Beyond Basketball

Beyond Basketball – #2 Kendal Brigham  (8/9/2018)

In a time where kids are often referred to as “soft, entitled and lazy” there are still many kids who are the exact opposite definition of the words commonly used to describe the “Millenials or Generations Z’s” (listed as those born in the 2000’s).

Let’s put the spotlight on someone who doesn’t fit those commonly used words.  Kendal Brigham, will begin her Junior year of high school next week at Wahoo High School in Wahoo, NE.  Kendal is a three-sport athlete, a member of the defending state champion volleyball team, a very good basketball player and also a state track participant. She is a 4.0 student who is leaning towards studying physical therapy or engineering in college. Kendal is the 3rd of 5 children (Bailey, Corby, Kendal, Keegan and Kip) born to Rob and Kim Brigham.  

Last August Kendal made a tough decision to leave a program and friends she had played with for six years, and join a different club basketball program.  She made the decision to join a club where she knew virtually no one, where she wasn’t promised playing time, and wasn’t guaranteed a spot on a certain team. She was only told that she would get a fair shake and her performance, and that alone, would determine her playing time and team placement. Many kids decide the challenge of earning their spot is too much work or too risky, but not Kendal. Kendal just asked for the opportunity to show what she could do.    

Through her hard work, commitment, determination and grit Kendal started to work her way up.  In April Kendal earned a spot on the top team in the club (11th Elite).  She was moved up to a team full of kids with Division 1 & Division 2 offers. A team where the majority of the kids had played together for at least one or two years.  A team where the only other new team member was a two-time returning Super-State player. Kendal started the Spring as #10 out of 10 girls. She was the last one in the game, and early on her minutes per game could frequently be counted on two hands.

Kendal was away from her family, spending time with teammates, coaches and families who she hardly knew. She was away from her friends, home and family. Many kids after three straight tournaments in April would’ve been frustrated, would’ve questioned their decision to leave the comfort of what they’ve known the past six years, but not Kendal.  Kendal decided she wanted to not only show she belonged on the top team (many of the girls are a grade older), but that she deserved minutes. She rarely missed a practice May-July, she also started spending a lot more time in the gym on her own working on her shot.

June 14th, 2018: After a nearly three and a half year battle against brain cancer, Kendal’s Mom, Kim, finished her race.  

Many people in the Nebraska Attack Girls Basketball Program were shocked when they heard the news as they had no idea that she was sick.  Kendal showed up every day and worked her butt off, battled, improved. She never had excuses for missing practice, for having a bad practice; she showed up every time and gave it her all.  Even though Kendal had every reason possible to miss practice, to not go 100% in every drill, she never did.

To think about losing a parent at the age of 16 is unimaginable.   Kim’s courageous battle with cancer came to an end on that Thursday morning.  That very same day, Kendal battled with both her Father and Coach about coming to practice that night.  She wanted to not only practice, but to also leave with her teammates in the am for a tournament in Minneapolis.  Simply put, she didn’t want to let her team down.

Kendal didn’t miss a practice, a workout or skill session following that Thursday morning.  The July tournaments started with a 9 day trip to Indianapolis and Louisville. Kendal started game 1 as the 3rd or 4th player off the bench.  After 14 grueling games in seven days against some of the best players in the country Kendal had worked her way up to the first girl in off of the bench. After these two tournaments Kendal had won over not only her teammates, parents, coaches, but also quite a few college coaches. The majority of colleges interested in Kendal were not there initially to watch her.  They said game after game the more they watched our team play the more interested they became in her. Coaches started to recognize her ability to defend, rebound, take care of the ball, and knack for pissing off opposing post players a foot taller (she’s 5’6).

The July grind ended with a 10 day trip to Washington DC, and Orlando.  Just as she had done just two weeks earlier Kendal’s play continued to improve. Over the 14 games the second half off July Kendal averaged 10 points per game, she shot over 50% from three. She was playing “starter’s minutes”, knocking down clutch 3’s, always on the court in the final minutes of tight games, and became a kid who we absolutely needed on the court. Over the past 10 days additional colleges have called about Kendal.  It’s at the point now with some coaches that I’m surprised if they don’t bring her up.

With everything Kendal and her family have been through the past three and a half years she had every excuse possible to not have success on the basketball court this summer, but that’s not Kendal.

After having some time to reflect on the great Summer these kids had, the first name that continued to come to my mind was Kendal Brigham.  

Kendal is the definition of a bulldog, a fighter, a competitor, and a winner.  Kendal is many things to many people. She’s a friend, a teammate, a sister, and a daughter.  As my wife Amy and I hope to someday start a family of our own we’ll teach our kids many things we’ve learned. We’ll tell them about different people who have impacted our lives in a variety of ways. We’ll help guide them to find role models to look up to. I can honestly say that if our future children choose Kendal Brigham as a role model then we’ll be some dang proud parents.

Kendal- I didn’t get the opportunity to spend a significant amount of time with your mom, but I was lucky enough to spend some time getting to know her. What I do know about your mom is that she is damn proud of you.  She’s proud of not only the kid that you are, but also the incredible person you are becoming.

Thank you Kendal for giving us the chance to get to know you and you’re wonderful family.  You may only have one year left as a player in our Nebraska Attack Basketball program, but the impact you’ve already made on us all will last a lifetime.  I would take you on my team any day. #GameOn

Beyond Basketball – #1 McKenna Sims  (5/9/18)

State Champion, 1st team all-state, multiple division 1 offers – this is McKenna Sims. Actually, this is the basketball McKenna Sims. She is known around the basketball world for her vicious cross-over, her uncanny ability to get to the rim, her 3 point shooting, and for being a tenacious competitor. She is a champion. This is the basketball McKenna Sims. She continues to fill stats sheets, build accolades, and hone her craft. She is drawing just as much attention from college coaches as she does from the opposing team’s best defender. This is the basketball McKenna Sims.

If you know the basketball McKenna Sims, you only know a small part of her. So who is McKenna Sims beyond basketball? She is daughter, a sister, a student, a friend, a mentor, and a cancer survivor. Her nickname is ‘Carol’ – given to her by her mom – taken from a character off the movie Bridesmaids. When asked why the nickname Carol, her mom said, “just Google it.” McKenna is a fun-loving 17 year old junior from South Sioux City, NE who is not defined by the boundaries of a basketball court. Yes, basketball is a part of her life – an important part – but when put into the context of the battles she has faced and the obstacles she has overcome, basketball is still just a game to her.

When McKenna was 4 years old, she got the news. She had leukemia – cancer of the blood cells. The severity of her diagnosis was not understood by her at the time, but her family and community understood well. Soon after, the community of South Sioux City came together and rallied around the Sims family. A fundraiser was soon planned to support McKenna. Then head girls basketball coach Kelly Flynn had an idea – an alumni basketball game. With the success the South Sioux City girl’s teams had had over the years, he thought it would be a great way to support the Sims family and bring awareness to McKenna’s condition. One of the players who came back to play that day was state champion and college player Molly Frank. The fundraiser was a success and through several years of treatment and care, McKenna was declared cancer free. Now 10 years later, McKenna is still cancer free and is a star on the South Sioux City High School girls basketball team. Her head coach – is Molly (Hornbeck) Frank. Coach Hornbeck still remembers that alumni game well. “I didn’t know who McKenna Sims was, but I knew there was this little girl, with no hair, fighting the fight of her life. That day changed my life.” Interestingly, when asked to describe McKenna Sims, Coach Hornbeck didn’t mention anything about basketball, she talked about her kind heart, her genuine love for people, her humility, and her desire to include people, even those who are not like her. She talked about her as a student and her 3.98 GPA. She talked about her inspiring and contagious smile. This is the real McKenna Sims.

These sentiments are not unique to her high school coach, but also echoed by her peers. Dacey Nelson, club teammate, said about McKenna, “she showed up for try-outs and earned instant respect from all of us. She was extremely humble and didn’t talk about herself. She dove for loose balls, she was talking non-stop on defense, and she played hard. That is what our club is about and we knew right then that we wanted her on our team.” McKenna came to the Nebraska Attack Girls Basketball Program after her sophomore year in high school. She was coming off a state championship and all-state honors. McKenna and her parents, Mindy and Caleb, were looking for a club that would not only put her on a national stage and allow her to hone her skills and sharpen her fundamentals, but a club that would be a family. All three have happened. Just a few weeks ago, McKenna was playing in Chicago in the championship game in the top division in the Windy City Classic before 70+ college coaches. Playing against one of the top point guard recruits in the nation, McKenna hit 3 first half threes and consistently got the rim with strong finishes. After that tournament, more Division 1 offers started rolling in. What did she do the next week? She made multiple 2+ hour treks from South Sioux City to Omaha for practice sessions to work on her fundamentals. What about the next week? Her Nebraska Attack team went and got their nails done and then had a slumber party at a teammates house. “This is the program we were looking for,” said McKenna’s mom Mindy. Nebraska Attack Club Director Zach Isherwood reciprocated these feelings and said, “That’s kind, but these are the types of girls we are looking for.” Zach went on to explain that, “McKenna is the epitome of a complete person, a well-rounded individual – the type you build programs around.”

In talking with McKenna, it was a challenge to stay on the topic of basketball for very long, she always reverted back to the important people in her life and wanted to make sure it was known that she would not be the person she is today without the influence of these people. “My parents are my role models, they have always worked hard so I could have opportunities. They are my biggest fans, they always support me in everything I do and constantly tell me how proud they are of me.” Although McKenna doesn’t remember Coach Hornbeck playing in the alumni game, she does know that her coach cares about her beyond basketball. McKenna considers her coach a good friend and mentor.

McKenna is quick to deflect any attention she receives, and even seems to be authentically ignorant to how good of a player she is. She plays the game with an air of confidence, with laser-like focus, and even in the most challenging circumstances a game can present, there is no vibe of uncertainty or stress – the same way she lives life: confident, in control, and with a smile. The college decision is going to be a difficult one for her, as she has so many options, but whoever lands her signature on that letter of intent will be getting a player that has so much to offer beyond basketball. This is the real McKenna, or Carol, Sims.