“Act up, you can get snatched up,” threaten rap duo City Girls on the refrain to Kalani Brown’s current pregame warmup anthem, their mostly unprintable single “Act Up”. It’s an appropriate warning for anyone who might find themselves confronting the new 6’7 center for the LA Sparks anywhere within a three-foot radius of the basket: Try to score on her and you’ll be greeted with a rejection and/or a rebound of what’s probably a miss, try to guard her and she can almost certainly shoot over you. “Baby girl, you need to back up,” indeed.
“I wasn’t always like, freakishly large — well, not freakishly large to me, but to everyone else,” says Brown, whose height puts her — like fellow top WNBA prospect Teaira McCowan — in quite literally rarified air alongside top-tier centers like Liz Cambage (6’8) and Brittney Griner (6’9). Brown’s height didn’t feel so “freakish” in her own house: her dad, former NBA player P.J. Brown, is 6’11 and her mom, former Louisiana Tech player Dee Brown, is 6’3. Although from the outside, her basketball career looks nearly inevitable, it didn’t always feel that way.
“Actually, I tried to do everything but play basketball,” Brown says of her start in the sport. Instead she learned piano and dance — and played basketball, but not as a primary focus. But the summer between 8th and 9th grade, while she was traveling with her AAU team, Brown grew from 5’11 to 6’4. She came back to school virtually transformed — “I’d left all my friends down there,” she explains, clarifying that “down there” means, more or less, “in non-dunking territory.”
It was a tough adjustment. “It was like I was a newborn deer, whose legs are all wobbly — I was very clumsy at first,” she says. “Your clothes don’t fit anymore and it’s just ... different. I used to try to crouch down and hide.”
But within about a year, Brown had taken her mom’s advice to heart: “Tall is beautiful and you’re beautiful — don’t try to hide and be ‘normal.’”
She narrowed her extracurricular focus to basketball and volleyball, and eventually just basketball, quickly becoming one of the top recruits in the country and catching the eye of Baylor coach Kim Mulkey — who had recruited Dee Brown to Louisiana Tech from Salmen High School, on the very same court where Kalani was quickly becoming a star.
“I was just like, ‘You know what? I am tall, and it’s not going anywhere — so let me make the best of it,” says Brown. “And thus, a diva was born.”
At Baylor, Brown has been the centerpiece of a remarkably balanced team — meaning her stats aren’t gaudy, but she’s more than proven herself on both ends of the court. Her efficiency is enviable, as she averages 1.14 points per play — 14th in the country per Her Hoop Stats. Brown has also developed her game away from the basket, refining a midrange jumper and turning into a sneaky threat for assists. Off the court, she’s more than happy to join the ranks of WNBA players insisting that standout height can be whatever you want it to be — intimidating or glamorous or, in Brown’s case, both.
“I think a lot of girls start off like me, crouching down in pictures and sitting slouched to try to fit in,” Brown says now. “My advice would be not to fit in, because you’re never gonna fit in. You’re always gonna be the center of attention whether you want to or not — so you might as well own it.”
Get to know Kalani Brown
Go-to warm-up song: “Act Up” by City Girls
Favorite WNBA and NBA players: Sylvia Fowles and Giannis Antetokounmpo
Most used app: Snapchat
Cats or dogs: Dogs. “I have a teacup Maltipoo at home named Louis.”
Non-basketball dream job: Veterinarian. “I am an animal person — except for spiders and snakes.”