April 14, 2010 11:25:00 AM
Johnathan Brandon knew he had to make a change.
In middle school and as a freshman in high school, Brandon''s attitude and behavior cost him a lot of chances, including numerous opportunities to play basketball.
But Brandon realized he was missing out, so he left behind the "hard-headed" young man he once was and matured into the upperclassman who became a team leader.
On Monday, Brandon''s growth as a young man and as a basketball player helped him realize an opportunity to sign a national letter of intent to play basketball at Shelton State Community College in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
"This New Hope basketball program changed my whole life," Brandon said. "Ninth grade, I was real bad. Everywhere I went I was in trouble."
Brandon said he failed his seventh-grade year, so he couldn''t play basketball. He didn''t play his eighth- or his ninth-grade year, either. When he finally put things together as a sophomore, the presence of Rashanti Harris, Dale Hughes, and a senior-laden roster made it nearly impossible for him to earn playing time at the varsity level.
But Brandon has made up for lost time the past two seasons. Now his goal is to raise his game so he can prepare himself to take the next step, which would be playing at a four-year school.
"It all is a blessing," Brandon said. "God told me to stay with it, and the coaches believed in me. They gave me an opportunity to play and it all paid off in the end."
Brandon credits God and Holli McBrayer, the wife of New Hope High boys basketball coach Drew McBrayer, for helping him stay on the right path. He said Holli, an 11th- and 12th-grade counselor at New Hope High, helped him see the importance of doing the right things.
"She is like my second mom," Brandon said. "Without her, I wouldn''t be in this situation."
Brandon finalized his decision Monday morning. He said he received phone calls from other schools, including Meridian Community College and East Mississippi C.C., that wanted him to pick them. He said it was trying to juggle all of the possibilities, but he ultimately relied on his judgment that Shelton State is the best place for him.
Brandon led New Hope in scoring (22.5 points per game). He also was one of the team''s top rebounders (7.5 a game) and shot 39 percent from 3-point range.
But Brandon wasn''t only a shooter. As teams focused their defenses on him and denied perimeter shots or touches, Brandon learned to take the ball to the basket. He also relished the opportunity to do other things, like rebound, defend, or set up teammates for better shots to help the Trojans succeed.
Shelton State men''s basketball coach Barry Mohun saw all of those qualities in Brandon, which is why he wanted to add him to his program.
"He is a multi-dimensional type of player," Mohun said. "He can shoot it, put it on the floor, and defend. I think he will be a great fit with what we''re trying to do."
Mohun said Brandon will have to hit the weight room to get stronger and decide "how good he wants to be." He feels Brandon will be able to play in both backcourt positions in the Bucs'' full-court pressing attack.
Shelton State has won its state region championship five of the past eight years. The Bucs finished 29-4 this season.
"We''re just trying not to rebuild but reload every year, so it all starts with getting young student-athletes, and I think Johnathan definitely fits that mold ," Mohun said.
Drew McBrayer believes Mohun should be excited because he feels Brandon, who is a lanky 6-foot-2 or 6-3, has unlimited potential.
"He had a great season," McBrayer said. "He came up with clutch shots when we needed clutch shots. He came up with clutch rebounds when we needed clutch rebounds. He did whatever we needed him to do to win that night."
McBrayer also praised Brandon for his maturation as a leader. In his first year as head coach without an assistant coach, McBrayer said Brandon''s ability to keep his mentality in check and to praise and to motivate teammates in each situation was invaluable.
"He grew up a lot this year," McBrayer said. "He only has been playing basketball for three and a half years, or so. That is hard for a lot of people to believe. He has to get a little bit stronger and work on every aspect of the game. But the potential is there. He just has to work at it."
That shouldn''t be a problem for Brandon, who realizes how much he enjoys having basketball a part of his life. He said he will remained focused on his schoolwork and will keep his attitude in check to make the most of his opportunity.
"I still have a lot to do," Brandon said. "From my ninth grade year to now I have matured about 80 percent. I didn''t care about anything. I had to learn that in life you have to do things in life sometimes that you don''t like.
"Player wise, I had to learn to be a leader instead of a player. That was the hardest role I had to take. It is not an easy thing to do. ... As long as I keep playing basketball it is going to be great because God is going to lead me in the right direction."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.