Brown back to basketball roots

Bryan Veginski
Khassandrae Brown

Khassandrae Brown is back to the lead the program she was the centerpiece of not long ago as a player.

Brown is the new girls basketball head coach at East Peoria Community High School, from where she graduated just six years ago.

“I always wanted to come back and teach and coach. That it’s happening is surreal, but also very exciting,” said Brown.

She is entering her second year in the EPCHS special-education department.

Brown served in 2013-14 as Jay Bowman’s assistant coach. He resigned after three years directing the Raiders.

The possibility of Brown replacing Bowman, who stepped aside due to family considerations, was in place.

“It all was kind of perfect timing for me and him,” Brown said. “He showed me the ropes with the thought of me taking over. Unofficially, it was a training year for me.”

Bowman was the assistant coach to Pete McGinnes during Brown’s illustrious playing career at East Peoria.

When she exited East Peoria as a four-year varsity player, Brown ranked second in career scoring (1,664 points) and rebounding (778).

Brown was selected first-team all-Mid-Illini Conference three times.

She played for two years at Kankakee Community College. Her team reached nationals both years, an experience Brown called “awesome.”

Brown concluded her playing career at Eureka College, from where she graduated in December 2012.

Brown was a Red Devils women’s basketball assistant coach while student teaching. At age 22, she also was the EC tennis head coach.

She will continue in her role as the Raiders’ junior varsity girls tennis coach.

Brown’s aspiration to return to dual roles at EPCHS came along swiftly.

“I didn’t think it would happen this quickly,” she said. “It was all a quick process and worked out in my favor.”

Brown pointed to a combination of the relationships she built along the way with her schooling and varied experiences that set up the ideal professional scenario for her.

Class of 2014 members played the vast majority of the minutes last season on a Raiders girls basketball team that set a program single-season record with 19 victories.

“These girls are going to have to fill some big shoes,” said Brown of her first group.

Besides the on-court production, new East Peoria leaders need to emerge. Underclass players will be relied on for contributions.

Although many of the returnees did not have a direct impact on wins and losses in ’13-14, they were on the scene.

“These girls were witness to or part of how much fun winning is,” Brown said.

New plays will be installed and lots of learning will take place in hopes that tools the players are given will help them continue on a winning path.

A lot of girls have been active this summer, Brown reported. The squad has been in the gym since June 2, hits the weight room consistently and went to Illinois Wesleyan University for a weekend.

Brown’s short-team objectives are to get better every day and build relationships with the girls.

She plans to start putting her spin on the program and cementing expectations.

In the long term, Brown aims to have the program not only generate wins on game night, but also make the athletes better people.

“Basketball to me is more than just a sport. It’s learning about life, not just the game of basketball,” said Brown.

Sophomore and freshman coaches Katelyn Romeo and Denee Menzione, respectively, return to the coaching staff.

Brown’s varsity assistant is Jaylynn Stewart, an Illinois State University player who transferred to Eureka.

Brown was the Red Devils’ assistant during Stewart’s senior season.

“We complement each other nicely. It seemed like a good fit for me to bring her in,” said Brown of Stewart.

While Brown’s expertise is in post play, Stewart offers experience with guards, in addition to her Division-I stint.