She lived for a time in Cleveland, but the school she was to attend, Regina, closed, leaving her high and dry. In the end, needing a place to play, she accompanied the Browns to California, where eligibility issues permitted her to practise, but not play, with Mater Dei, a two-time national champion, until January.
She’s making up for lost time. Along with teammate Jordan Adams, who has committed to rival USC next year and was also named to the McDonald’s All-American West team, Fields has the No. 2-ranked team in the state poised for a deep playoff run.
Close, the UCLA coach, met Fields years ago when she was coaching at Florida State and “recruiting Ohio real hard. We signed a player from her old high school, Regina, and that was my first exposure to Nirra Fields. So it’s really fun that it ended up this way. The first time I spent any time talking to Nirra, we spent the whole time talking about people that we mutually knew.
“I had a chance to meet Nirra’s biological mother, and that’s a big sacrifice for her – to entrust these people she’s never met with her baby, and really hope they’re giving her the opportunities she’s dreamed about. It’s very interesting. I never thought about it before, but she is living out the Canadian boys’ hockey dream in the girls’ basketball situation.”
Fields has represented Canada multiple times already – at under-16, under-17 and under-19 championships. Last year, as the Canadian team pulled off the unthinkable by knocking off the United States at the FIBA U19 championships in Chile, she averaged 15.9 points and 5.4 rebounds in the tournament games.
She is ranked as the No. 11 prospect in the 2012 high school class by ESPN HoopGurlz, and the No. 3 guard.
“It takes a lot of courage to leave your family, come to the States and pursue this educational dream as well as her basketball dreams,” Close said. “To have to move around and develop relationships in strange new cities all through high school, that’s a very difficult situation. I’m very glad she’s landed in L.A., not only for us to have a chance to coach her in the future, but with the Brown family. They are spectacular in terms of caring for her and providing a great environment for her to finish her high-school career.”
In the game against Serra, Mater Dei led 70-24 with a minute left in the third quarter when Fields came out of the game. After having a hard time finding the range in the first quarter, she put up a quiet 18 points to lead her team. Afterward, the celebration was subdued.
“Nirra Fields can flat-out play,” Serra coach Mary Rossignol said. “She’s confident, she’s experienced and you can tell she’s played against some top competition as a young kid, all the way until now, and it pays off when you play against older kids and guys.
“She’s fluid. She basically can hang in the air. She can shoot. She has the mid-range game and she can take the ball to the hole. For a lady basketball player, she’s all that. I mean, I’m thinking she’s going to be great at the next level. She’s one of the best around that I’ve seen in my 25 years of coaching.”
Off the court, Close says the relationship between the Browns and Fields has set Nirra for the future.
“Carolyn Brown is really the salt of the earth and she has worked so hard to make sure Nirra has what she needs academically, to make sure she takes preparatory classes for the SAT and ACT [college entrance exams] to really love having a girl and go shopping with her. Just the investment of time and energy for Nirra’s preparation has just been unmatched. Mike Brown is a wonderful man and people love to talk about him because he’s the coach of the Lakers, and he’s a great guy, but his wife is spectacular and she’s done such a great job with those two boys and Nirra.”
Seven years ago, to find some competition in the hockey haven of Montreal, Fields was playing hoops on the playgrounds with boys. Helped along by solid mentoring, compelled by basketball powers, she’s on her way to UCLA.
“It’s a wonderful story with a storybook ending,” said Sun Youth basketball coach Les Hughes, who had Fields on his team for a season just before she started high school. “If this principal [Delaney]doesn’t pick up the phone, who knows what happens?”