On Tuesday, one of the top high school girls basketball players in the Los Angeles area committed to play college basketball at UCLA. Normally, that might not seem like anything out of the ordinary, but Nirra Fields, the player in question, doesn't come from an ordinary background.
Rather, the Canadian is spending her senior year in high school living with the family of Lakers coach Mike Brown, attending basketball powerhouse Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei High School and soaking up all the hoops and life lessons she can get.
How Fields -- who played for famed Oak Hill (Va.) Academy as a junior and averaged 15.9 points per game while playing for Canada at July's FIBA U-19 World Championship for Women -- landed with the Browns is a unique story, to say the least. The flashy 5-foot-9 guard first became acquainted with the family through Brown's two sons, Elijah (a junior at Mater Dei) and Cameron on the AAU summer circuit.
According to the Orange County Register's Kevin Ding, after meeting Brown's wife Carolyn, Fields' single male guardian decided that spending a year living with the Browns and playing for one of the nation's best girls basketball programs could be good for the teenager on and off the court.
For his part, Brown told the Register his family feels blessed to have welcomed in Fields as one of their own, even if she will only stay for a year.
"It's good for us, too," Brown told Ding when the reporter mentioned that the arrangement could help Fields get more attention and top-notch competition at Mater Dei. "Terrific. I guess it all depends on the type of people involved. She's a great person. So it made it easy."
With the Lakers and the rest of the NBA still sequestered in collective bargaining negotiating sessions instead of practice meetings, it's clear that Mater Dei is the big winner from the Lakers' bringing Brown on board as the successor to legendary coach Phil Jackson. Brown's older son, Elijah, starred at Cleveland-area Lakewood (Ohio) St. Edward School in both his freshman and sophomore year. That sophomore campaign famously featured catcalls from opposing fans about his father's job status, an experience that both said made them tougher … and drove the younger Brown's commitment to succeed.
"His game is the complete opposite of mine: Elijah does have talent; I never had talent," Brown told the Register.
The youngest Brown, Cameron, is also a promising basketball player, giving the Mater Dei basketball programs a unique three-for-one package for the 2011-12 school year.
If Fields is the most unexpected part of that troika, that hardly means that she will have less of an impact on the school's future, or on the trajectory of the UCLA program. The Bruins capitalized on Fields' sudden appearance on the West Coast with a renewed, dedicated push to convince the Canadian that the Los Angeles area was the best place for her to spend her college years.
Now, Fields might even start a second Brown reunion at the next level, as well. Among the schools recruiting Elijah Brown is -- you guessed it -- UCLA.
Regardless of where the Brown brothers land in college, if all three of the children currently residing in the household emulate the family's basketball figurehead, they'll probably do the name proud.
"I don't feel like I'm the smartest guy out there," Mike Brown told the Register. "I feel like I'm a pretty good people-person. I feel like I have common sense, at least. And I do believe that I work hard. To me, that's where my advantage is going to be, if there is one."
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- Mater Dei High School