By Dan Stillwell
Register-Herald Sports Writer
Aren’t freshmen supposed to ride the bench at D-I universities?
They’re supposed to slowly get used to the faster, more physical college game. Maybe they’ll see action late in the season.
Candace Brown and Gardner-Webb University are having none of it.
Brown has not only played in all 25 of the 11-14 Lady Bulldogs’ games, but she’s started nine.
The former Summers County all-stater and 2012 player of the year runner-up is fourth on the team in scoring with a 7.7-point average. She grabs 4.9 rebounds per game and has dished off 50 assists (against 53 turnovers), blocked 16 shots and made 48 steals.
Not bad for a freshman, eh coach?
“Candace has been a joy,” Rick Reeves said. “She’s worked hard, and at times has had to play the 1 (point guard) position. It’s a challenge, but she’s done a great job.”
Brown did actually work in slowly, the first part of the season, but is now a fixture in the lineup.
“Everyone is quicker, and there was a lot to adopt to,” the 5-foot-9 former track, volleyball and basketball standout said. “Our style of play is a lot like at Summers and I just had to get into the flow. By midseason I got my confidence back.”
Last week she was named the Big South Conference’s Freshman Player of the Week for the second time this season.
“Candace is putting it all together,” Reeves said. “She’s using her athleticism, but she’s also using proper techniques. (Summers coach) Wayne Ryan does a great job. And she’s used to winning.
“Our leading scorer broke her hand, so now we’re asking her to step up more.”
Brown is no stranger to scoring, or any other stat. She played both inside and outside for Summers County, helping the Lady Bobcats win four of their five consecutive state championships.
She co-led the country in scoring her senior year with 37 points per game, and she also averaged 11.8 rebounds, 7.0 steals and 3.6 assists.
She put up 18, 15 and 12 points in the three games leading up to Saturday night’s 70-67 overtime loss at Coastal Carolina.
Brown scored just seven points, going 3 for 8 from the floor and 1 for 2 at the foul line.
However, she had a fine floor game with seven assists, six rebounds, five steals and just one turnover.
“Candace is a tremendous athlete, but she didn’t get enough credit for her skill set,” Ryan said. “That skill set and athleticism is paying off now.”
Brown’s best game this season was a road trip to Charleston Southern.
“I had seven steals and 22 points,” she said. “That was a fun game. I was in the flow.”
There’s still a lot to work on. Brown wasn’t a big 3-point shooter at Summers, but Gardner-Webb expects her to increase her range.
Currently she’s 2 for 14 from beyond the arc.
“My 3-point shooting and my dribbling are things I need to improve on,” she said.
Gardner-Webb won two consecutive Big South championships, but was hit hard by graduation.
“We’re totally rebuilding, and Candace is a big part of that,” Reeves said. “I think we can be one of the top teams.
“We’re very happy with Candace. She has a chance of having a fabulous career.”
Brown was the last of four sisters to excel at Summers County. Sierra, Jolysa and Ashley each went on to play at Concord University.
Candace considered Concord, but decided she wanted to give D-I basketball a shot, and has no regrets.
“We’re like a family here,” she said.
Ryan added, “I’m very proud of Candace for having enough faith in herself to take the challenge and go down there and do such a good job.”
The Lady Bulldogs have four games remaining before the Big South tournament, including a home game against High Point University on Thursday.
— E-mail: dstillwell@