Verdigris junior Brynlee Brown (0) goes up for a contested layup against Oologah’s Kailee Seaba during the second half of Friday’s game at the Verdigris Activity Center. She finished with 10 points and four rebounds.

Through 18 games, Verdigris junior guard Brynlee Brown has made up for lost time while establishing herself as the third-leading Lady Cardinals scorer.

This season is the third that Verdigris coach Mike Buntin has observed Brown’s talent. The first, Brown’s freshman year, she was an already exceptional freshman point guard playing down the street at Catoosa.

“Her (Brown’s) freshman year, we got them (Catoosa) in districts,” Buntin said, “and so doing all of the scout film watching, I knew that she was the one on their team that we had to stop. Everything ran through her ... She was their superstar.”

Wanting to play within the “family culture” at Verdigris, Brown transferred to play for Buntin the following offseason, but it came with a cost: a year-long OSSAA-sanctioned benching in accordance with the state’s transfer rules.

Buntin itched to get Brown on the floor. One of the best area players was at his school, on his bench, but unable to play.

“Every game, every night, you just wish you had someone with that ability level because it would have helped us,” Buntin said. “One of the things that hurt us, as we got deeper in the playoffs, was having multiple scorers.”

This year, Brown — finally able to play — hasn’t wasted the opportunity. She has been an instrumental scorer and defender in 15 Verdigris wins in a fluid role.

“Brynlee has adapted and adjusted and found a way to help us in a position that she’s never played before. We’ve put her inside and done a lot of things with her there,” Buntin said. “Putting Brynlee in there with her activity level allows her to get in there and go score and just makes us so much more effective.”

That transition has been made easier by her teammates, Brown said.

“It honestly has a lot to do with the team that I came onto. They really came with me with open arms.” Brown said. “They make me feel comfortable in playing my role, and I just love being here.”

Buntin’s orchestration of the converging personalities and talents on his team was equally important in Brown’s assimilation.

“I knew we were getting a really good athlete that had some really good skills. It was just a matter of finding the way to get her to blend,” Buntin said. “It wasn’t just a sit down, ‘Hey, this is what we’re going to do.’ It was kind of just a gradual, every day in practice, ‘This is what we’re expecting from you.’"

“I’ve took it upon myself to buy into what coach Buntin wants us to do. Even if I’m not stepping up in my role as a scorer, I still try to be versatile with defense and assists and rebounds,” Brown said.

“Her biggest skill set is her energy level. She never stops playing. She’s always on-the-go,” Buntin said. “Probably her second-best is her ability off the dribble. She has the ability to break defenses down to get to the paint, get to the basket.”

All of the above were on display in the crunch of Verdigris’ tooth-and-nail 48-46 win over No. 12 Oologah last Friday, a game which Buntin said “has become a little bit of a rivalry.”

Leading by one near the end of the third quarter, Brown snuck under a rebound off a missed Verdigris free throw and passed out to a teammate. A second-chance shot went up, missed, and Brown was again there, fervently contesting Oologah for the board.

She secured the ball, took a dribble and elevated to sink a sharp layup to put the Lady Cards up three heading into the fourth.

Minutes later with Verdigris trailing one, she hit a left-handed layup to put Verdigris ahead again.

As the Lady Cards round the corner into the postseason, Buntin feels the title contenders have improved on a nightly basis.

“You see that hunger in each of them, and so I feel like we’re going to continue to gel and continue to grow,” Buntin said.

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