After a successful career at Westover and for Albany State as a member of the “Gunning Running Ramettes,” Verna Brown parlayed her chance at a free education by way of basketball into even more success. She was the director of public relations for the Ritz-Carlton hotel chain, before just recently accepting the same job in the chain’s posh new addition in St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands. (Albany Sports Hall of Fame/Special to The Herald)
ALBANY — When it comes to Verna Brown, it’s tough to decide which is more prolific — her basketball career or the story of where basketball took the former Albany State star.
Both are tremendous tales and contributed to Brown’s induction into this year’s Albany Sports Hall of Fame class. The 26th annual ceremony Monday night will welcome Brown back to Albany, where she started her basketball endeavors at Westover High and became one of the all-time greats at Albany State before taking flight — both literally and figuratively.
When Brown’s former coach Aileen Conner, who is on the Albany Sports Hall of Fame board of directors, talked with Brown about being a possible nominee for the honor, there was only one thing Conner could take away from the conversation.
“What a great story,” Conner told Brown.
WHO: Dallis Smith, Tommy Sharpe, Verna Brown, Frank Hedrick and Kevin Samuel.
WHAT: 26th annual Albany Sports Hall of Fame Induction ceremony.
WHEN: Monday — 6 p.m., doors open; 6:30 p.m. banquet begins.
WHERE: Albany Civic Center — banquet room.
MORE INFO: (229) 431-1200.
“I’m flattered,” Brown said Friday of her induction into the 2012 HOF class. “I’m honored. I’m grateful. I’m all those things. When (Conner) told me I was going to be a nominee, I was like, ‘What? Me?’”
Brown never really had much interest in basketball growing up until her high school coaches hounded her to play because she was the tallest girl in school. When she first hit the court as a sophomore, Brown had to learn the basics while her teammates were running plays.
A year later, she turned into a star on the court as a stationary forward when girls basketball was a six-player game with two offensive players, two defensive players and two rovers on a half court. Brown scored — and scored a lot — but she did it on one half of the court. When Brown decided to stay close to home and attend Albany State College and play for the Golden Rammettes in 1975, she was in for a rude awakening initially.
“I didn’t run much (in high school),” Brown said about only playing on the offensive end of the court. “We played full court in college and I thought I was going to die.”
It didn’t take long for her to pick up the pace, though. She was named a captain all four years at Albany State and quickly become the leader of the group known as the “Running Gunning Rammettes.”
“We used to play some of the colleges in Atlanta and we’d beat them 150 to 70,” Brown recalled. “We (averaged about) 100 points. We played as a team.”
Brown, a 6-foot center, was named MVP in 1976 and 1978 and made the conference’s All-Star team in ’76 and ’77. She was drafted by the Washington Metros professional women’s basketball team in 1979 but was burnt out from the game and decided not to take the offer. A year later, the women’s league folded, but Brown got the itch to play again and got an offer to go to France to play professional basketball, where she won team MVP honors as the lone American on a ranked, playoff-caliber squad.
“I loved it,” she said of the French game. “All I had to do was practice a couple nights a week and play on Sunday.”
A knee injury while skiing in France later led to an abrupt end to her basketball career, but Brown was only getting started. She returned to the states and began working with The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company, where she has spent more than 23 years in accounting and human resources and eventually was named director of human resources in Atlanta.
This past March, the self-described “beach bum” took the same position at the new Ritz-Carlton St. Thomas Virgin Islands hotel.
“When I would go on vacation, I always wanted to go where there was sand, sun and water,” Brown said.
Now that she’s on somewhat of a permanent vacation working in the Caribbean, Brown has her basketball career to thank for a journey few have experienced.
“I know that I would not be where I am without basketball,” she said. “The perseverance of my coaches (at Westover) — I never would have pursued basketball without them. It earned me a college education, and it allowed me to do a lot of traveling. I would not trade any of it for anything.”