Column: Brandt's story comes to a halt
Published: Tuesday, November 20, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, November 20, 2012 01:11
One senior knelt next to the other. He held out his hand. The other senior, writhing in pain, grabbed the hand and squeezed.
Joe Burton was the first teammate by Angus Brandt’s side after the 6-foot-10 center from Sydney, Australia collapsed on the court last Friday at Madison Square Garden.
Burton’s heart sank as he feared the worst.
“I saw it in his eyes that he was really in pain,” Burton said. “I went over and held his hand, and even before I said, ‘Squeeze it,’ he was already squeezing. It was unbelievable. I was like, ‘Wow.’”
This wasn’t how their time at Oregon State together was supposed to end.
Brandt and Burton were members of head coach Craig Robinson’s first recruiting class, a five-man class. Junior Roberto Nelson had to sit out as a true freshman. Rhys Murphy transferred. Jared Cunningham left school early for the NBA.
So Brandt and Burton were the Beavers’ only seniors this season. They planned on leaving a mark, perhaps helping lead OSU to the program’s first NCAA Tournament since 1990.
All that went up in flames when it was revealed this weekend that Brandt tore his anterior cruciate ligament and will miss the remainder of the season.
“It was supposed to be me and him,” Burton said. “We came in together, and I thought we were going to leave together.”
You have to feel for Burton. His senior season had a chance to be special. Without Brandt, the Beavers will struggle to come anywhere close to achieving their goal of reaching the NCAA Tournament.
But Burton would be the first to tell you it’s not about him, nor is it about the Beavers’ suddenly dim outlook.
It’s about Brandt.
Certainly, this was not how Brandt drew up the 2012-13 season. How could he have?
A person’s true character is often revealed when things don’t go according to plan, and one thing is clear after speaking with Brandt on Monday: the man is dealing with the adversity of a season-ending injury better than you, I, or anyone else would have, and it would be a disservice to Brandt to focus this column on anything other than his story.
Brandt was solid — not great, but solid — his first three seasons in Corvallis. The biggest thing for him was confidence. Sometimes, he looked like he didn’t think he belonged in the Pac-12.
But he kept working — teammates and coaches say he’s the hardest worker on the team, and he’s always the first player on the court for pre-game warm-ups — and the confidence came sometime toward the end of last season.
By all accounts, he had a great offseason. And it showed in the Beavers’ first four games, when he averaged 11.3 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. Things had finally clicked for him, and he was set for a breakout year.
“I was so confident going into the year, and was really looking forward to having a breakout season,” Brandt said. “I think I prepared for this season harder and more focused than any season before this.”
After Brandt’s 18-point, 8-rebound performance in the Beavers’ season-opener, you could sense the happiness ooze out of Robinson as he spoke about Brandt in the post-game press conference. Sure, a coach is happy to see any of his players to succeed — but I’m not sure I’ve seen Robinson happier for a guy than he was for Brandt. The same could be said for Brandt’s teammates: everybody rooted for the guy.
“It was just heartbreaking for everyone that he was the guy who went down,” Robinson said Monday.
“I don’t know what to say because it’s just so sad to talk about,” Burton added. “I get really emotional just thinking about his ACL, because he’s such a good person and it shouldn’t happen to him.”
But like I said, Brandt is dealing with the situation as nicely as the left-handed slam-dunks he was throwing down just a week ago.
“I have lots of good people around me looking out for me and stuff,” Brandt said. “It hasn’t given me time to think about it. Everyone around me has helped me so much, it’s been great.”
After the initial shock and disappointment Friday, Brandt said he tried to get his mind off the injury over the weekend.
His girlfriend, Megan Miller, who just finished up a stellar senior season on the pitch for the Beavers’ women’s soccer team, did her part by making Brandt a desert called “slutty brownies” — “good comfort food,” Brandt said — Saturday night while they watched the OSU football game on television.
Miller said Brandt’s spirits were good given the circumstances, something she commended him for.
“He’s handled it way better than I think I would have,” Miller said. “I would have been a complete wreck. We’re athletes, that’s what we do. To be forced to take a step back from that role is a big deal. You don’t know what to do with yourself.
“It’s been three days and he’s already gotten the ball moving on rehab. He’s handled it better than anyone could have expected.”
Brandt’s teammates echoed Miller’s sentiments, adding that Brandt is a tough guy who will no doubt bounce back from this temporary setback.
Brandt will apply for a medical redshirt, and plans on returning to the Beavers next season. Because his injury happened so early in the season, he should qualify for the extra year of eligibility.
“It’ll be exciting to see how he and the team does next year,” Burton said.
Sure, things didn’t go according to plan this season. But there’s still a chance for a happy ending to Brandt’s story, and there’s no doubt everyone who knows him is — and should be — rooting for that happy ending.
Grady Garrett, managing editor