It all started at the age of seven when Boonville sophomore Addi Brownfield first learned what travel ball was all about.
Although Brownfield has had a basketball in her hands since age 3, the process has involved into something much bigger now with college coaches at every tournament looking for players to play at the next level.
While playing for Missouri Phenom, Brownfield just recently completed a journey which consisted of three months (April, May and July) and 30 games during that span.
Ken Brownfield, one of the assistant coaches and dad, said when you are young it’s kind of local girls playing travel ball. He said you may go to Marshall and have a big tournament in Kansas City but you are playing in a lot of local tournaments. As you move up, Brownfield said his daughter got on a team called the “Thunder” from Cooper County.
“I think she was in fourth grade but it was a fifth grade team,” Brownfield said. “We branched out a little bit further and went to Oklahoma City and Kansas City. That eventually involved into the Lady Spirit, which started when Addi was in sixth grade. That was a little bit broader but still mostly central Missouri with players from Jeff City, Columbia, California and Osage. What kind of happens is that you keep moving up and you keep getting with better players and it is kind of a natural progression and you keep playing with better teams. The “Phenom” saw us, which is the EYBL (Elite Youth Basketball League) program today.”
As a starter for the Boonville Lady Pirates basketball team last year as a freshman, Brownfield said she has already started getting looks from several Division I programs and attributes to playing traveling ball as one of the reasons why.
“I would say definitely some of my best friends have come from travel ball because you are just around them 24/7 for a whole month, so you get really close to some of the girls,” Brownfield said. “Travel ball has a different atmosphere than high school ball. In high school you have your school watching and it’s totally packed. I just feel a lot of pressure there but then in travel ball we are just there to play and show what we can do.”
With a 30 game schedule and three days of practice each week for 1 1/2-2 hours, Brownfield said there is also a new rule within the Phenom program where each player has to shoot 1,500 shots a week and document it.
Of course the idea of playing basketball against some of the best players in the United States is something that also draws Brownfield to the game she has loved since the age of 3.
Forget about the drive to Louisville, New Orleans, Chicago and Dallas or the late nights and walks to and from the gyms. Along with playing sometimes two games a day filled with over 1,100 teams, Brownfield said most of the players on her team also have the same ambition to play college basketball at the Division I level.
“Some of them are there just trying to get better for their high school team, but I would say that 95 percent or higher want to play college basketball,” Brownfield said.”
As for the hustle and bustle, that’s where dad steps in. He said he sets a limit on the number of games Addi plays during the summer. While finishing right at 30 games this summer at 24-6, Ken said that’s the maximum that his daughter will play in. Now if it’s 31 or 32 that’s ok, too.
With a price tag of $5,000 to play in these summer tournament, which includes hotels, meals and travel, Brownfield said either you love it or not.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Brownfield said. “I think a lot of people think we are nuts because we do all of this traveling but it’s not as much as you think it is. It’s just fun for us. If you don’t love it it would be miserable. It’s not for everybody; you have to love it. I kid Addi that with the cost to travel to these tournaments that I have already spent her tuition for college. We do have a great time doing it but by the end you are ready to go back to work.”
The higher you go the better the play gets as well. Brownfield said in the EYBL there are 32 teams in the country that play each other and then you have 1,000 teams at the different levels.
Addi played at the highest non EYBL level.
Her mother, Mona, said all the team are divided into brackets or pools and then they look at your abilities to place you on a team.
Brownfield said the EYBL itself gets paid by Nike so some of the money filters down to the other teams. However, the coaches foot the bill themselves to coach the teams.
Columbia College women’s basketball coach Taylor Possail is the head coach of the Missouri Phenom team in Columbia.
Of course Brownfield isn’t the only player from Boonville to play for Missouri Phenom. Junior Kourtney Kendrick also played on the team this summer and Jodie Bass, another junior, played in a few tournaments. Ken Brownfield saidn junior Kennedy Renfrow also played on one of the Missouri Phenom teams.
Although the Missouri Phenom is based out of Kansas City, Ken said there are hubs in Kansas City, Springfield, Columbia and St. Louis.
“Our girls are from Fatima, California, Jeff City and Boonville,” Brownfield said. “We will pull most from this area and then the other teams will do the same from their area. I know in Columbia we will pick the top 10 for 17U and then they will do the same for 16U and 15U teams. Then they will have a second team. It kind of weeds itself out.”
With the tournaments starting at the end of April, Brownfield said for two straight weeks you play for three days and then you get a travel day and then hit the roads again for three more days.
“You get a week off in July but then you are gone for another two full weeks in that month,” Brownfield said. “It’s about a month of basketball in those three months total. It’s not every week.”
With only nine players on the Phenom team, one of the tournaments got a little tougher as only seven were able to make the trip to Dallas. And then on top of that, the team had two of the hardest games that finished at 7 p.m. in New Orleans and then had to drive to Dallas for a 2 p.m. game the next day.
“We actually got to bed at 4 a.m. after an eight hour drive,” Brownfield said. “The kids were so tired. It was horrible. It’s very hard on them. It’s not only hard on them physically but mentally as well. They all have a great time and love and hang out together but it can also be grueling.”
While usually playing five games in a tournament, Addi said when she isn’t playing basketball she is sleeping or hanging out with the team.
“Right after Dallas I was like yeah I need a couple of days off but then just sitting here at my house I was bored,” Brownfield said after the season was over. “I was like I really need to go get back on the court right now. Just sitting around just kills me.”
Mona said the first day that Addi was home she was texting her at 1 p.m. that she was bored.
“I like playing traveling ball because I feel like it helps me out with the mental part of it,” Brownfield said. “You are playing 30 games in that short period of time so you have to be tough. It’s also a little stressful to be honest knowing that college coaches are there, but once you start playing you forget about it. Honestly it motivates us to keep good attitudes and cheer everybody on, and then like dad said we are playing against girls that are Division I athletes so that pushes you. Another thing I like is that in travel ball you get six fouls.”
If there is a down side to playing travel ball, Brownfield said she is not allowed to talk to the college coaches directly. She said all the college coaches can do is attend the games to observe. “They can call your high school coach or AAU coach and then you can talk to them that way, but they can’t text you or e-mail you.”
Despite the cost and travel to play AAU basketball, the 100 girls that make up the Missouri Phenom program pretty much know each other by a first name basis. Brownfield said at one tournament, you might have 10 teams made of players mostly from Missouri. He said there are a few exceptions with players from Kansas, Arkansas and Iowa.
“A coach from Oral Roberts e-mailed and said he loved watching our kids play because they had so much fun,” Brownfield said. “That’s the cool thing about being a part of the Phenom program is that Addi knows players on the other Phenom teams. Another neat thing is that we all run the same plays, we run the same defense and in-bounds plays. They do that on purpose because sometimes during the tournament we have a girl from the next team down play with us. If you start playing really good on one of the developmental teams, they might move you up to a better team.”
Addi said although she has learned a lot since playing for the Phenom team, she still needs to work on her body and becoming more of an athlete. “In the SEC the girls are a freak of nature,” Brownfield said. “I’m only 5-9 compared to players like 6-4 playing guard.”
Addi also has her brother and cousin to help out during tournaments. If not for her mom and aunt (Nikki) to help film games, Brownfield said Kellen and Ryan Witting helped streamline some of the games this summer.