“Basketball is my passion”

March 30, 2016
I AM UAA: Brandon Walker, B.A. '11, went from dominating the courts at UAA to building a career in basketball (Photo courtesy Brandon Walker).

I AM UAA: Brandon Walker, B.A. ’11, went from dominating the courts at UAA to building a career in basketball. (Photo courtesy Brandon Walker)

Basketball doesn’t take over Brandon Walker’s life just during March Madness. 365 days a year, his life is basketball

Take a look at his résumé—after graduation, he went pro in Germany, coached in California, managed an NBA athlete in Indianapolis and now works on the marketing team for global basketball at Adidas. He credits his time in Anchorage (and the loyal UAA fanbase) with helping him net his current gig, which he glowingly calls his “dream job.”

“No chance in hell I’m going to Alaska”

Brandon’s road to UAA started in Oakland at Bishop O’Dowd High School, where basketball crowds tipped into the thousands. His senior year, the Dragons went to the state finals, and Brandon was named to the First Team All-Bay Area. The future looked bright as he signed with Loyola Marymount University. But then…

“School was incredible, friends were incredible, basketball didn’t go so well,” Brandon sighed of his year in Los Angeles. The LMU Lions went 5-26 his freshman season. It was, quite simply, an emotionally deflating disaster after a prolific high school career. The lone bright spot was the lifelong friends he met—“I’m turning 27 and we still talk every day,” Brandon said of his former teammates.

LMU fired the coaches and the players soon scattered. Which is when former UAA Assistant Coach Shane Rinner came calling.

“I remember telling him, ‘Hey, I appreciate the call, I’m flattered and all that, but there’s no chance in hell I’m going to Alaska,’” Brandon laughed. But after dogged persistence, he agreed to visit at least. A few weeks later, the lifelong Californian was moving into the dorms at the foot of the Chugach Mountains.

“Alaska is a place I never thought I’d be,” Brandon noted, “but it turned out to be an impactful three years.” Just look at the numbers—8th on UAA’s all-time scoring list, 7th in three-pointers—and remember he only played three years in Anchorage. Brandon is one of five Seawolves to record 1,200 career points and 450 rebounds, and the only three-year player to reach that milestone.

UAA, it turns out, was exactly the jolt he needed after the doldrums in Los Angeles.

Basketball bullet points

Brandon graduated with a sociology degree in 2011 (after draining 74 three-pointers as a senior). But basketball wasn’t over.

That summer, Brandon went pro in Germany. It was a quick, exciting flash, as a severe back injury just 45 days in forced him to make a terrible decision—back surgery at 23, or end your pro career as soon as it started. “I hung ‘em up,” he said of his decision. It was a tough break, but Brandon still found a silver lining. “Getting paid to play gave me a sense of basketball validation and confirmed my move to Alaska was the right one.”

He was soon flying home to the Bay Area, optimistic, resourceful and undeterred. He spent the transatlantic flight from Europe drawing up a résumé and compiling a list of every coach he knew. Within the week, he had a job across the bay as assistant coach at Menlo College in Atherton, Calif.

Like any 20-something in Silicon Valley, Brandon’s life was a bit of a grind (Atherton, by the way, is Forbes’ most-expensive ZIP code three years in a row). He lived in the dining room of a two-bedroom apartment and worked nights in Menlo’s admissions office (“dinner was important to me,” he joked). But he was employed in basketball, in a suit, on the sidelines, with clipboard in hand.

After the 2012 season wrapped, his former LMU teammate Orlando Johnson—“I consider him a brother, my family considers him family,” Brandon said—was headed to the NBA draft. And Brandon was right there with him on draft day.

“I remember him looking over to me and saying ‘Brandon, you’re rolling with me right?’” he recalled after Orlando ended up with the Indiana Pacers. Brandon was wary—coaching made the most sense, and he wasn’t sure about leaving this budding courtside career path after only one season. But Orlando’s family convinced him. That’s what best friends are for.

Brandon served as Orlando’s business manager in Indiana through 2014, until Orlando was traded to the Sacramento Kings. On paper, it was a golden opportunity to return to the Golden State but Brandon, surprisingly, wasn’t ready to leave.

“Indy’s a city that I love and is really close to my heart,” he said. After Orlando headed back west, Brandon tapped into a job in digital marketing with Indy-based athletic retailer Finish Line.

Indiana is known for basketball, so it’s fitting Brandon’s career blossomed in the Hoosier State. Over the span of three years, he spent equal time representing an athlete to brands, then representing a brand to athletes. “It was cool to have a chance in Indy to do both sides for about the same amount of time,” Brandon noted. “It was an awesome experience.”

Brandon (seen here in 2010 against MSU Billings) holds the men's team record for most three-pointers made in a single game (10, as a senior against Western Oregon) (Photo courtesy of Seawolf Athletics).

Brandon (seen here in 2010 against MSU Billings) holds the men’s team record for most three-pointers made in a single game (10, as a senior against Western Oregon). (Photo courtesy of Seawolf Athletics)

“I found my joy in basketball again”      

But the West Coast was calling and, last summer, Brandon netted the gig at Adidas in Portland, Ore.

He’s now part of their global basketball crew, working on digital marketing campaigns that basketball divisions in China, Europe and elsewhere will later adapt to their audiences. It’s an athlete’s dream—three-level gym at the office, pickup games over lunch, work trips to the NBA All-Star Game. Best of all, he can completely focus on basketball.

“Basketball is my passion,” he admitted, “and I have a chance to work for one of the largest athletic brands in the world.”

It’s been an incredible trip in a few short years (some might say it was madness) but through it all—managing, marketing or playing pro—he attributes a lot of his confidence and inspiration to UAA.

Whether he’s speaking of his former coaches, teammates, cities or companies, Brandon has nothing but positive things to say. He’s an upbeat optimist with a gracious appreciation for everyone who helped him on his way. And, to him, Anchorage played a major role in that journey, convincing him Alaska was the right move after a joyless first year in the NCAA.

“If I [went] up to Anchorage and it [wasn’t] a good experience, I’m definitely not where I am now, in my dream job,” he acknowledged. “The community really embraced me and they made basketball fun for me again … Win or lose, good game or bad game, they were always there.

“They made me feel important, and I found my joy in basketball again,” he added. “I attribute working in basketball [today] to the University of Alaska Anchorage, for sure.”

 

Written by J. Besl, UAA Office of University Advancement

University of Alaska Anchorage - University Advancement
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