By: T.J. Morgan
Freelance Sports Writer
Losing these guys is very difficult to me. It’s difficult to express in words how emotional it makes me. These guys are like my kids, I love them and want them to be successful in whatever they do the rest of their lives. – Coach Brandon Brockman
From an early age, he had a basketball in his hands. It was in third grade that young Brandon Brockman had a very energetic and passionate basketball coach and it was in those early days when he would begin to develop his own passion for the game, a passion, and energy that is still evident on the sideline today.
Rain, snow, or shine you could find him in his driveway with his basketball hoop, where the toughest of neighborhood games would be played. Although he was a three-sport athlete growing up, basketball would win out by the time Brockman was an upperclassman at Russell County. He was a varsity starter his junior and senior years for the Lakers. As a one and two guard for Russell County, he would help lead his team to the 12th region (then home to Russell County before their move to the 4th in 2005) tournament in 2002, his senior year for the Lakers.
After graduation, Brockman had the opportunity to play basketball at Lindsey Wilson College. There he would be a four-year starter at point guard for the Blue Raiders. While playing for Lindsey, he would major in health and physical education, setting up a future career in education and coaching.
Though his playing career was coming to an end, Brockman knew his time around basketball was not. While student teaching, he would get his first taste of coaching. As the assistant coach at Russell County Middle School under Coach Carpenter, Brockman would see early success, winning the conference championship in his only year there.
Once his student teaching was complete, Brockman would make a three-hour trip north to Gallatin County. There he would coach middle school for two years before becoming freshman and JV coach, ultimately spending ten years with the program. While with Gallatin, Brockman would take part in three 31st district championships, three 8th region All-A championships, three 8th region semifinals, and one 8th region final for the Wildcats.
In 2008, Gallatin County would fall just short of a trip to the state tournament, being defeated by Shelby County 49-48 in the 8th region championship. It was during that season that Brockman’s path would briefly cross Metcalfe’s, at the All-A State tournament in Richmond, Kentucky. There at Eastern Kentucky University, Gallatin would defeat the Trey Shirley-led Hornets in the first round, 74-58. During his time at Gallatin, Brockman would learn from one of the best, Coach Jon Jones. Coach Jones, who just retired before this past season, ended his 28-year head coaching career with 456 career wins.
Desiring a head coaching position, Brockman was looking for a program with a rich basketball tradition. Metcalfe, also home to a coaching legend with a long lustrous career of success, Coach Tim McMurtrey, would offer the perfect opportunity for Coach Brockman. The boys’ basketball program had seen little success since the departure of Coach Mac in 2011, but young talent was nearing and with the arrival of Coach Brockman in 2017, the tide was about to turn.
Coach Brockman, you took over for a Metcalfe County program that had just finished the season 0-30 in 2017. The Hornets were suffering through the lowest point in program history. Walk us through the thought process of that decision and share what your expectations were at that time.
Brockman – I told my wife that the program could be turned around and that there was enough talent to win some games. During the past, there were a lot of the games that were a running clock (running clock in KY high school basketball 35 or more points), so our first thing was to make sure we didn’t get any running clocks. I think my first year we had 4 running clocks against us. I was trying to convince our guys that we needed to be able to compete all 32 minutes. We would be in a game for a half, then all of a sudden, we’d find ourselves down 12-15 in the 3rd quarter. I wanted to instill a competitive drive in our kids not to give up. My first teams 2017-18 and 2018-19 worked harder than any other teams that I’ve had. They laid the foundation and put in the blood, sweat, and tears that put our program back where we were respected in the 16th district and 4th region.
After we won 4 games in 2017-18, I never shared it with the team, but I was hoping we would be able to double the win total going into the next season. In 2018-19, the team won 11 games and we made it back to the 4th Region Tournament for the first time since 2010-11. The next season, in 2019-20, the team experienced early success winning the 4th Region All A Championship for the first time since 2011. That team went on to finish with a 15-15 record.
Fast forward to now, the program has left the desolate years behind and returned to a place of prominence in the 16th district. How rewarding is it to restore that success to the program?
Brockman – I’ve been fortunate to have great kids who have put in the work to become successful. I’ve also been fortunate to have talented basketball players who want to play for each other, they don’t care about their individual statistics, they’re more concerned about the success of the team. Coach Allen and Coach Reed have been a huge part of our success as they help develop our players, scout, and assist with other important duties that help make our teams successful. The rewarding part for me is to see our players smiling, hugging each other, and our fans roaring for these guys. That’s the rewarding part, our players understanding what all their hard work, dedication, and time was for.
Metcalfe has a historic, deep love for basketball. Because of the winning drought that preceded you and then the Covid restrictions that came later, not all of your teams maybe have been able to play in front of the packed crowds that most Metcalfe teams have experienced. It appeared we did see the return of those crowds and enthusiasm this past season. How special is that for you and the boys and how important is it to the success of a team?
Brockman – You said it best, Metcalfe has a deep love for basketball. Even my first year when we weren’t as successful, we had a lot of fans follow us on the road and pack the hill in Edmonton. During the Covid season 2020-21, we were able to host a regional tournament game against Greenwood that was just like our normal home crowd. This year, we divinely saw the return of Hornet Nation. It’s special to our guys. We have some guys that feed off that and actually play a lot better when there was a crowd. That was special for me because I was glad to see our players get to experience that level of enthusiasm from the crowd. We definitely became a better defensive team when we had bigger crowds, because it would energize our guys to get to their rotations. Also, it would have an impact on our opponents’ ability to communicate on the floor and with their coach. Stealing the line from Coach McMurtrey, and I 100 % agree with him, “We’ve got the greatest fans in high school basketball.”
Obviously you will not return the two best players in the 16th district, two of the best in the 4th region, Jax Allen and Wyatt Blythe. You lose several other seniors, Logan Phelps, MJ Pendleton, Hunter Nutgrass, and Quinton Lopez. How hard is it going to be to lose those guys that have been in a varsity uniform for almost as long as you have been head coach?
Brockman – It’s going to be hard losing those guys, because not only are they great basketball players, but they’re even better human beings. Wyatt Blythe and Jax Allen are two of the best players in the 4th region. Between Wyatt and Jax, we’re losing 36 points, you add Logan’s 8 points and MJ’s 5.9 points per game, that’s 49 points per game that will have to be replaced. Wyatt is a special player, he has the ability to take over a game like no other player can. When Wyatt is in the zone and he is handling and shooting the ball with confidence, you feel really good about your chances of winning because he’s very difficult to guard. Jax has been the hardest worker that I’ve coached in the program. Jax had a great senior year and probably played the most consistent season of any player I’ve had here at Metcalfe. When a player puts up 20 points and 7.6 rebounds while shooting 48% from the field and 37% from 3-point range, you’re going to have a really good chance to win. I thought that Jax had a great 16th district tournament and he helped achieve the school’s 14th District Championship.
The past two seasons we’ve been able to add a 3rd/4th scorer who was also a key defender; this year Logan Phelps filled that role very well. It’ll be hard replacing Logan who had to guard the opposing teams best perimeter player. Logan also led the team in charges with 20 charges. MJ will be hard to replace because of his size and rebounding ability. MJ helped create an inside defensive presence against opposing teams. Hunter is a great teammate who would also bring toughness and tenacity to the team. Quinton is a great kid who brought laughter and excitement to the team. Losing these guys is very difficult to me. It’s difficult to express in words how emotional it makes me. These guys are like my kids, I love them and want them to be successful in whatever they do the rest of their lives. I think I’m going to miss their high character and leadership ability more than anything. These seniors are like rock stars when they’re around the younger kids.
With the loss of your senior class, minutes and opportunity for several younger players are going to increase next season. Tell us about some of the guys you will look to next season to fill those minutes and how important it is for some of the more experienced players to continue in Boston, Peyton, Wyatt, Jax, and their teammates’ footsteps in relaying that foundation of success that preceded them.
Brockman – CT Branstetter and Hudson Jessie will be two key returners with substantial varsity experience. Hudson has the ability and skill set to be one of our leading scorers next season. He’s going to have to refine his game and attack the basket, post-up, and get to the mid-range pull-up more intentionally. CT is our best interior defender; we need him to be able to improve his mid-range. Cade Button did a great job of controlling the team at points this year, we will look for him to do that again while improving his outside shot. Maddux Garrett should have an important role as he is a knock down shooter with a great offensive skill set. Cabot Boling will fill into the role of becoming our primary defender, Cabot will need to improve on scoring ability over the summer. Colton Huffman, Ben Shirley, and Collin Shive will provide us minutes at the forward/guard positions. For the team to continue its success it’s vital that our older/experienced guys emphasize the principles of the program; Family (one team), Consistency (bring your best effort everyday), Toughness (Play through the mistakes).
This past season Monroe County returned to the 16th district and Russell County, who joined the 16th in 2005 when Monroe relocated to the 15th, also remained in the 16th. 16th district schools are already at a disadvantage in the 4th region, competing against densely populated Warren County schools. If region and/or district realignment does not take place, how challenging is it going to be to create long-term success in a five-team district?
Brockman – Competing in a five-team district makes it more difficult to get to the region tournament. In the past, you just had to beat or be better than one team. Within a five-team district, you want to avoid the 4 or 5 seed. The biggest reason you’d want to avoid the 4/5 seed game is because if you win, the following night in the district tournament you play the 1 seed. Huge disadvantage as your team is battling fatigue from the previous night. Another thing that makes it difficult in a five-team district is scheduling. You are required to play each district opponent twice which takes up 8 of your allotted 30 games. During those 8 games, your district opponents can get a good read on your tendencies and habits that your team and players do.
What is one thing you want Hornet nation to know about Brandon Brockman and the teams you have coached at Metcalfe County?
Brockman – One thing that I want Hornet nation to know about myself and the teams I’ve coached here at Metcalfe Co. is that this is bigger than basketball. Hopefully, when our fans and opposing teams see our players on and off the court, they see them as a person of great character and high integrity.