All summer long, Brandon Sears ran.
He ran up and down the hills around his neighborhood in Oak Hill, West Virginia, a town of just over 7,750 people. It was his own natural type of resistance training. He ran for himself, to slim down his admittedly chunky frame, but he also ran for basketball, the sport he has loved since second grade, and the sport he was determined to make a part of his life forever.
By the time Sears was in sixth grade, he had made up his mind that he wanted to play in the NBA. But he never made his middle school basketball team. As a high school freshman, he was encouraged to try out for the junior varsity by Oak Hill's head basketball coach, but he was cut. Oak Hill High School had a talented squad and a strong winning tradition—they won back-to-back state championships from 2009-2011.
"That got to me a little bit," Sears said.
When the same coach offered Sears the position of team manager, he took it and spent his nights at the gym, alone, crafting his game after team practices when everyone else had gone home. When the school year ended, Sears used the summer to ensure he'd never have to settle for being a team manager again.
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Sears started lifting weights. He attended basketball camps to work on his game. He made himself shoot 750 jumpers a day, sometimes in the pouring rain. He cut candy and soda from his diet. And he ran.
"My dad told me, 'If you want to make the team, you need to get out there and run,'" Sears said. "I didn't have access to a track or anything, so I just ran through my neighborhood."
When he showed up for tryouts his sophomore year, he was a different person, and he ended up making JV outright. Relegated to the end of the bench in the early going, he kept working and eventually grabbed a starting spot from another kid who'd been playing for Oak Hill since middle school. By the end of the year, Sears had upped his points per game from 1.2 in eight minutes per game off the bench to 10.5 in 17 minutes as a starter. At the end of the season, he was even dressing for varsity games.
"Coach said he could see in my eyes during tryouts that I worked all summer," Sears said.
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Now a junior, Sears is excited about the possibilities of the upcoming season. There's a new head coach, one who knows Sears' game well from watching him play AAU ball over the summer. Sears hopes to spend most of the year playing for the varsity.
Sears' game relies heavily on his jump shot, which he says he can hit "from anywhere." He added, "I prefer to come off screens for a 3-pointer, catch-and-shoot type of thing. I'm pretty good at free throws too."
In Sears' bedroom sits an issue of STACK Magazine with Chris Paul on the cover. The issue was published eight years ago, but the lessons Sears learned from it have spurred his love of basketball to this day. About Chris Paul, Sears said, "He talked about how it's not all about getting big, but [training your body right] so you can refrain from getting injured." Lamenting his high school's training culture, which encourages kids to bulk up, he added, "That [article] helped me a lot."
With his basketball career primed to take off, Sears has started thinking about colleges. His goal is to find a school that will give him a chance to continue to hone his game and provide a competitive education at the same time.
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"West Virginia is known for it's Division-II schools, so I'm really considering going D-II, because I know I can still go pro from a D-II school," Sears said. "Everything is an option. I don't want to get too far away from home, but I also want to get an education too."
More important, Sears's first love is once again a major part of his life. He made it so by putting in an immense amount of time and work to condition his body and perfect his game on the court. "I really like basketball a lot," he said. "It's what I want to do for the rest of my life."