CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Most freshmen in women’s college basketball would be intimidated by the front court trio patrolling the paint for the North Carolina Tar Heels.
There’s Janelle Bailey, a 6-foot-5 junior on the watch-list for the Lisa Leslie award. Then there’s veteran Taylor Koenen, who’s listed as a guard, but averages seven rebounds and a block per-game at 6-foot-2. And then, there’s Malu Tshitenge, the niece of NBA Hall of Famer Dikembe Mutombo who grabs 8.6 rebounds per-game and uses her 6-foot-3 frame and physicality to out-muscle opponents.
But Amber Brown is not like most freshmen. Don’t be fooled by her size or her lime green braces. The lanky forward from Monroe, Louisiana is fiery and scrappy. And she ain’t got no backdown in her.
“I’m a competitor. So, I don’t like it if somebody wins over me,” Brown said. “It’s going to be a fight the whole night. I’ve always been a competitor. I’m going to fight, basically.”
This past Monday at the historic Carmichael Arena in Chapel Hill, the 6-foot Brown led everyone in rebounding, corralling 13 boards. It was a career-high mark in her budding collegiate career. She also scored seven points, dished out two assists and stole three possessions.
“I knew we were going to have a board battle with them, because they have really good rebounders,” Brown said of the UNC game. “So, I figured I might have to crash the boards for my team.”
And while Pitt lost that game 70-62, Brown represents something more. She has been a pleasant surprise for Lance White, the head coach in his second season at the helm of the Panthers. Brown is part of the future. She’s a centerpiece, a building block and could be part of a foundation for seasons to come for Pitt women’s basketball.
“Of the newcomers, I think she’s been the most consistent. Amber has been able to consistently get double-figure rebounds,” White said. “As a freshman, coming in and not really knowing and understanding some things, she’s got the ability to make quick accounts and make adjustments a little bit quicker. She’s a competitor. She’s really established herself as one of the best freshmen in the country.”
Brown followed up her performance at UNC by posting a double-double in a home loss to Notre Dame on Thursday. She tallied 12 points, 11 rebounds, three assists, a block and a steal in 34 minutes of play. Brown stuffed the stat sheet and she was everywhere.
She also displayed some resiliency in the game against the Irish. Her shot wasn’t falling — shooting just 2-of-11 from the floor — but Brown muscled her way to the free throw line where she knocked down 8-of-14 attempts to help the Panthers in the scoring department.
“She just has that toughness and grit,” Pitt veteran Aysia Bugg said of Brown. “Just battling and competitiveness. She brings it every night.”
Brown is doing things for Pitt’s women’s basketball team that the Panthers haven’t seen in sometime.
On Dec. 9, she became just the second-ever Pitt player to be named ACC Freshman of the Week after she averaged 15.5 points and 10 boards per-game over a two-game stretch. She also became the first Pitt player since Stasha Carey in 2015-16 to grab 10 or more rebounds in three straight games.
Brown is eighth in the ACC in double-doubles with five, a mark that leads all ACC freshmen. She is averaging 11.6 points, 8.5 rebounds and 1.3 assists per-game this season.
Her home of Monroe, Louisiana is a long way from Pittsburgh – about 1,041 miles. Brown hates the frigid temperatures of western Pennsylvania, but she loves the city’s architecture, especially all of the bridges.
But what really sold Brown (tabbed a three-star recruit by ESPN) on Pitt was White and her teammates.
“It was Coach White. And I really like the school. I want to be a nurse, and they just made me feel at home. The team is family-oriented,” Brown said. “I just wanted to help change the program around.”
Brown has the potential to help Pitt do that, but taking the team from its 10-20 record in the season before White arrived to one that can make the NCAA tournament will take time. Brown knows that too, and she’s trying to have patience, and attempting to take something positive away from each result, whether it’s a win or a loss.
“I wouldn’t call them losses. They’re lessons for us, right now. We’re trying to get over that hump. Once we get over that hump, we keep fighting every night, I think the wins will come,” Brown said. “We have spurts where we play where we need to be every time, we just have to be steady in those moments and carry it over. We have to learn to be consistent.”
Playing at Pitt – where defeats have piled up in bunches early on – has been an adjustment for Brown. She’s not accustomed to losing. In her senior year at Little Rock Christian Academy, her team went 29-2 and captured a state championship.
While she’s trying to learn something from each loss, she’s also trying to forget them quickly. Moving on from mistakes, from little moments, is something she’s trying to improve on.
“I like talking and bringing energy. I’m a very emotional player,” Brown said. “But sometimes I get stuck in the moment, so I need to learn how to play through that moment instead of getting stuck.”
As Brown gets better over this year and the seasons to come after it, Pitt should too. While Pitt’s record might not show it, she’s helped the Panthers gain competitiveness and confidence, something it really needed.
“She’s really helped us,” White said. “She’s going to be a really good player as she gets more skilled and understands the game a little bit better. She’s still pretty raw, but works extremely hard.”