They form the ACC’s premier backcourt, yet strikingly few basketball followers are familiar with them or their games.
Statistics confirm the fifth-year seniors are the league’s most productive pair of returning guards, female or male, averaging more points and accounting for a larger proportion of their team’s scoring and 3-pointers than any other perimeter pair in 2017. No returning backcourt tandem outdid them in combined accuracy from the foul line, either. So far, Rebecca Greenwell and Lexie Brown have picked up right where they left off last year.
The McDonald’s All-Americans merged so well in 2017, their first season together, they both made first team All-ACC and the Blue Devils (28-6) far exceeded the offensive effectiveness of most McCallie squads. The team finished second in the ACC in scoring margin, field goal and 3-point accuracy and retained a focus on tough defense, leading the conference in suppressing opponents’ field goals and 3-pointers and in blocking shots. Duke (5-1) is a top-20 unit again this season, a level it maintained uninterrupted from 1998 through 2015.
Brown, a big-city product, grew up playing against boys as well as girls. Her basketball guide remains her father, DeCovan “Dee” Brown, a 12-year NBA veteran best known for winning the league’s 1991 Slam Dunk contest despite standing 6-1, if that. “I hang on his every word,” says the 2018 ACC preseason player of the year, her words music to a father’s ears. “He has so much knowledge to give.”
The 5-9 guard got to the Final Four both seasons at Maryland. She started as a freshman on a veteran squad and became more of a leader her sophomore year, when the Terrapins quit the ACC and joined the cold, unfamiliar haunts of the Big 10. “That was horrible,” Brown says of being so far from her Atlanta support system. So she transferred, choosing Duke at her mother’s urging, only to sit out a year under NCAA rules because she switched schools.
Meanwhile, the 6-1 Greenwell signed with Duke and was immediately derailed, a knee injured in high school causing her to be red-shirted for the 2014 season. In Greenwell’s first two healthy years, the Blue Devils were ACC also-rans, missing the NCAA tournament entirely in 2016.
Greenwell’s freshman year Duke advanced to the Sweet 16, where it was eliminated by Brown and Maryland. Her debut season didn’t start so well, either. Playing at home against top-ranked South Carolina on Dec. 7, 2014, No. 2 Duke held a one-point lead in the final seconds when the freshman took a pass and, trapped by the defense, picked up her dribble in a corner near her own basket. Failing to call timeout, she had the ball stripped. The Gamecocks scored and the Devils were sunk, 51-50.
“Those things happen, you just have to let them go.” stated Becca. Last year, when USC, the eventual NCAA champion, returned to Cameron Indoor Stadium, an inspired Greenwell led all scorers with 29 points in a Duke victory. Now she stands ready to counsel any freshman who endures a competitive catastrophe similar to hers.
This year, Greenwell (16.6 ppg this season) is likely to cap her career by setting Duke women’s marks in threes made and attempted, and she will soon be among the school’s top 10 in points. She started the season fourth in career free throw accuracy (.820 through Nov. 24).
Brown, a flashy, evolving playmaker, ranked 10th among last season’s ACC assist leaders (3.85 per game, best at Duke). She describes herself as “energetic and passionate” on the court; sometimes that means she’s too aggressive, over-penetrating or rushing beyond control. Defensively, Greenwell and Brown also tend toward over-enthusiasm, according to McCallie. “It’s really fun to coach them on defense because you almost have to turn them down,” she says. “They jump all over the place.”
Duke’s fate in 2018 will likely be determine by the duo’s play this season!
**story courtesy herald-leader