Kalani Brown MVP as East beats West in girls all-star basketball game _lowres

Advocate staff photo by SCOTT THRELKELD Salmen High School's Kalani Brown

At this time next year, Kalani Brown will be a freshman in college, preparing to display her All-America basketball skills for some lucky coach.

Now, she’s biding her time on the hardcourt — albeit in a different sport.

Brown, 6-foot-6, is spending part of her senior year at Salmen High School terrorizing opponents in volleyball. It’s a sport in which she’s excelled since she began playing in seventh grade. And though the Spartans have a losing record at 5-10, Brown has done her part to keep Salmen competitive, by averaging 12 kills and four blocks per match as a middle blocker.

She said if basketball is her first love, then volleyball certainly is second.

“I started playing club ball in eighth grade and I picked it up really quick,” Brown said. “I was a fast learner because I kept working at it, the same as basketball. It was difficult to split time at first, but now I’ve got it down. This is my second passion. If I didn’t love it, if I didn’t have basketball, I would definitely (focus) on volleyball.”

Salmen coach Greg Cahill said Brown is a “force” unlike any he’s ever coached. She’s a “game-changer,” he said, and he wasn’t talking about her basketball skills.

“Kalani takes over games. When she’s blocking, she gives the other people fits. She’s intelligent on the court. She knows where she is and knows to get to the right spots. She’s good at putting the ball in places where other people can’t get it.”

While being head and shoulders taller than most players is part of her advantage, Brown said there are similarities between volleyball and basketball that have helped her.

“The footwork is a lot of the same things, though there’s more jumping in volleyball,” she said. “But they go hand in hand, really.”

If anything, Cahill said he has to keep Brown from being “too hard on herself” when things aren’t going right on the court.

“We’re constantly talking about what kind of effect she has on the whole team,” Cahill said. “If she’s having a down game, and shows it on the court, people notice. On the other hand, if she’s having a great game and she’s pumped up, everyone notices that. (The players) all look to her whenever anything happens.

“When she’s positive, we’re all better.”

Jordan Earhart, Salmen’s libero, said Brown is a great teammate.

“She has amazing passes, she sets well, and she hits the ball straight down,” Earhart said. “Half the time, no one can get to it. She’s an all-around great athlete, but she’s just like a regular player. She holds nothing against us because she may be a future star. I’ve played with her since I was a freshman. She definitely doesn’t treat this as a second sport. She puts everything she has into it.”

That’s sure to be the case as Salmen fights to gain a Division II playoff spot. Both Brown and Earhart said a change in the team’s on-court rotation has proved fruitful and that the Spartans are playing better now than earlier in the season. w“We dug ourselves a hole, but it’s all good,” Brown said. “I think (we can make the playoffs.)”

The postseason is set to end Nov. 15, which perhaps ironically is the date Brown plans to announce where she’ll play college basketball. She’ll choose between Baylor, Texas A&M, and Tennessee — three of the top programs in the country. Cahill said Brown has told other colleges that she wouldn’t be visiting and instead, would be playing volleyball for Salmen.

“College is important, but it’s down the road some ways,” Brown said. “I wanted to be out here for the team. I just wanted to play.”