Born: October 29, 1972
It started early for Rhonda Blades Brown, as it so often does for the greats.
Not content to sit on the sidelines and watch, Blades Brown played basketball with the boys in grade school during recess, pretending to be Magic Johnson.
“I played on my first team when I was 10 years old at the Boys and Girls Club,” she said. “I loved everything about it.”
And basketball has never left her. From a storied career at Springfield Parkview High School, to helping Vanderbilt to a pair of SEC titles and a Final Four appearance, to making history in the WNBA, to the present day where she is a five-time state championship coach at Nashville’s Brentwood Academy, Blades Brown has pretty much done it all.
Her accomplishments in the sport are why the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame proudly inducted Rhonda Blades Brown as a member of its Class of 2023.
One of her biggest basketball influences was her father, Tony Blades.
“I give him credit for teaching me how to dribble so well,” Blades Brown said. “When I was in eighth grade, I asked for a basketball goal. He wanted to put a little pad in the backyard. I thought that was a great idea until he informed me I would need to pack down the gravel after we shoveled out the dirt.”
For the next several weeks, Blades Brown dribbled up and down that gravel court, packing it tight.
“My ball went all over the place at first but gradually I learned how to anticipate the ball and it laid the foundation for my game.”
Her ballhandling skills gained a lot of notice at Parkview High, but so did her ability to score. That attention meant the top college programs in the country came calling.
After home visits from the likes of Duke, Georgia, Notre Dame, NC State, and Missouri State, Blades Brown settled on Vanderbilt.
“The SEC was the best conference for women’s basketball at the time and I wanted to play in the best conference against the best talent,” Blades brown said. “Vanderbilt was a great fit academically and I loved the challenge.”
She rose to the challenge, helping the Commodores to a pair of SEC titles and an appearance in the 1993 Final Four. Blades Brown earned All-America honors as a senior.
After spending her fifth year at Vanderbilt pursuing her Nursing degree, Blades Brown played one season with the New York Liberty, where she became the first player in WNBA history to make a 3-pointer, before being selected first overall in the 1998 expansion draft by the Detroit Shock.
Following two seasons in the WNBA and a few years overseas, Blades Brown knew it was time to put her degree to work. She thought she was done with basketball. But basketball wasn’t done with her.
After working with travel ball teams in Springfield and giving private lessons, Blades Brown joined the junior varsity boys coaching staff at a school in Nashville. She was hooked.
“I loved it,” she said. “Coaching boys was a blast.”
After one season her husband, Parke, told her about an opportunity at his alma mater, Brentwood Academy.
“I decided with my nursing background I could teach Anatomy, so I took the coaching and teaching job at Brentwood,” Blades Brown said. “The rest is history.”
And what a history it’s been. State championships in 2006, 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2018, plus five runner-up finishes have turned Brentwood Academy into one of the nation’s premier basketball programs.
But despite all the championships, the highlight of Blades Brown’s coaching career is the five years she spent coaching her daughter, Millie, now a sophomore on the UNC Asheville basketball team.
“Getting to see her grow, and shine, and spend time with her every day for five years is the thing I will cherish the most”, Blades Brown said.
This past summer, Blades Brown enjoyed a new sports experience as she watched her son, 16-year-old Blades, capture co-medalist honors at the U.S. Amateur Open. Currently a sophomore at BA, Blades is the No.4-ranked amateur golfer in the country.
“Blades makes golf look easy, which it is not,” she said. “Watching him at the U.S. Amateur was surreal.”
In addition to her parents, husband and children, Blades Brown has been impacted by countless others. Some of those people include former Missouri State head coach Cheryl Burnett (MSHOF 2000), Dr. Thomas Burnett (MSHOF 2008), Joanna Hayes, the Nashville Coaches Coalition, and more.
“Being inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame is one of the highlights of my basketball career,” Blades Brown said. “To be considered among the many great athletes that I have read about, played with, and cheered for over the years is humbling. I have dreamed since I was a little girl that I would be considered one of the best to come through the state of Missouri, and I’m very thankful and grateful to be considered worthy of this honor.”