Former Maryland great and NBA player Adrian Branch talked to students at Columbus High School on Wednesday about making the right choices. Photo by: Adam Minichino/Dispatch Staff
September 14, 2017 10:14:42 AM
"Don't walk behind me. I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me. I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend."
-- Albert Camus, a French philosopher,
author, and journalist
Choices isn't just another word to Adrian Branch.
To convey the impact of that word, Branch uses more colorful ones -- like sashaying and profilin' -- and eye-catching objects -- like his $10,000 1987 NBA championship ring from his stint with the Los Angeles Lakers -- to hold the attention of the students assembled in the Columbus High School gymnasium.
Once Branch has drawn the students in, he tells them about how he was a "knucklehead" and how the choices he made nearly knocked him off the path he was on to be a college basketball star at Maryland.
Talking later at Starbucks in Columbus, Branch said it wasn't until a little later in his life that he fully grasped the meaning of the word choices and how he needed to start making the right ones in his life for good.
"I think once I got married in 1989. I was 25 years old," said Branch, referring to his marriage his high school sweetheart, Kim. "I took my marriage vows seriously. Six years later, I became a believer, so the Lord was cleaning me up. I always had it in me, but I didn't care and I was reckless. Instead of being a team leader, I was a ring leader."
The former All-American at Maryland and NBA and professional basketball player conveyed that message and several related to it to students at Columbus High School and Columbus Middle School on Wednesday day two of his three-day swing through Lowndes County. On Tuesday, Branch spoke to students at New Hope High School and New Hope Middle School. Today, he is scheduled to talk to students at Caledonia High School, West Lowndes High, and Columbus Christian Academy.
Branch has worked for more than 20 years as a motivational speaker with organizations like Sports World Ministries and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. Former Columbus High and Mississippi State standout Tyson Cunningham, who is responsible for Lowndes County in his duties with the FCA, traveled with Branch on his tour and was on hand to introduce Branch to the students.
Branch joined ESPN as a college basketball analyst in 2007. His work can be seen on that channel and the others on the network's platform, including SEC Network. In addition to that work, Branch said he travels throughout the country to speak to young people to educate them about the importance of making the right friends and making the right choices.
To highlight the challenges that might pop up, Branch talked about how he and Maryland teammate Steve Rivers were arrested on charges of possessing $10 worth of marijuana. Branch was kicked off the team but later reinstated. Still, he said he didn't change his ways. He said later it wasn't until he had been in the NBA and had decided to get married that he realized he needed to make a change in his life. On Wednesday, he asked students if they were "mixed up or fixed up" and if they had friends who they led or followed into good and bad situations. He encouraged all of the students to believe they are "choosers" not a "winner" or a "loser."
Branch identifies with the students he speaks to because he admits he was "reckless" when he was younger, so he can understand the temptations and influences that can knock someone off the right path. His goal is to show the students someone cares and understands their situations. By doing that, he hopes students will see the dangers of falling prey to "friends" who are going to lead them to make the wrong choices.
"I was a knucklehead. I was acting like I was on drugs all of the time," Branch said of his days at Maryland. "I was just acting crazy. I was a loose personality and I didn't care. I knew right and wrong, but I liked being on the wild side a little bit."
Branch laughs when he says he was acting "crazier off dugs than people were when they were on drugs." He tries to bring that same levity to his talks to students by making fun of himself and having them take a ride on a "Lakers bus." The seats on the bus are meant to show the students the importance of making the right choices and having the right friends and how those choices can impact your life.
A self-described people person, Branch said it was natural for him to get involved with young people to tell his story and to encourage them to aim higher than he did when he was growing up. He said he "doesn't like to waste time" anymore and that he believe it is a challenge for a 53-year-old former pro basketball player to connect with teenagers because the message -- which is at the core of Camus' quote that he enjoys so much -- is the same in every stage of life.
"There is nothing new under the sun," Branch said. "The three areas of life that people want to have significance in is having someone to love, something to do, and something to hope for. Everybody won't know a basketball story, but a lot of follow-up is done where this father figure hugged me the right way. This father figure validated me and gave me the bro' hug.
"We still have the same needs. Babies eat the same food that we do once they get off the nipple, it is just in different portions. ... People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care. What we are trying to touch in that time is their heart. Every heart in every generation needs love. I am passionate about that."
Follow Dispatch sports editor Adam Minichino on Twitter @ctsportseditor
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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