Cardinal Newman, fresh off of back-to-back trips to the state championship game, is turning to a former South Carolina Gamecock basketball player who lives and breathes basketball.
Branden Conrad, a member of the 2009 SEC East Champion Gamecock basketball team, moves into the role of head coach after spending the past four seasons as an assistant at Cardinal Newman.
“I think I heard someone say that when you switch from assistant to head coach you only move over one chair,” Conrad said. “But when you switch it’s a whole lot different. You’re thinking of plays to run and how to coach the kids better when you’re going to sleep, but it’s an exciting challenge. The biggest difference is the energy that I get from the kids as a head coach.”
Coaching changes aren’t unfamiliar to Conrad. He experienced one himself during his time in college, when Darrin Horn took over for Dave Odom in his junior season.
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“Things don’t necessarily change all that much,” Conrad said of coaching transitions. “You have a system and you have to change depending on your competition and personnel, but the philosophy won’t change much.”
Conrad will be facing a bit of an uphill battle this season, taking over a team that is returning three players from last year, only one a starter.
“We lost eight seniors and have 10 new varsity players. We’ve had success at Cardinal Newman the past four years, so I don’t want to change a lot, but the main change is trying to get these guys to come on board and execute. It’s gonna be a process.”
Cardinal Newman (2-1) dropped its first game of the season against A.C. Flora before rattling off back-to-back wins. The Cardinals take on Wilson Hall Tuesday night before participating in the second annual Bojangles' Basketball Bash. They take on Carlisle School from Martinsville, Va., at 6 p.m. Thursday at Ridge View.
Conrad, the son of former Clemson guard Bobby Conrad, replaced David Ross, who left to focus on spending time with his family.
Just like his predecessor, Conrad is splitting time between a day job, family and his basketball team.
“It’s getting up at 6:30 each morning and being back in bed by 10:30,” Conrad said. “I’ve always operated best in life when I have more things to do, going back to keeping up with college basketball and study hall, basically having more than a 40-hour work week.”
Conrad also gives a lot of credit to his wife and her support of his basketball-packed lifestyle.
Ross, who Conrad jokes went from state championships to “coaching 6-year-olds in church league,” was extremely supportive of his successor.
“Branden is very passionate in a positive way and basketball is in his blood,” Ross said. “He loves it and the players love him and he’s the kind of guy I want to serve as a role model for my 6-year-old son. He is one of the good ones.”
Conrad has tried to take a little inspiration from each coach he has been around. For example, he likes to use Horn’s uptempo offense and emphasize effort on every play. He also likes to harp on Odom’s “every posession counts.”
Conrad said he knows that the start of his head coaching career will be a grind, but he’s aware of the impact he can have.
“We’ve always said that the biggest thing is to make these kids become men by the time they leave Cardinal Newman,” Conrad said. “I want them to become great basketball players, but at the end of the day I want to teach them life lessons and how to respond to challenges and how to react in the real world. To be able to have that opportunity to have that influence on kids’ lives is exciting for me.”