The objections from Erika Brown are relentless, fitting for someone who plays basketball in a similar fashion. They are playful but, make no mistake, hinted with sincerity.
And, they are duly noted by MarQuette Burgess, the Paterson Kennedy coach who is beginning to develop deaf ears, steadfastly determined to do the admirable thing despite the formidable rebuttals of his standout junior guard.
This is the story of a coach with all the right intentions. It’s about a man with his star player’s best interest in mind, envisioning her future with a Division 1 college program. So, he devoutly stresses patience in the face of the one-girl, full-court pressure mounted by Brown to get back on the court approximately five and a half months after suffering a torn ACL.
“I can’t tell you how many conversations we’ve had about this,” Burgess said. “It use to be every day. Now, it’s down to once a week. She is an extremely bright young lady. I know she wants to be on the court. I would love to have her on the court. I care about Erika the basketball player. But, I love Erika the young lady.”
Brown reluctantly concedes that Burgess makes valid points in his defense. But, complicating the matter is that she was cleared by her doctor to resume basketball activities on Jan. 20. While she is still awaiting her brace needed to play, she hasn’t wasted any time campaigning for her insertion in the lineup upon its arrival.
“I appreciate where he’s coming from,” Brown said. “I just want to play basketball. I’ve been out too long. It’s been like five months. I’m dying inside. I need to get back on the court.”
Luckily for all involved, Brown has found another outlet for the time being to channel her passion through.
On Thursday during warmups prior to a game with Holy Angels, she was visiting individually with her teammates, dressed in khaki cargo pants and a black sweat jacket, offering words of wisdom and encouragement. Once the game began, she took a seat on the bench where she delivered pointers and also had lively banter with game officials.
“She’s getting me in trouble on the bench,” Burgess said. “I got refs coming over, ‘Coach, I’m not going to take it from her’ because she is questioning calls. She is like a third coach.
“She is helping out in a lot of ways. I understand how she would ultimately like to help out, but there will have to be some decisions made in the next few weeks. If I say no, she is going to hate me for who knows how long, but when the dust settles, she’ll understand.”
Burgess knows a thing or two about knee injuries. He endured it when his daughter Ashlee tore her ACL while playing at Paterson Catholic in 2001. So, forgive him if he chooses to error on the side of overly protective.
Burgess would love nothing more than to pencil Brown into his starting lineup. And, the reasons for doing so are mounting. The recent loss of forward Kylla Champagne to an injury has depleted the already-depleted Knights. And, with the Passaic County Tournament underway and the NJSIAA state tournament on the horizon, Brown would be a welcomed addition.
There’s no question the powerful 5-8 guard would be a huge asset.. Burgess loves to watch her play, to cover ground in a breath, to muscle her way inside and to take over games without breaking a sweat. As a sophomore, Brown established her place among the elite playmakers in Passaic County, averaging 16.2 points, 4.7 assists, 4.7 rebounds and 2.3 steals per game.
It’s only natural to project what such numbers, even if slightly less than what she is capable of at full strength, would mean to Paterson Kennedy. The Knights, who rallied from a 31-19 deficit, to outlast Manchester Regional on Saturday, 57-50, in the first round of the Passaic County Tournament, are currently 14-5 and have been competitive in those five defeats, three of which were decided by eight points or less.
“Every game we lost, I wanted to cry,” Brown said, adding, “Because I knew, if I was on the court, I could’ve helped. I can’t do anything on the bench.”
Brown does more than she knows while sitting on the sideline.
“Even though she’s not on the floor, she pushes us,” senior guard Ahnyyah Jackson said. “She is still our leader, our general on the bench. No one is trying to be Erika or fill her shoes, but we are all trying to contribute a little to help each other win”.
Five months ago, Burgess resigned himself to let the healing process do its thing and to address her return following the doctor’s clearance. That time has come, perhaps faster than he anticipated, and he’s at a trying crossroads with the decision of what to do with the seemingly healthy and perhaps stronger Brown bouncing off the walls in eager anticipation of getting back into the fray.
“I honestly don’t know what we are going to do,” Burgess said. “I love to watch her play and I want to watch her play for years to come. We’ll wait and see after she gets the brace.”
Gregg Lerner covers girls basketball for MSG Varsity. Follow him on Twitter: @GreggLerner