Brandon Pender: Student of the game
Published: Wednesday, November 29, 2006
Updated: Saturday, February 14, 2009 08:02
In our lives we each find a special niche in which we excel. For most of us it may be something we will only do once in our lives, finding that zone where we feel infallible, invincible. For others, it may be anytime we put pen to paper, bellow notes from an instrument, or strap up our laces to compete. These are the times when strength drips from every pore in our bodies and pain gets drown out by screaming spectators and rambunctious participants.
In our small community here at the College we are surrounded by people who have done fascinating and awe inspiring things. While there are plenty who would be willing to share their greatest experiences many would not know where to begin if they were asked to teach us something about that experience. This became an inspiration for me. While pondering the idea of how to write something special for and about our senior student athletes I came up with the idea that I could learn from them. While I may never apply this knowledge to anything I will encounter in my professional career it will give these players, who have spent so much of their lives perfecting their craft, an opportunity to leave a legacy.
I would venture a guess that wandering the campus with Brandon Pender would feel much like meandering about the White House with the President of the United States, that is to say that Mr. Pender is somewhat of a quasi-celebrity here at the College. There is not a place the two of us could go, him leading the way amongst the rabble of daily college hustle and bustle with me in tow, that we did not run into at least one person that yelled his name, stopped to say hi to him, or threw him a variation of some handshake. It was amazing. Just in our trek from the townhouses to Venable Hall Brandon was engaged by six different people.
Brandon seems to be the closest thing that the College has to a celebrity. The popular, largely charismatic, and highly approachable young man from Queens, New York, can be spotted pretty much anywhere on campus (mostly thanks to his six foot, four inch tall frame) and will always make time for a passerby yelling at him for one reason or another.
Generously, taking time just before his actual practice, Brandon decided it best that he and I play a little one-on-one game to 12. Background information is necessary here. I have never played basketball competitively, meaning the closest I have come to a competitive court is in my high school gym class. I have, however, been told that I do play some stellar defense, which I was intending on using against what I thought would be a slower footed opponent. I could not have been more wrong.
"I'll be honest, those tattoos are a little intimidating," stated Brandon looking at me a bit crooked.
"I'll be honest, those are about the only intimidating thing about me, my game is not all there," I said as he laughed.
He explained the game, one-on-one; each basket worth one point, behind the arc is worth two. I started with the ball.
Never a gifted ball handler, but ever the persistent spirit, I tried to catch him a bit off-guard by driving him hard to his left. Down the lane I moved with relative ease, pushing the ball as hard as I knew how, I stopped and popped for the fade away jumper…DUFF!
"I love defense!" Brandon's words from earlier ringing in my ears.
My ball again. Same idea as the last, pushed him hard but this time faked the shot then took the leaner toward the basket…DUFF!
Blocked! This was becoming a devastating trend that I was going to have no power over. A brutal combination of his size and impeccable timing was to blame for his defensive prowess. He ended up blocking eight of my shots.
"It's just the timing, has a lot to do with the timing sometimes," stated Brandon later on about his blocking ability.
Oh, and remember my thought about how I was going to use my defensive quickness to try and beat my "slower footed opponent?" Let me just say that I underestimated Brandon's quickness, agility, and speed. The man moved pretty damn well for a big dude! He had me run ragged after the first six points (all of which being his). Brandon did not need more than a half of a step before he was gone and around me.
The remainder of the game was all Brandon. I was trying to take advantage of his outside shooting, which he was struggling with until the end, and I ended up hitting one, (count it, one) from outside the arc which ended up being my only two points. The game ended at 12 - 2, me out of breath, Brandon barely breaking a sweat.
"Good game baby," Brandon said to me. "[You played] good defense, I love defense! I just figured I would get you a good workout."
His adoration for the sport was inexplicable. I could tell when I looked at his face after our game that he loved every second of it. I maintain that it was mostly because he dominated every second of it, but it was clear that even just dribbling and shooting, he felt most comfortable.
"When I play the game it means a lot to me, it really does. Whether I am playing professionally or not professionally, I am happy to be playing in this college atmosphere. I love the game that much. Just to be able to play the game, the love of the game. And I love this game so much."
Brandon spent his first collegiate year at East Carolina University where he made his attempts to play basketball but was not given the opportunity for a tryout with the Division I school. For his sophomore year Brandon transferred to the College and found a welcoming environment, a department specific to his major, as well as a place to play basketball. Brandon mentioned that his move to the College was largely in part to his ability to continue his basketball career.
Brandon's court presence is undeniable. In the past three years, the forward position has been dominated by Brandon who has taken advantage of the opportunity to lead. The two year Blazer captain explained to me that his leadership is not left on the court.