The nearly 4-year-old voice of Brooklynn Miles coming from the backseat of a blue Corolla left no uncertainty. With arms crossed, Brooklynn declared she was done with ballet and would instead play basketball.
Her mother knew her child well enough to know that the tutu would be packed away forever. Her father couldn’t wait to get a basketball in Brooklynn’s hands.
Thirteen years later, Miles committed to Coach Kellie Harper and the Lady Vols. The 17-year-old did so despite not being able to visit the campus outside of a trip with her father in May – during which she could not meet the coaches because of the recruiting shutdown brought on by COVID-19 – and after a recruitment process that was conducted entirely by video, phone calls and text messages.
Miles was just as determined to play basketball for Tennessee as she was to end her ballet career. She made a visit to Knoxville with her father, Gordon Miles, in June for a self-guided tour.
“It helped make my decision because I already had a feeling in my gut that Tennessee was the place for me before even visiting the campus,” Brooklynn Miles said. “When I went and visited the campus, that topped it off. We went on our own. We kind of gave ourselves a tour. I liked the campus.”
On July 1, Miles, a 5-6 speedster who plays for Franklin County High School in Frankfort, Kentucky, made it public with a post on social media.
Listening to her daughter talk in the backseat of the car that day, a commitment to Tennessee 13 years later wasn’t something Rachel Holt could foresee then.
“I did not see for a moment the path of her going DI to one of the most prestigious programs and to rock it out,” Holt said. “From her sitting in my backseat to telling me what she was going to do and actually executing it and doing it? Especially for being a young mom, I am just so thankful for the family’s determination.”
Brooklynn had shown signs of being advanced as a baby. She started walking before she was 9 months old and was very vocal early, perhaps an effect of being around older cousin who were teenagers.
“Brooklynn definitely kept me on my toes,” Holt said. “I was a young mom. I was 17. She was the first grandbaby and great-grandbaby. She stole the show and stole everybody’s heart. She was always moving too fast. You just couldn’t stop her.”
Holt, who had been a cheerleader at powerhouse Madison Central High School in Richmond, Kentucky – the national championship program has its own practice facility – envisioned her daughter following the same path.
“I played sports. I was just no good at basketball,” Holt said. “I couldn’t even walk and dribble at the same time. I ran track, and I was a cheerleader.”
Holt enrolled Brooklynn in ballet when she was a toddler. That lasted two years.
“They started at 18 months,” Holt said. “I put her in there thinking she would love it. She was a little girl, and I was going to make her all frilly with glitter and bows. Her last recital she was two months away from turning 4. We got in the car, and I was just so excited, and I was like, ‘You did so good. Mommy is so proud of you.’
“She said, ‘I no do this anymore.’ I was like, ‘Excuse me?’ She said, ‘I no do this anymore, Mommy.’ I said, ‘Do what anymore?’ ” She said, ‘I no dance no more.’ ”
While an emphatic decision, basketball was not a word the still 3-year-old Brooklynn could fully pronounce yet and it came out sounding like “bassetball.”
“She said, ‘I am going to pay bassetball!’ I was like, ‘You are going to play what?’ Lord, it sounded like she said racquetball,” Holt said. “I said, ‘You’re going to play basketball?’ She said, ‘Yep, I sure am.’ I kid you not. She was three-and-a-half, and she was done. She was not putting on another tutu. She was not having it. I will never forget it with those arms folded sitting in the backseat of my blue Corolla.
“It just crushed me. I had to fight her to wear dresses. She was my tomboy basketball player hands down. The switch just flipped.”
That conversation happened before the weekend. Within days, Gordon Miles had his daughter enrolled in basketball.
“That’s all he needed to hear. Gordon went and signed her up for the itty bitties at the YMCA,” said Holt, who added the first time her daughter touched the ball, she took off running. “That was the only thing she did wrong. She has not put a ball down since. She has dominated since the day she picked it up.”
Brooklynn Miles’ instincts can be forgiven because Itty Bitty Basketball introduces very young children to the sport. She grew up watching her father play football.
“Her mother got her in dance, and Brooklynn just wasn’t having it,” Gordon Miles said. “She just wasn’t happy, and you could tell by the look on her face every time she had to go.”
After Brooklynn Miles committed to Tennessee, her father posted a simple message on his Facebook page with praying hands: All praises to GOD! Love you Debra Miles. These four years will be SPECIAL!
Gordon Miles’ mother, Debra Miles, was an athletic trainer at Kentucky State University when he was born.
“She wasn’t an athlete herself, but she always prayed for an athlete,” he said. “She kept me around basketball, baseball, football, everything that she possibly could. Basketball was kind of my first love.”
Debra Miles passed away in 2014.
“I just remember always smiling when I was with her,” Brooklynn Miles said. “We had fun all the time.”
“She is absolutely smiling down on us,” Gordon Miles said. “I think she knew it before we knew it. She was the one who told us first that Brooklynn was going to be special. I definitely think she is enjoying seeing Brooklynn playing with passion and to see her be in love with the game and the way her love for the game spreads to other people.
“That’s part of my motivation and Brooklynn’s motivation just trying to live up to what she expected from us and continue what she started.”
Gordon Miles played four sports in high school and then football as a receiver at Kentucky State. He also played in the Arena Football League for the Louisville Fire and Georgia Force.
“I think that’s where Brooklynn gets a little bit of her toughness from,” he said. “She’s watched me play football her whole life. She is used to seeing people get hit. She is used to seeing people get tackled.”
While Holt’s vision of her daughter didn’t take hold, her support never wavered.
“I thought I was going to have this cheerleader, dancer, gymnast, whatever, not happening,” Holt said. “She crushed that quickly. We didn’t miss a beat. If that’s what she wanted to do, that’s what we did.”
Brooklynn Miles quickly fell in love with the sport the same way her father did.
She would come home from recess and say, ‘Dad, we played basketball. Can you buy me a goal?’ That turned into, ‘Can you coach my team?’ That turned into, ‘Can you train me?’ ” he said. “It was about fifth grade when we knew we had something special.”
Gordon Miles coached his daughter for a while and then took the role of trainer.
“I coached her early in her career and then I became her trainer,” he said. “I took away the coaching title because I wanted to be more Dad and as a trainer there is less pressure on what she does in a game as far as what comes from me. I get to sit in the stands. I have trained her her whole life.”
He has been by his daughter’s side throughout her hardwood journey and embraced what the late Kobe Bryant called being a “girl dad.”
“That is totally me,” said Gordon Miles, who travels with his daughter on the summer basketball circuit and took her on visits to college campuses.
Brooklynn Miles also was recruited by Kentucky, N.C. State, Miami, Purdue, Penn and Cincinnati, among other schools.
“For me as a parent, it’s my dream come true,” Gordon Miles said. “I am a gym rat and a basketball junkie. I would not rather be anywhere else. These trips are a vacation for me to get away from home a little bit and get to be in the gym all day. It works out perfectly for Dad.”
“It means a lot to me,” his daughter said. “He can tell me what I’m doing wrong on the court, off the court. He’s my dad. It’s awesome because we have that connection, and I know I can always count on him.”
Tennessee offered Brooklynn Miles a scholarship in the spring. Part of the recruiting pitch was how much the Lady Vols needed a point guard in the Class of 2021.
“They said I was the point guard they needed,” she said. “They wanted me, and they could tell I wanted them, too. It’s very nice.”
Miles’ recruitment had to be done in a virtual format of Zoom meetings, along with phone calls and text messages.
“We talked quite often during the first couple of weeks when they were introducing themselves,” Gordon Miles said. “The Zoom meeting went very well. We were very impressed with the mentality of all of the coaches. They all mentioned that everyone on the campus was in the same mindset to get back to national championship mode. Those conversations were enough for me, and I did my own personal research of course, but those conversations were definitely geared in the right direction.”
Brooklynn Miles’ initial contact was with Assistant Coach Lacey Goldwire.
“We were texting and I was telling her that I was really thinking about them and I was like, ‘What steps do we take next to further this process?’ ” Brooklynn Miles said.
That was all Tennessee needed to hear. The Lady Vols sent virtual information, including a game day experience – Brooklynn Miles has never been to a Lady Vols game or walked into Thompson-Boling Arena.
“I could already picture it,” she said. “I like the tradition and what women’s basketball means at Tennessee.”
Brooklynn Miles was 5 years old when Tennessee won its last national title in 2008, but as she grew up, she became very aware of Lady Vols basketball, especially living in the border state of Kentucky.
“Hearing about Pat Summitt, she was a great lady, and also watching them play over the years and always hearing about Tennessee women’s basketball,” Miles said.
Holt had taught her daughter to stay aware of the situation surrounding how and what kind of connection she made. She also saw a difference in Brooklynn after she talked to Tennessee.
“I think she is a lot like me in some aspects, and I do preach that to my kids. I am a gut person. I am not always logical. Listen to your gut. Listen to your heart. Listen to what the universe is telling you, because the signs are all around you,” Holt said. “Everything is there. It doesn’t always have to be A, B, C and D.
“I truly think it felt good, because she lit up when she talked about Tennessee. She had a different approach with it. She talked about Tennessee more when we discussed it after getting off the Zoom call. She was still talking like, ‘Hey, Mom, did you see that? Mom, did you notice what they said?’ I could tell she was going that way because she gave it more attention than she did the other schools.”
Still, both parents wanted the decision to be their daughter’s. While they are no longer together as a couple, Gordon Miles and Holt remain close and committed to co-parenting Brooklynn Miles in a way that enriches their child – who was the firstborn for both.
“I’ll be honest with you, I prayed about it. God, just lead me and guide me, because ultimately I have to let this be her decision,” said Holt, who watches sports, cheered for basketball and understands the game.
The process has opened her eyes to how much harm can be done to a teenager trying to make the biggest decision of her life.
“I would see these parents that I told myself I will not be,” Holt said. “The things they put their kids through, it’s not even fun anymore. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it on trips at tournaments. The parents live through their children. I can’t do that, and I won’t do that. This is her life, and I have to let it be her mistake or her good choice.”
It was a final process somewhat complicated by the fact the recruitment had to occur without any in-person contact with the coaches because of restrictions by the NCAA – which started in mid-March and remain in place through at least the end of August – due to COVID-19.
“We’ve taken it in stride,” Gordon Miles said. “It has been extremely different, but it’s our first time going through it, so it’s not really that unique to us if that makes sense. We continuously pray, and we’re always communicating with God, and we feel like Tennessee was sent to us in a sense. We know that Brooklynn’s grandmother is watching over us. We feel like this all happened for a reason.”
Brooklynn’s parents provided the financial means for her to play and travel.
“But it’s her hard work on that court,” Holt said. “Who am I to say where you’re going to go? I am not out there fighting for it. How is that fair for me to say to Brooklynn, ‘Well, you’re going to go to this school.’ And you see that. I don’t want to do that to her.
“Do I want her to understand the choice she’s making? Yes. But am I going to make it for her? No. I have to let her grow. I have to let her start her life. I was here to guide her through it. She gets to take it by the reins and live her dream.”
Brooklynn, who played for the Kentucky Premier program in summer and other basketball events, also had another person she could talk to about the process – Kaiya Wynn, a teammate in the program. Wynn committed to Tennessee on April 30, 2020 and had taken two unofficial visits to Knoxville in late 2019.
“She just kept it real with me because that’s what I asked her to do,” Brooklynn Miles said. “She told me that she loved the program, she loved the coaches and me and her playing together would be great, and I also believed that, too.”
Both Wynn and Miles have speed to spare and have excelled in track in high school. Miles was a 2A state champion in the 4x100m relay in Kentucky, while Wynn was the 400m and 4x400m relay state champion in Tennessee.
So, who wins a head-to-head sprint between the two Lady Vols to be? The question prompted appreciative laughter from Miles and her father.
“It would probably be pretty close,” Miles said. “I don’t know. Kaiya’s got some wheels, too.”
Speed at the guard position is critical in the SEC, and the Lady Vols have been vulnerable on both sides of the ball for several years with attacks by small, fast guards.
“That is exactly the talent of Brooklynn,” Holt said. “She is like a little doggone Chihuahua. She is going to get that ball from you. They might be taller, but she is about to eat her alive. I see it before it happens.”
Miles has a chance to stand out sooner rather than later in 2021-22 on a Tennessee team that features size and athleticism at multiple spots on the court.
“We all see that Brooklynn has a unique role on this team,” Gordon Miles said. “This is the biggest team that Tennessee has ever had. Brooklynn is a small, fast, quick, intense guard, and I think that role fits well against the SEC. Brooklynn can fill that void immediately. That’s the role that Brooklynn can play.”
When asked to scout herself, Brooklynn cited her on-the-ball defense, passing ability and willingness to use her voice.
“If I am playing with a bunch of new girls, I am usually the one to say something if I feel like something needs to be said,” Miles said.
Her dad added, “On-the-ball defense is definitely elite. Ball-handling is definitely elite. The biggest word you would write down on a scouting report for her would be speed. She plays well in transition. She plays well when the game is moving fast. She plays well when she is moving fast.”
Brooklynn Miles grew up playing with boys and then made the Lady Flyers basketball team at Franklin County High School as a seventh grader.
“I played with boys all my life through middle school, so they definitely toughened me up for the opportunities that I was going to get in the future,” she said. “I fit in with the Lady Flyers and kept going. I brought something to the table that some people can’t bring. I had the dog in me, and I always wanted to get there.”
(That “dog” mentality is exactly what former Lady Vol Alexis Hornbuckle, who was a starter on both the 2007 and 2008 national title teams, said needs to be infused into players.)
Miles said she needs to improve her shooting with additional repetition in the gym and will use the next year to do so.
“We are going to treat my senior year like it’s my freshman year in college,” she said. “I need to act like with the work ethic that I am already there at Tennessee.”
Gordon Miles will help get his daughter ready off the court with strength training, ladder work, footwork and hip flexibility.
“We are heavy on the weight training and the agility training in the off-season,” he said. “And then during the season, we’re perfecting the small stuff.”
Off the court, Brooklynn Miles is a typical high schooler who likes to hang out with friends, dance and make people laugh.
“People think I am pretty funny,” she said.
Her sights are set on professional basketball after college, and she will major in communications with the goal of being a sports broadcaster once she is through playing the sport.
But the focus now is on basketball, and the incoming freshmen for 2021-22 already are communicating with each other by setting up a group chat.
Miles joins Lady Vol commits Sara Puckett, a 6-2 forward from Muscle Shoals, Alabama; Karoline Striplin, a 6-3 forward from Hartford, Alabama; and Wynn, a 6-0 guard/wing from Nashville, Tennessee. Puckett and Striplin were teammates during the summer for the Southern Starz basketball program.
As a high school junior, Miles averaged 21.5 points, 4.9 assists, 4.1 steals and 3.8 rebounds. The Lady Flyers won the program’s 11th Region championship before the shutdown of sports because of COVID-19. In the championship game, Franklin County avenged four straight losses to Scott County, and Miles had 20 points and six assists.
“We’ve been talking to each other and staying in contact,” Miles said. “I am super excited.”
Miles chose Tennessee for the same reason her future teammates have expressed: “The tradition and Coach Harper, all the coaches and the team and my class coming in. And their fans are amazing.”
Gordon Miles is going to savor a final high school season with his daughter before she departs for college.
“I don’t think that it’s really hit me yet how big this opportunity is for her,” he said. “Being part of the Tennessee sisterhood is something that you just can’t put into words. She does have a little sister that hopefully is going to follow in her footsteps.
“I think I probably will shed a tear after that first basket or the first big play she makes. When thousands of people go crazy, I think it will probably hit me probably about then.”
Brooklynn Miles’ younger sister is Jordynn Miles, a rising seventh grader at Madison Middle School who is almost 12 years old and works out with the high school team.
Gordon Miles has a full-time job working for the Commonwealth of Kentucky Court of Appeals and also runs Prototype Athletics, which can be found HERE.
“I based my life around my kids,” he said. “I know that training is my destiny. I have around 200 kids that I train, including my youth league, kindergarten through fifth grade that I run. I adjust to what Brooklynn and her sister need. I have a regular job, but training is my love and my passion.”
Holt also works full-time and has been in human resources for the Commonwealth of Kentucky for nearly 14 years. Her basketball responsibilities meant getting all the insurance and paperwork completed behind the scenes.
“Gordon and Brooklynn are about basketball,” she said. “They just want to get to the gym.”
Holt is long past her disappointment that her daughter won’t become a ballerina.
“Now, she doesn’t ever want me to stop playing,” Brooklynn Miles said. “She loves coming to game.”
Gordon Miles interjected, “You’ll hear her come game time for sure.”
“That’s my cheerleading background,” Holt said. “You know I’m there. I am not the kind that tries to be the coach from the stands. I have big respect for who is coaching my daughter. I am not that parent that the coach is ready to kill.
“I tell her, ‘Work! Let’s go! You’ve got to work!’ I can see when she starts to put her head down, and I’d like to think it helps. I just encourage her and her teammates. I am positive from the stands. She hasn’t told me to shut up yet.”
Holt has made sure Brooklynn Miles knows her mother has her back – but she very much remains a parent.
“I am like, ‘I love you, I adore you, but I am not your friend. I am always going to be your mom,’ ” Holt said. “I don’t care if she pouts and doesn’t think I am the coolest person in the world. That’s fine.”
Brooklynn Miles also has a brother, Ezekiel, who just turned one in July. Holt, who is engaged now, plans to attend as many college games as she can, take Jordynn with her since she’s older and leave Ezekiel with family for the down-and-up trip from Kentucky to Tennessee, a drive that is less than three hours one way.
When Holt interacted with Harper, she knew she was talking to a mother.
“I loved her family,” Holt said. “She’s got a great staff, and they respect her. She is going to take care of my baby. That is what I am looking for. I am the one who is not necessarily worried about stats and playing time. I just want her to take care of my baby.
“I am big about academics, so those were my questions. I feel safe. I feel like they’ve got it. They’re going to take care of her, and I can let go. Not completely but enough. I am already trying to prepare myself if that makes sense. I am already working on the detachment, the understanding I’ve got to let her grow, or she won’t.”
Holt also has a connection to Tennessee and while Knoxville is in East Tennessee, it remains a source of comfort as she gets ready to watch her first child leave for college in less than a year.
“That’s my firstborn. That’s my everything,” Holt said. “I think what puts me at peace is that’s where my family is from. My (late) grandfather, who was my world – my grandparents raised me – is from Nashville, Tennessee. The whole Holt side of the family, that’s their origin. One of my best friends moved to Clarksville.
“There is something about Tennessee that just fits OK in my spirit. I get it. It’s like God rerouted it back to where my family started. That state has a lot behind it. It’s just meant to be. Everything kept turning the attention to Tennessee.”
Holt also will wear orange in blue country in Kentucky.
“I’ve already worn it, and it looks pretty good,” she said.
Still, when the day comes to drop off Brooklynn at college and return to Kentucky, Holt knows the tears will flow.
“Oh God, it’s going to be bad,” Holt said. “But I need her to know I am OK, so she can be OK. You go and take care of you. I want her to be a kid, go to college, have fun. Prepare for life but also don’t miss a beat. Your life is right in front of you. Don’t be so focused on the future and rushing. I want Brooklynn to live. Roll with it.
“I think proud is an understatement. I am proud, but, oh my gosh, I am just blessed and overwhelmed with joy. Being a young mother and coming from small towns where opportunities like this don’t happen every day, I don’t even know a better word.
“Proud doesn’t give enough of what I feel. I am overjoyed. I’m happy. I am just relieved – the relief to watch her live her dream and not have to try to explain how to start another path or find something else you like. To not deal with the sheer disappointment in her face of not being able to take her dream to where she wants to take it, man, oh, man I would do it again and again and again.
“It just doesn’t get much better. It truly doesn’t to see your kid live their dream. Not my dream. Her dream.”