This has been a season of milestones for girls basketball stars in South Brunswick.
On Feb. 2, South Brunswick High School senior Danielle Padovano became the leading scorer in the 48-year history of the girls basketball program, A few days later, a young middle school star showed the township why the future is still bright for the Vikings, even as Padovano and her classmates complete their final season for SBHS.
On Feb. 6 against Salk Middle School of Old Bridge, Crossroads Middle School eighth-grader Amber Brown became the first girls basketball player in South Brunswick history to score 500 career middle school points.
"It feels really great because it's a good ending to my middle school career and I'm happy to be the first one to do it," Amber said. "The day before our game at practice, (Coach C.J. Hendricks) told me I needed 10 more points to score 500. I wasn't even thinking about it because I didn't think I was anywhere near 500. I was shocked and really excited."
In his six years coaching Crossroads, Hendricks said he has been blessed with plenty of talent, including many of the current stars who helped the SBHS girls come within one win of the state finals last year. But, Hendricks noted, Amber Brown may just be the best player to walk the hallways of Crossroads during his time as coach.
"I've seen a lot of good players come through here, like Danielle Padovano, Danielle Roberts and plenty of others. I've been blessed with a lot of strong players," Hendricks said. "When I look back at all those players, if you asked me to pick out somebody who I just can't see not having a great future in basketball, it's Amber Brown. She has all the talent in the world, she has great basketball sense, she can play any position, and has so much patience and poise. I can honestly say she is the most talented player I've ever coached. There is nothing but great things ahead for her, and it's up to Amber how great she is going to be."
Primarily playing as point guard, Hendricks noted Amber's basketball awareness for knowing when to shoot, when to pass, and when to simply be patient and see what the defense gives her.
"I like playing point guard because you get a lot of touches on the ball," Amber said. "I can see the floor and get a lot of assists for my teammates, helping them by hitting them with the pass when they get open."
For her family, Amber's talent was evident early on in her life as she watched her older brother, who was also a standout for the SBHS boys basketball team.
"We had a little basketball hoop in front of our house, and even when Amber was little she was out there dribbling well and shooting well," said Amber's father Derrick Brown. "She has two older brothers and she's been in the gym with them since she was 5-years-old. We saw she had a lot of potential as kind of like the female version of her older brother. Whatever team she's played on she's been a standout player, so we saw her potential early on."
For Amber, growing up watching the NBA was what first peaked her interest to pick up the ball and start working.
"It's just a very interesting sport," she said. "When I started watching the NBA I just thought that basketball is the sport for me."
Despite Amber's exploits on the court, Derrick said he's just as proud of Amber's performance in the classroom.
"I'm very proud of her for being the first and only player to score 500 points and doing very well in basketball, but she's also on the honor roll and school comes first," he said. "She's very well rounded. After she set the record I gave her a big hug and told her to keep working hard to get better. As long as she keeps doing well in school, she can pick and choose where she goes to college."
Amber's family and coaches are far from the only ones who have taken notice of her prodigious talents. Hendricks said it has been a normal occurrence during Amber's time on the middle school team to hear praise for her skills from those watching her, or getting beaten by her.
"Amber's a girl that just stands out in the gym," he noted. "Her talent turns heads. I can't even say how many times other coaches and even referees have come up to me and said 'wow I can't believe she's really a middle school player.'"
With a record of 17-1 having recently won the Hoops for Hunger tournament, the Crossroads girls' victory over Salk Middle School also gave Hendricks a milestone of his own. In just six years as coach, the win was Hendrick's 100th victory as head coach of the program.
"It was awesome for me and Amber to reach both milestones in the same game," he said. "As great as 100 wins is, it doesn't match up to the relationships with the kids. One of the best things I had happen from that game was my former players coming back to watch and celebrating with them. They always come back and work on the game with the girls on the team and that's something I appreciate more than any win total I can reach."
With the all time leading scorer in Vikings history on her way out the door this summer, the future of the program may just rest on the young shoulders of the eighth grade prodigy who just accomplished what no other girls hoops player in South Brunswick ever has.
But for her part, Amber said she's not worried about expectations and is just focused on working hard to help the team perform at its best.
"I'm nervous about it because it's going to be my first year in high school," she said. "But I look at my first year as a season to work hard and hopefully I'll get better as the years go by."