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story.lead_photo.caption Dawn Brown

Dawn Brown was all smiles and could barely contain her excitement in May during a press conference to introduce her as the new women's head basketball coach at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.

A little more than five months later, that same enthusiasm is evident as she gets set to make her debut with the Lady Lions on Friday against Coastal Carolina.

"It's really a great day to be a Lady Golden Lion, and that's not being political about it all," Brown said. "We've got quite a few returners and brought in some new kids. ... my coaching staff is amazing. We're really excited about this season, and the things that we're about to accomplish out there on the basketball court.

"It's definitely going to be a season of positives."

Positivity may do wonders for a Lady Lions program that hasn't had much to celebrate in a long time. UAPB hasn't posted a winning record since it rejoined the Southwestern Athletic Conference in 1997. In fact, the Lady Lions have finished above .500 in league play just once, and that was during the 2008-2009 season when they posted a 10-8 mark. In the 10 years since then, UAPB has gone 45-133 in SWAC games and 67-225 overall, including a 5-20 record last season. The Lady Lions, along with Alabama A&M, are the only teams that haven't won either a SWAC regular-season or conference tournament title during that span.

Brown, however, knows a thing or two about success, and her arrival may be the jolt the Lady Lions need to turn things around.

The Mississippi native helped lead Jackson State to a conference championship during her senior season with the Lady Tigers in 2008 and was an assistant coach at Prairie View A&M when the Lady Panthers won three consecutive SWAC Tournament titles (2011-2013). She went on to add another league tournament crown to her resume the following season after she took over as the team's head coach.

Now in her first season with UAPB, Brown is looking to shake things up in order to restore pride in a once proud program.

"This biggest thing that we've done is establish the foundation for them," she said. "We've changed the culture some around campus, and the expectations have definitely increased. The young ladies have really embraced what it is we're trying to do this year, and they understand their responsibilities and their roles.

"I think they've bought in, and that's one of the biggest pieces. You've got to make sure you have a group of young ladies that are all in when you're trying to re-establish a program."

Familiarity within the SWAC is not only on Brown's side, but for her players as well. UAPB did lose key contributors from a year ago but have seven returners back, six of whom started five games or more. Brown noted that she likes what she's seen out of her team so far.

"I'm surprised myself, especially at the performances of those returners that we've got," she said. "You look at stats and you look at film on this team from last year, and I'm looking at practice. ... with the returners, it's night and day."

UAPB will have to replace mainstays Shawntayla Harris and Kye Richardson, both of whom have graduated, but the Lady Lions do have three of their top scorers back in seniors Noe'll Taylor and Aiya El Hassan and junior Kyeonia Harris, an experienced trio that's expected to provide the leadership needed to help get the Lady Lions' ship back on course.

Taylor, a 5-8 guard, started a team-leading 20 games and averaged 9.1 points and 3.9 rebounds while Harris chimed in at 6.9 points and 2.2 assists despite missing a huge chunk of conference play because of injury. El Hassan, a 5-11 forward, shot 43 percent from the floor and averaged 5.8 points and 2.9 rebounds. Senior forward Katherine Darden is the team's leading returning rebounder and shot blocker, and junior guard Trasity Totten knocked down 25 percent of her three-point attempts from a year ago, a team high.

Brown also added several freshman and transfers, namely senior Khadijah Brown, a 6-3 center, and junior Oluwatunmise Amusa, a 6-2 forward. Their size should help bolster UAPB's interior.

"Sometimes programs just need a new light, and we have that light shining over us. ... they get it," Brown said. "The biggest thing now is allowing them to find their identity and who they are in their role with the program this year. But I think this season will be a season of highs.

"We're gonna celebrate those victories that we have, and in the event that we fall short, we're still gonna find ways to celebrate the things that we do right."

The Lady Lions were picked to finish in last place in the SWAC's preseason coaches' poll, but Brown isn't concerned about early predictions.

"Those rankings never meant anything to me as a player or as a coach," she said. "That's the mentality that the young ladies have. Everyone thinks we're going to go out there, play with a chip on our shoulder to try to prove everybody wrong. That's not what we're preaching to them.

"It's about going out and fulfilling the obligations and the things they sought out to do. It's about taking care of yourself and the program. The expectations are to win, and I think we're going to go out and have a very good year."

Sports on 11/05/2019

Print Headline: New coach excited to lead Lady Lions

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