Ayla Brown Profile
Ayla’s relationship with Arianna ultimately taught her that not all battles are meant to be won; it also taught her how to be respectful of the competition and not to crush people just because you can. “My dad would obviously spend more time talking about basketball with me, so Arianna believed that I received more attention,” she says. “But that wasn’t the case, not really.” Eventually, Ayla says, she learned that just because the spotlight was drawn to her didn’t mean she always had to step into it. “Everything that she is good at, I don’t even touch,” Ayla says of her sister. “Like, she loves animals, and because of that I don’t even really like animals.” They’re now very close.
But the attention became increasingly difficult to avoid. As a high school basketball player, Ayla was virtually unstoppable. She began getting letters from college recruiters in eighth grade, and later became the state’s 20th female player to score more than 2,000 points in high school. In fact, by the time she graduated from Nobles, where she was team captain, she was the school’s all-time leading scorer — male or female. “We used to joke with her, like, ‘It must be so hard to be so awesome,’” says Picco, who admits that she and Ayla weren’t necessarily friends their first year. “But she deserved all the attention she got. If she doesn’t give 100 percent, she doesn’t feel accomplished as a person.”
THE FIRST TIME A REPORTER APPROACHED Ayla after a Nobles basketball game, during her first year at the school, she started stuttering. At home soon after, Brown launched a media-training boot camp. “He would pretend he was a reporter and ask me really hard questions, and I would try and, like, answer them the right way,” she says. “For example, the reporter would say, ‘You played a great game. How does it feel to score 20 points?’ And instead of saying, ‘Yeah, it was awesome,’ I would say, ‘Yeah, it was my team that really helped me out.’”
As an athlete, Ayla’s life was barely her own: She was told when to eat dinner, when to work out, when to do her homework. While playing for BC, she got 11 days off a year. “I’ve been so tied down since I was 12 years old and made a commitment to play basketball full time and try to get a scholarship,” she says. “Now that I’m done with it, people ask if I miss it, and I don’t, not yet.” She says she hasn’t touched a basketball since her last college game in March.
“Ayla was a person who wanted to excel at a lot of different things,” says Inglese. “I think some of the goals she set for herself were high goals, and she worked hard to try to reach them, but playing Division I takes a major commitment. At the same time, it took a lot of people to make her schedule and commitments happen, but I knew she was a worker and wasn’t going to slack off. I knew she liked basketball and would follow through with keeping in shape and improving her game, and she did.” Plus there were her parents to help keep her focused. Gallagher, the Nobles coach, describes the Brown family as one of the most insular and supportive he’s ever known. “Ayla had tough days, but always came back more motivated, more inspired, more angry to succeed at a higher level than she did the day before,” he says.