RCW: No substitution for hard work
Many students spend their first semester, or even year, of college figuring out what path to take while earning a degree. While she initially thought she wanted to be a dentist, Jada Brown quickly figured out her true calling was something entirely different.
“I came to Kansas wanting to study pre-dentistry, but reality hit when I took my first biology lab,” said Brown. “After my first summer at Kansas, I reevaluated what I am good at and what I like (to do). I like to write and I’ve been around sports my whole life, so someone suggested journalism. I fell in love with it.”
When Brown, a senior forward on the Kansas women’s basketball team, began evaluating what she liked to do and what she was good at, the answer was clear: sports. While she acknowledged at some point her athletic career would be over, she knew there were numerous other ways to stay around sports with a job in the future.
At the recommendation of a friend, Brown decided to consider what the school of journalism might have to offer. After taking a class, Brown knew there was so much potential in journalism for a career that she would be passionate about.
Shortly after Brown decided to pursue a degree in the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications, she was presented with what would be a great networking opportunity and mentor relationship.
Brown’s J-School professor often invited alumni to come speak to classes about potential career paths. This particular class’ guest speaker was National Football League (NFL) sideline reporter Laura Okmin, who came to talk about her career in sports broadcasting.
“I was the only one really interested in what she was doing, so I was the only person raising my hand to ask questions,” Brown said. “After class I went up to talk to her and she gave me her (contact) information. I ended up doing a boot camp with a lot of young women who wanted to get into broadcasting and sideline reporting about two weeks after that.”
Among a sea of students looking to introduce themselves after class, Brown left a memorable first impression on Okmin.
“Jada just stood out immediately; she made a terrific connection and I was so impressed with her,” Okmin said. “She came up with such confidence and vulnerability, which is a really powerful combination. You have to have a lot of confidence to have that vulnerability, or to show that. I was so taken by her immediately, by her poise and her presence.”
Brown has kept in contact with Okmin, who keeps her up-to-date with other NFL broadcast boot camp opportunities. Brown’s current basketball time commitment has deterred her from attending many of them, but she was finally able to attend a two-day media boot camp this past summer with the Minnesota Vikings.
Brown went straight to work upon arrival, researching the Vikings’ players, coaches and the entire organization. She gained experience behind-the-scenes in production, as well as in front of the camera conducting interviews. At the end of the camp, Brown was presented with the opportunity of a lifetime – interviewing seven-time Pro Bowler, Adrian Peterson.
“That experience was eye opening for me,” Brown said. “It confirmed (that) this is really what I want to do.”
A former Jayhawk herself, Okmin wants to do anything she can to help Brown succeed as a sports broadcaster and thinks she has tremendous potential to do so.
“One of my favorite things about Jada is that she is so coachable,” Okmin said. “She is oozing with that attitude of, ‘How can I get better?’ There’s nothing better for me than when I get to work with these amazing young women and men who want to put in the work. They just want to be pointed in the right direction. Jada is just one of those (people) that every time I watch her, if I’m speaking at a boot camp or in a big class, when I look at her, she’s so engaged.”
Okmin isn’t the only mentor Brown has looked to for her budding career. ESPN reporter Holly Rowe has been instrumental in preparing Brown for sports broadcasting.
“She’s somebody I look up to and she’s the best at what she does,” Brown said. “I admire her versatility and how hard she has worked to get where she is right now.”
Every year as a Jayhawk, Brown has participated in Kansas Athletics’ student-athlete media training with Rowe. In that time, they have developed a very open and honest relationship.
“Holly has always had a critical eye on me. That’s something that I appreciate,” Brown said. “A lot of people just tell you what you want to hear. I appreciate the people, like her, that are open and honest with how they feel about what I’m doing. She’s always been honest and I know she just wants the best for me.”
Rowe explained why she has been so honest with Brown.
“I want her to be good and have a good career and I see so much potential in her. She is this amazing young lady that I’m really proud of, so I have stayed on her about representing herself in the best possible way,” Rowe said.
Rowe thinks if anyone has what it takes to succeed in this field, it’s Brown.
“I’ve had about one thousand people say I want your job,” Rowe said. “What I’m impressed with about Jada is she’s actually gone out and put in the work to try to get my job and do my job. People want this and they think it’s so cool, but she’s putting in the work. She’s writing articles. I challenged her after our first meeting to immediately start doing interviews and she did. She’s put in the work and I just hope the very best for her.”
Doris Burke is another person that Brown looks to as an example in the sports broadcasting world. Burke is a National Basketball Association (NBA) sideline reporter, Brown’s dream job.
“To see how much respect players give her, how she’s been able to build her credibility in a field of men, standing out as a woman who commands respect, is very admirable,” Brown explained.
In addition to these strong women who have influenced Brown’s journey to become a sports broadcaster, her father, Troy Brown Sr., has also played a significant role. He is constantly challenging his daughter to be better and work harder.
“At this point it’s not even about proving my dad wrong, I do it to make him proud,” Brown said. “It’s more encouraging now. He definitely plays a big role in everything that I do, just because of the competitive and hardworking mentality that he applies to everything.”
Brown admits her dad has always been the tougher one of her parents. He always reminds her that no matter how successful she thinks she is, she always has room to learn and grow.
“You can always get better and be better and never to be outworked. That’s just something that he has instilled in me, my sister and my brother since day one,” Brown said. “Don’t be outworked; there are no excuses. If you want something you can go get it, but you have to put the work in.”
There is no substitution for hard work. This phrase has been ingrained in her throughout her life, as Brown’s dad would repeat this to her all the time.
“It’s something that sticks with me whenever I feel sorry for myself or find myself doubting my abilities,” said Brown. “It reminds me that if I put the work in and continue to work hard, I can put myself in a position to be successful in any career that I want to be in.”
Every time that Brown tells someone she wants to go into the sports broadcasting field, she is told how competitive it is and ultimately, is questioned if that is what she really wants to do. Her motivation to excel in a highly competitive field comes from both how she was raised and the true athlete within her.
“Being an athlete is something that gives me an advantage, but I also know there is still work that has to be put in. Just being an athlete isn’t going to get me the job,” Brown said. “I feel like that makes me work two times harder, just because I know that other people have had hands-on experience that I haven’t had. Any opportunity that is given to me, I jump on it and take advantage of it, trying to do whatever I can outside of basketball to put myself in a better position to be successful.”
Okmin believes Brown has the right attitude and motivation to ultimately shine in this field.
“In a business that is so competitive, and really hard to stand out in, I love how Jada does,” said Okmin. “Being on camera is one percent of that. What I love about her is she is as authentic as they come. She embraces all the good and all the ugly. I love the way that she loves to take on a challenge, and I’ve seen her take on a few. To be that age and be able to not just get through a challenge, but to take it on with that, ‘Heck yeah’ attitude is really, really amazing to see. Any time that I’ve been with her she’s working on empowering herself, which is awesome, but she’s also helping empower all the other women around her and that is what’s truly special.”
On and off the court, Brown is looking to make the most of the remainder of her time at KU.
“We all want to get our first Big 12 (Conference) win, and that almost happened for us against West Virginia,” Brown said. “If we continue to move forward with the mentality and the toughness that we played with in that game, good things will happen for my team.”
Kansas women’s basketball accomplished this goal just three games later, when they faced Texas Tech. With a 66-60 victory, the team handed head coach Brandon Schneider his first Big 12 Conference win in his two years at KU.
Brown knew if she and her teammates continued to work hard they would be rewarded. The team’s tough and together mantra finally paid off, leading the team to its first league victory since 2015.
When the time comes at the end of the season to hang up her jersey, Brown will pick right back up with her education and career development. Her priority will be getting her degree and finding new things that interest her to fill her time.
“I want to be able to tell stories and use what I’ve built here to continue to move forward. I don’t want to get complacent,” said Brown.
Brown will miss playing with her Kansas teammates most, but she is fortunate to have one more semester with them on campus in Lawrence while she focuses on finishing her degree. She hopes to put her broadcasting experience to work and begin telling some of their incredible stories.