By Steve Gunn
Local Sports Journal
FRUITPORT – Fruitport’s Iyana Brown broke into varsity basketball as a 14-year-old last year and turned a lot of heads.
But her basketball career could have been completely derailed one night last March, not long after the basketball season ended, when she was involved in a scary car accident.
She was a passenger in a car full of friends that attempted to pass another car on Airline Road in Fruitport near the 1-96 ramp, and suddenly everything went wrong.
“I had been at a friend’s house that night,” said Brown, who was riding in the back seat of the vehicle. “We were coming back from Wesco when it happened. We were trying to pass around (the other car), he kind of swerved at us, and we lost control, hit the guard rail and flipped twice.
“When the car was done flipping I was hanging outside the window. It was super painful. I told my friend that I thought I broke my back.”
Brown was transported by ambulance to a local hospital, where she was treated and released a few hours later. But the pain didn’t go away.
She saw a specialist a few days later and learned she had broken two ligaments in her back and needed surgery.
Thoughts of never playing basketball again immediately flashed through Brown’s mind.
“(The specialist) took an x-ray and I said ‘I can’t believe you are walking right now,’ ” Brown said. “I saw the x-ray and there was a curve in my spine.
“The moment he said I needed surgery I started bawling. I thought I would never play basketball again. But my mom had him explain to me that I was going to be able to play.”
She had surgery on March 19, then went to Mary Free Bed Hospital in Grand Rapids for several days of rehab. After that she went through months of physical therapy, and was ordered to take it extremely easy in her daily activities.
That was difficult for a girl who was accustomed to playing AAU or AYBT basketball all spring and summer, every year.
“It was just a lot of resting, therapy and getting better,” Brown said. “It was really depressing because I was used to playing year round.
“They didn’t want me lifting anything over five pounds. My mom had to do everything for me and she has a bad back herself.”
Brown was finally cleared to play basketball in September, and started her sophomore season on time in December.
She encountered another scare in an early season game when she took an elbow to the head and suffered a minor concussion. She was forced to miss one game, against arch-rival Spring Lake, then returned to action.
Her performance is back to normal, and even better. Brown is averaging 17.5 points per game, a full 5 ½ points higher than last season. She’s also averaging seven rebounds and four steals per game.
“I was scared – I didn’t know how my back was going to react (to playing),” Brown said about her return to the court this season. “I know I was definitely out of shape.”
She said she still feels some pain in her back as she goes about her daily activities, but doesn’t notice the discomfort during games.
She wears a back brace on the court, as long as she can stand it.
“You’ll see me throwing it off quite a bit,” Brown said. “It prevents me from breathing normal, and I take it off when I get mad at it. My mom doesn’t want me to, but it do it anyway.”
Fruitport Coach Bob German said he thinks Brown is still a bit tentative on the court, but is otherwise developing at the same rate as before.
“She has a ton of natural ability,” said German, who added that outside shooting is something Brown needs to work on. “I expect her to play well every game. We butt heads at times, mostly because I’m pushing her, because I think the mental part of the game is huge.
“She’s a good kid. I never would have doubted that she would get through this.”