach. … His wisdom was really nice.”

Elizabeth Balogun’s father represented Nigeria men’s basketball and played in the World University Games. A former 6-foot-2 point guard, he helped guide Balogun’s growth in dribbling and ball-handling, but at media day, the senior guard and forward highlighted his “mentality about basketball” as something that heavily influenced her: “Get rebounds, just score, just post up; that styled my game, just him influencing me.”

Corosdale also described how she also picked up part of her game from her father. “I’m not super tall,” she said, standing at 6-foot-3 compared to her father’s 6-foot-6 stature, “but I’m tall enough to where I can go in and out. He was kind of similar; he was very versatile with his game, really aggressive. And so just learning from him was really special.”

‘That competitive nature’: What happens beyond the court

Taylor sprinted through parking lots with her family to be the first to the car after dinner. It was the smallest things, Taylor said, that made her family so competitive, a trait she now sees in herself on the court.

“I guess just as a little kid, my parents never letting me win anything, I think that’s what probably, I would say, is the biggest thing that influenced me being such a competitor,” Taylor said.

Brown's father is a longtime Kansas men’s basketball fan, which inspired Brown to join the Kansas State fandom. She also sided with her mother in rooting for Michigan State when the Spartans matched up against the Jayhawks last year. Brown joined the Wildcat and Spartan faithful just because she wanted to have something with which to compete against her father, he said.

And as Taylor and her family sprinted through parking lots, the Browns would take to their driveway, with H-O-R-S-E being a regular family competition.

“I think we’re a big basketball family,” Brown said, with Danika noting basketball is “the only thing on [their] TV” when the season starts and that they all fill out brackets for March Madness each year—of course, competing against each other for the most accurate picks. “But just sports in general and competing against each other growing up; [my parents] definitely instilled that competitive nature in me.”

Taylor also noted her mother’s independence. She watched her mother fight through “the toughest struggles,” she explained, and growing up surrounded by her mother’s strength inspired her independence and ability to fight through adversity. In Corosdale’s family, Tricia tried to instill strength in Taya in all the ways she could, from teaching her to be mindful of how to properly fuel her body so that she could perform at best to not letting her switch teams as a child if she wasn’t the star player on a team.

“I’d tell her, ‘you signed up, you’re part of a team, your team needs you and you all need each other’ … so kind of instilling in her that it’s more than just about you.”

But while she pushed Corosdale, Tricia also understood how basketball needed to be fun for her. Corosdale eventually was ready for “business basketball” as she grew up, Tricia said, “but at a young age, that’s the one thing I tried to instill more as the non-athletic parent: there still needs to be fun.”

The family did this by making the most of the travel opportunities that came with club basketball, like traveling to New York City for the first time when Taya played in the Jordan Brand Classic game. There were opportunities to travel throughout California and the Midwest for games, and Tricia would find moments to make these work trips fun, like stopping at the beaches in San Diego.

“I always tell her, ‘You kind of took us on a journey of places we wouldn’t normally go to,’” Tricia said.

‘My heart is still there,’ and where the others went

Danika still coaches girls’ basketball at Derby Middle School. After Brown went on to high school, she eventually coached Addyson, who is now completing her senior year about a mile and a half away at Derby High School. She will head to Iowa State next year, where she recently committed to spend her collegiate career playing basketball. McKenzie graduated from nursing school and is returning to get her doctorate. Mike is thrilled about the Jayhawks' recent national men’s basketball title.

Balogun’s sister is a junior on the women’s basketball team at North Arkansas, while her brother Ezekiel graduated from the University of North Florida, where he played on the men’s basketball team, in 2020.

“My brother got a degree, my sister’s getting a degree, I’m getting a degree,” Balogun said. “So it’s just an opportunity; it’s changing my siblings’ life and my dad’s life, too, because that’s what he wants for us, and we’re achieving these goals.”

Lewis still finds time to kick around a soccer ball, usually when she goes home and sees her niece and little cousins, who have also taken up an interest in the game. 

She lets them win when they play in the small nets her mom bought for their backyard, flailing in the wrong direction as a goalie when they shoot or letting the ball in the net between her legs—much unlike how she’d play as a child. Her “heart is still there.”


Leah Boyd

Leah Boyd is a Pratt senior and a social chair of The Chronicle's 118th volume. She was previously editor-in-chief for Volume 117.

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