EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 15, 2007

Idolized Eagle BC hoop star Brown is one part Diana Ross, one part Diana Taurasi

By Alan Siegel , Staff Writer

CHESTNUT HILL - Rebecca Miles saw Ayla Brown's "American Idol" performances for the first time two weeks ago.

All she had to do was take a quick look on Youtube.com, the wildly popular video search engine.

"I don't know this person," Miles said as a clip of her long-haired Boston College teammate lit up the computer screen. "The Ayla I know is diving on the floor for every loose ball and scrapping for every rebound."

The story, related by Ayla's father Scott Brown, illustrates his daughter's unique versatility. One part Diana Ross, one part Diana Taurasi, the 18-year-old is deftly juggling two promising careers.

She released her first album, "Forward," Oct. 17; just a few days after basketball practice began.

"I don't know of any other student-athlete in the country who's had the massive pendulum shifts as she's had," said her father, a Massachusetts state senator.

Less than a year removed from her 13th-place finish on "Idol," the 6-foot freshman forward from Wrentham, Mass., headed into the weekend averaging 7.9 points, 5.2 rebounds and 21.8 minutes per game for the Eagles (10-6, 0-2 Atlantic Coast Conference).

Her basketball and music, Scott Brown said, go together. If you took one of them away, he joked, "You'd have half an Ayla."

Avoiding Idol trappings

Before a recent game at Conte Forum, the screams grew too loud for her to ignore.

Brown turned to the group of young girls and waved. One held up a sign with "Ayla Brown is our American Idol" written in big letters.

"Oh, my God, Ayla!" a few teammates joined in.

"I just kind of laugh it off and make it fun," Brown said.

The other players occasionally crack jokes, but it didn't take Brown long to convince them she had more to offer than a good voice.

"Kids are all about basketball," BC coach Cathy Inglese said. "She has the ability. (The players) understand it. They're happy for it. They wouldn't be if she wasn't a worker, if she was a princess type kid. But she wasn't."

Off the court, Brown is, by all accounts, as well adjusted as a college freshman can be. Her first-semester GPA was 2.86. (All A's and B's except for one class, she said.)

The hectic travel (flights to Los Angeles) and appearance schedules (she sang with the Boston Pops on July 4) have been scaled back. After all, it's basketball season.

Brown said she doesn't go out on weekends. She's usually too exhausted to even consider it.

To relax, she and roommate Dana Van Voorhis, a volleyball player from Sunset Beach, Calif., watch massive quantities of "Law and Order" and "CSI."

They may have to watch some "American Idol." The series is starting up again tomorrow.

Londonderry senior Stefanie Murphy, a BC signee, marvels at her former AAU teammate's ability to navigate a schedule that's often less flexible than Simon Cowell.

"I have no idea how she still has time for school," Murphy said.

In simple terms, Brown is a trained performer. Neither a tough crowd nor a hostile atmosphere fazes her.

Murphy remembers watching Brown - before her "Idol" days - casually belt out a few tunes during an AAU basketball tournament.

"We're in Georgia, sitting on this gross floor in a motel, and she's singing everything," Murphy said. "We have videos of her singing."

Playing a new role

Brown hoped to do three things this season: improve on defense, become a better rebounder and gain weight.

"American Idol" commitments consumed every spare minute she had last winter. Unable to work out, she said shed about 10 pounds from her 6-foot frame.

But like most Division 1 athletes, she arrived at school in the fall and began a weight lifting routine. She added protein shakes to her diet and has since gained back the lost weight. Brown is up to about 155 pounds, which she called "a great thing."

There are moments - like the other day, for example, when she was snacking on a bagel and a doughnut - when she wonders what bulking up could do to her showbiz career. After all, the pressure is immense for entertainers to be wafer-thin. Then it hit her. She's an ACC basketball player. More muscle means more productivity.

"I'm here for four years," she said. "This is what my role is."

A lucrative touring offer would not be enough to lure her from the Eagles for any period of time, Brown said. She was in Los Angeles taping "Idol" during the final two weeks of last year's high school basketball season - including the Independent School League playoffs.

"It was so stressful," the former Noble and Greenough great said. "I was sending e-mails back and forth. I was 2,000 miles away and I couldn't help my team."

In essence, she signed a four-year deal with Boston College. She plans on honoring the contract.

And even if the NCAA prohibits her from promoting her new album, she is still feeling the effects of the "Idol" experience. She receives 12-15 letters per week and regularly talks to young fans living in places as far as Washington State and Israel.

She rarely, if ever, slows down.

"When she's not busy, she's walking around the house kind of fidgety," Scott Brown said. "That's who she is. Who wouldn't be proud?"


Age: 18

Family: Scott (father), Gail (mother), Arianna (sister)

Hometown: Wrentham, Mass.

College: Boston College

High School: Noble & Greenough

Local connection: Her grandfather, C. Bruce Brown, lives in Newburyport

Famous family: Her father is a state senator and her mother, Gail Hough, is a Channel 5 reporter

Basketball career:

nnn Came into weekend averaging 7.9 points, 5.2 rebounds and 21.8 minutes per game for BC

nnn Scored 2,358 career points in high school, sixth highest total in state history; grabbed 1,152 rebounds

nnn 2005 and 2006 Massachusetts Gatorade Player of the Year

nnn Started playing varsity as an eighth grader

nnn Ranked No. 37 nationally in the Class of 2006 by Blue Star Report

Music career:

nnn Finished 13th on "American Idol" last year

nnn Released first album, "Forward" Oct. 17

nnn Performed at KISS 108 Concert, May 20, 2006

nnn Sang national anthem with Boston Pops, July 4, 2006

nnn Sang national anthem for Boston Celtics' season opener this season