Tim Brown stood along the sideline in the Bethel High School gymnasium, talking about the unique opportunity he has to help coach his two daughters.
Then he paused, squinted his eyes and directed his stare at one of them.
“But she just won’t shoot,” he said at Tianna Brown.
“I do shoot,” she barked back.
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Tim pauses, then looks away.
“… Not enough,” he said.
He might get more riled up about it, but he needs to keep his blood pressure low. Tim is wearing what looks like a small backpack, but it’s really a left ventricular assist device (LVAD). The LVAD is a battery-operated machine that pumps blood to the rest of the body and is surgically implanted in patients who have reached end-stage heart failure.
Tim was once a good-enough athlete to star at Spanaway Lake and Pierce College before trying out with the Seattle SuperSonics in the mid-1990s. Now he’s waiting for a heart transplant.
And Bethel coach John Ainslie has not heard one complaint.
“Never,” Ainslie said. “He goes about his business every day.”
That’s not hard, Tim says.
Not when his daughters, Tianna and Tiarra, are playing together for the first time in high school. They’re the Braves’ top two scorers and with a home win Tuesday against Lincoln, can lift Bethel to sole possession of first place in the 3A Pierce County League standings.
Tianna, a 5-foot-9 junior, is the two-time reigning MVP of the 4A South Puget Sound League, which was before Bethel moved down to Class 3A this year, and she’s averaging 18.8 points, five rebounds and 3.4 assists per game.
“Tianna is learning how to put the team on her back and carry them,” Ainslie said. “She runs the show. She’s kind of the straw that stirs the drink.”
Tiarra, a 5-foot-9 freshman, is averaging 13.8 points, five rebounds and 1.8 assists this season.
“She’s got equal talent as Tianna,” Ainslie said. “She’s more of a slasher and inside player and she can really jump. I can really replace one with the other when they sub for each other.
“And the good thing is they are both good passers.”
The sisters combined for 52 points in one of Bethel’s two wins this year against Wilson.
Tim had all the talent, too.
Ainslie was teaching at Spanaway Lake when Tim was a student there. Ainslie remembers him as a jokester around the school and very athletic, but lazy with his schoolwork — a lesson learned that Tim has since tried to impart onto his children.
Tim said he had talked with coaches at USC, but lacking the grades to be eligible to play NCAA basketball, he walked into the gym at Pierce College and asked the coach if he could try out.
That worked out so well, he then tried out for the SuperSonics in the hopes that he might make the practice team.
Tim was also working at the Elks Lodge of Tacoma in 1995, when he felt his heart get heavy.
“It was like someone had stepped on my chest,” Tim said. “So my boss told me to walk over to Allenmore (Hospital) across the street to get it checked out.
They told him he had a heart attack.
He was transferred to St. Joseph Medical Center where he was told he had an enlarged heart, ending his potential journey with the Sonics.
“Things happen for a reason,” Tim said. “I’m not complaining.”
Tianna and Tiarra said they’ve both been heavily influenced in basketball by their father and their brother, Treyvon Brown, who played football and basketball at Spanaway Lake.
But the sisters also influence each other.
They still frequently play one-on-one on their outdoor basketball hoop in their cul-de-sac or 21 with their stepsister, Chakeyla Cobb.
The sisters finally got to play together last year on their AAU team because Tiarra played up an age class.
And now they’re together at Bethel.
“I was so excited,” Tianna said. “I couldn’t wait until the season started. And I knew she was going to be a really good addition for us.”
“I was excited, too,” Tiarra said. “I knew playing together for the first time in high school was going to be fun.”
Tianna said they’re with each other just about every day.
“And we work out together,” Tianna said. “Wherever I work out, she works out.”
But it was this past summer when their father’s heart condition was found to be worsening and he needed to get the LVAD. The news came just as Tianna was preparing for a trip to Atlanta and Washington, D.C., for AAU basketball. She didn’t go so she could stay and help her father.
“At first it was hard,” Tianna said. “We’ve had to help him out a lot. But he’s doing so much better. He can do so much more walking than he used to. He’s getting around better.”
Ainslie keeps a chair for Tim at practices in case he needs to sit down. When Ainslie had hip-replacement surgery, they both spent a few practices sitting down — Tim in a lawn chair and Ainslie in his rolling office chair.
“We still get a good laugh about that,” Ainslie said.
But for the most part the LVAD has actually given Tim more energy.
“Before this I was at home, stuck in the house for three or four days a week,” Tim said. “As soon as I got this, I came back to coaching right away.”
He was told it could take as long as four years for a heart transplant.
“I’m just being patient,” Tim said. “I’m in no rush. If it happens, it happens. As long as I’m here and get to see these two to college, I’m doing fine.”
Ainslie said he’s hoping to pass the program on to Tim when he retires.
“This family — they are really close knit,” Ainslie said. “He’s a well-caring guy and it shows in his family. I’ve really enjoyed sitting on the bench with him because he’s one of my good friends. We coach well together because he’s on the cool side and I’m on the hot side.”
Though Tim can lose his cool sometimes, too.
All it takes is one glare from Tianna to bring him back to Earth.
“Tianna will give me a look like I got to calm down,” Tim laughed. “And I just go, ‘OK, OK.’ ”
TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677