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Branch, True Grit awards show best side of athletes

May 13, 2004|by DAN KAUFFMAN

It takes all of about 10 seconds to realize how great a person Adrian Branch is.We hear all the time about today's athletes - that they're above the rest of us, inaccessible to the fans, unfamiliar to us because of the millions they make and the lifestyle that comes with it. We read about the arrests for drunk driving or nightclub altercations, the suspicions of steroids or marijuana use and the disputes with coaches, teammates, general managers and owners.

Granted, Branch - a standout basketball player at the University of Maryland in the early 1980s before going on to play in the NBA for 10 seasons and win a world championship ring with the Los Angeles Lakers in 1987 - isn't really part of today's generation of athletes. But he was an athlete when the money started becoming absurd and the life lived by athletes drifted further away from those lived by most of us.

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In some ways, Branch has every right to brag about what he's accomplished - in his words, to "have a big head."

But he doesn't.

Instead, he spends much of his free time traveling the country talking to kids about staying the right course.

The two central themes in Branch's message - "You're not born a winner or a loser, but a chooser. You make your choices, and your choices make you" and "You become what you hang around" - are ones people of all ages can benefit from.

Approach Branch after one of his speaking engagements, and you get the feeling you've known him all your life. He's personable, funny, energetic and engaging to everybody around him - qualities today's star athletes aren't supposed to have.

Branch's message at Tuesday's True Grit Awards banquet was meant for the 14 winners, but everybody in the room at the Four Points Sheraton in Hagerstown took something from it, yours truly included.

Branch landed another job in the last few days. Starting this fall, he'll be the television color commentator for the Charlotte Bobcats of the NBA Developmental League. My hope is, in his free time, Branch continues spreading the message he has perfected over the past decade.

This country, and its kids, need to keep hearing it.

-- Writing about the True Grit banquet was a challenge for one reason - there are too many good stories and not enough space.

The True Grit award is about everything that's right about high school (and junior college) sports - namely, making a commitment to a team and seeing it through no matter the obstacles in the way.

With 14 award winners and a limited amount of space, it's impossible to adequately tell each winner's story. However, each winner's mug shot and a brief summary of why he/she was selected will appear in Sunday's Herald-Mail.

It's a deserving reward for a great bunch of athletes.




Dan Kauffman is a staff writer for The Herald-Mail. His column appears every other Thursday. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 7520, or by e-mail at kauffman@herald-mail.com

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