Conley Chinn couldn’t imagine a life without a sport. The Jackson Academy graduate started for the Belmont Bruins in their first game of March Madness against the Gonzaga bulldogs. By entering the tournament, Chinn continues a life long legacy of playing on champion caliber teams.
The Bruins travelled to San Antonio to play in their third NCAA tournament under Coach Bart Brooks, last Monday, March 21. The number 12 ranked Bruins took on number five, Gonzaga, in their first match.
Chinn’s father, Mark Chinn, flew to San Antonio last, Saturday, March 20, to support the team and his daughter.
According to her dad, Chinn was always determined to play a sport in college. She began to play basketball at age four.
“She has been at the end of a field or a court since she was born, watching her sisters.”
She grew up playing a handul of sports. At first, it was soccer. It changed from soccer to high jumping, volleyball, and then basketball.
“It wasn’t even about which sport I played when I chose Belmont, it was about the team. This team could have been a golf team and I would have committed to it.”
On the court, Chinn plays forward on the starting line up.
“In high school, I was the tallest so I always played the post. Then I realized, going into college, I probably wasn’t going to be a big dog any more. So I learned how to dribble and shoot a basketball.”
Chinn can shoot from the perimeter or score on a baby hook from right under the basket.
“She’s good around the basket, she’s good as a post up player and she’s good from the perimeter. She’s good at taking advantage of mismatches, and there’s gonna be a tough match up from the other team, having to guard Conley Chinn. So, we feel really good about what we bring to the table. Playing confident and playing fast,” said the Bruins’ Head Coach Bart Brooks.
This will be Coach Brooks’ fourth season with the Bruins. It is also his third NCAA tournament with the team. The women’s basketball program began to come up when they joined the Ohio Valley Conference. They started to compete with higher caliber teams like Duke and Kentucky.
In 2019, when Chinn was a freshman, the Bruins lost in the first round of March Madness to the South Carolina Gamecocks.
“We really thought we could do it and you always wanna beat teams like South Carolina. We had great seniors that year, so it was sad to lose with them. But it was overall a great year, we were able to walk out of there with our heads high.”
Chinn has always had to balance sports and basketball. However, this year has been difficult because of the strict coronavirus regulations. The tournament is the first NCAA tournament held entirely in one city. The team, much like the NBA was last season, is in a bubble. There are no tickets to be sold, only a certain amount of passes for family and friends of the players.
“I think we’re playing our best basketball, the struggle is just navigating through this other stuff,” said Brooks.
The team arrived almost three days earlier than they normally would and are subjected to testing every day.
Chinn says the coronavirus rules are stressful and that there is always worry when they are tested that they may be sick and cause the tournament to end. Chinn’s father agrees with this.
“This is a lot for them. The players are in single player rooms. They can’t leave their rooms unless they wanna go down the hall for a Coke.”
Conley is also balancing school and basketball during the tournament. She has maintained a 4.0 in her pre-med studies throughout the season. Her Zoom classes are often right before and right after practice.
“School doesn’t stop for basketball whatsoever. Right before our selection show we were in in a Zoom meeting. Then the show started and we got off. And then when it ended we got right back on.”
The selection show is the tournament production televised by ESPN. The show reveals the tournament schedule, and where the teams are ranked and placed.
When Conley does have free time, she usually will study.
“Most of my free time is spent at coffee shops doing homework. It actually turned out to be something fun that me and my teammates like to do. There’s great shopping in Nashville, too, so anytime I do decide to give myself a little break from studying I can walk over to 12 South or Hillsborough which is right down the street from us.”
In her athletic career at JA, Chinn won a state title with her track team. But she dropped track. Then, she was an all conference and all state player at Soccer at JA. After leaving the soccer field, she found volleyball, for which she won the Gatorade Player of the Year her junior year.
“I’ve never seen someone who wins so many championships. It’s like a phenomenon or something,” said her father.
Her journey to Belmont began her sophomore year of high school.
“Her sophomore year, a coach from Southern Miss saw Conley play and contacted the coach. USM’s coach said ‘we are interested in this young lady.’ We didn’t know that basketball would be her college program. We talked to an AAU coach and they distributed her film. Belmont saw her film in her sophomore year. They offered her a scholarship that weekend.”
After around two months of looking around she decided she wanted to go to Belmont. Her senior year of high school she was selected as a Dandy Dozen player in the Clarion Ledger.
Even as Conley continues to plow through championship after championship, she makes time to celebrate others.
According to her father, Conley is a very spiritual person. It was part of the reason that Belmont University was attractive to her. Even as a basketball player and a full time student, she is a part of a program called Best Buddies. The program sets up young people who are struggling with people their age who are more successful. Through the Nashville based program, she works to help out people like her who are struggling, taking them shopping or showing them support with her friendship.
As the team rides through the tournament Chinn is balancing a lot on her plate, to the point of excellence.