Ever since I can remember, basketball has been a part of my life. As a kid, I spent hours on the sidelines watching my siblings and cousins play and witnessed my uncle win the 1993 national championship with the University of North Carolina.
When I got a little older I started to play, and I was good. I played at Wings Academy High School in the Bronx, and during my junior year, our team was ranked 17th in the country. Basketball kept me off the streets and it was my ticket out of the tough neighborhood I called home.
My whole life was basketball. I didn’t put much effort into academics and didn’t think about what life post-high school would look like. My SAT scores weren’t high enough to make the college team I had committed to. All along, I thought my basketball talent would make up for my lack of academic interest. It didn’t. I didn’t understand what it took to be successful as a student-athlete.
I never played basketball in college. Eventually, I attended a junior college, where my eyes were opened to the politics of the sport and I lost my love for playing the game. That’s why I started coaching — to help prevent kids like me from making the same mistakes and going through the same experiences I did.
When my playing career ended, I spent time at Adelphi University and Pratt Institute, first as a student manager, then as a video coordinator, and eventually as an assistant coach and head coach.
Now as the head basketball coach at HSLA–Harlem, I’ve learned that this job is not about me, it’s all about the kids, and their goals and dreams. I started at SA post-pandemic, so a lot of scholars, especially those who lost a year or two of playing, struggle to balance the sport and their studies. But I’ve been in their shoes as a kid growing up in the city, and I know I can help. That’s why I’m glad I’m here.
Only some kids understand that the first step in being a successful student-athlete is understanding that you can only be a successful athlete if you are a successful student. Both sides must weigh equally. I don’t just care about how scholars play on the court, I make sure they have the grades to match. Our scholars deserve a coach who cares about them, not just as an athlete, but as a person. I’m not just there for them during our practices and games. I’m there for them whenever they need me.
I check up on them to make sure their grades are where they need to be and see how they’re progressing toward their goals. Last school year, my athletes participated in study sessions every Thursday where they caught up on work and I checked on their grades. I make sure that my scholars have all the resources necessary to stay on the path they’ve chosen to be on.
That’s one of the most important parts of coaching. I love the technical parts of turning a good player into a great player, but what I appreciate the most is making sure that they become better people through the game.
Kids in New York City will face a number of trials and tribulations as they grow up. I’ve been there. Basketball saved me, my friends, and some of my family members from going down the wrong path and for that, I am forever grateful. If I can do the same for these kids, I’ve done my job.
Written by Brandon Rivera, SA Network Basketball Coach and HSLA–Harlem Head Coach