Last season, forward Hailey Brown joined the Michigan women’s basketball team as the most promising player of the group’s freshmen class. She was a five-star recruit, had experience with the Canadian National Team program and had started proving her talents early on for the Wolverines.

Brown earned her spot in the starting lineup for the first game and stayed put, averaging 25 minutes, nine points and 5.2 rebounds per game.

Brown hit full stride in January, shooting 50 percent or better from the field in six straight games. Against Indiana, on Jan. 10th, she converted 10-of-12 from the field — including 3-of-3 from beyond the arc — to finish with 23 points and eight rebounds. With that standout performance, she won both Big Ten and National Freshman of the Week honors.

“Really transitioned well into freshman year,” said Michigan coach Kim Barnes Arico at the team’s Oct. 10th Media Day, “and had a really, really solid freshman year.”

But after starting 27 consecutive games, Brown’s season took a turn in February. During the Wolverines’ game at Michigan State, Brown came off the court with a lower left leg injury near the end of the fourth quarter.

Her recovery took time. When Michigan headed for the NCAA Tournament, Brown could have played but rested instead, so not to risk further injury. Though her absence on the court burdened the team, it was not a total loss for Brown. Rather, she gained insights from the change of perspective.

“I feel like by me being out I see the game differently — how I can affect what our team does,” Brown said after practice on Oct. 22. “So, I feel like I have a stronger understanding of what my role is.”

During the tournament, Brown took note of what the team was missing and discussed her observations with Barnes Arico.

“We were both on the same page for things,” Brown said. “Now, it’s great to be back on the court and applying what I learned from that.”

Around early April, Brown finally started playing again. To ease her way back into shape, she focused her time on both anti-gravity and underwater treadmills. As she gained strength, she progressed to running.

Brown hopes to be a key contributor on offense this season. Over the summer, she emphasized pull-up jump shots and drives to the rim in her practice regime. She also wishes to build on and maintain the shooting success she established midway through her freshman year.

Without Katelynn Flaherty — the program’s all-time leading scorer, who graduated after last season — Brown’s ability to score could be vital to her team. But Jillian Dunston, who averaged nine rebounds per contest, is gone too. Thus, Brown knows she’ll need to play a more prominent role under the glass.

“Rebounding is a huge emphasis,” Brown said. “ … Definitely I’m gonna have to step up and rebound as much as I can and put that effort out there.”

And with the season around the corner, Barnes Arico is excited to have her back.

“She is back,” Barnes Arico said, “and she is better than ever.”

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