By Tom Pedulla—
One shot can make a statement. So can one game.
Those two merged in early February when Irvington’s Nick Brennen knocked down a three-pointer from the corner with 41 seconds left in overtime to lift Manhattan to a 71-66 upset victory against visiting Siena.
In that instant, everything Brennan had dealt with during a meandering career seemed worth it. “It was definitely a sweet moment,” he said.
It was the kind of moment the 6-5, 180-pound forward yearned for when he graduated from Iona Prep. But his dream of competing in Division 1 would involve one year at Putnam Science Academy in Putnam, Ct., and two seasons at Harcum College in Bryn Mawr, Pa., before it was fulfilled at Manhattan.
“I didn’t expect to have this type of path coming out of high school,” he said. “I thought I would just go to a school and play all four years.”
He helped Putnam Science Academy to the 2018 National Prep Championship. He attracted Division 1 interest while at Harcum, but the pandemic certainly did not help his cause. His first two seasons at Manhattan also brought their share of exasperation.
“My first two years were a good learning experience,” he said. “I didn’t play as much as I wanted to. It was up and down minutes. But I think in the end it’s definitely paid off.”
He only started once in his first season with the Jaspers. He appeared in all 30 games with seven starts last year, averaging three points and 2.2 rebounds per game. Through it all, then associate head coach RaShawn Stores encouraged him to stay confident, stay ready.
Both men received an unexpected opportunity when head coach Steve Masiello was fired two weeks before the start of this season. Although Masiello had not produced a winning record since 2015, the move was stunning because the Jaspers had been picked to finish second in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference in a preseason coaches’ poll. Jose Perez was projected to be the conference’s Player of the Year.
Stores was named interim head coach and a period of uncertainty ensued. Perez led an exodus of several players by transferring to West Virginia.
“It was tough at first because we didn’t know what was going to happen to the program,” Brennen said. “But enough of us stayed together. We believed in what Coach Stores and the rest of the coaches who were staying here were saying to us. And we knew we had enough talent to make a run at this thing.”
Under the oddest of circumstances, Brennen’s time has finally come. He emerged as a starter and averaged 10 points through the first 22 games on a gritty Manhattan team that has become a dangerous conference opponent.
“Nick’s meant a lot to this team,” Stores said. “Just to see that young man grow and flourish right now and the belief in himself, his teammates believe in him even more.”
Brennen also has emerged as a leader on a team that makes up in fight what it has lost in talent. “Nick Brennen has been phenomenal in his leadership on and off the court,” said Stores, a former Manhattan walk-on. “He’s showing the young guys and the guys who haven’t been playing meaningful minutes that, if you work, you work, you work, everything can change just like that. You just have to continue to believe in yourself.”
Brennen does not live at Draddy Gymnasium. It just seems that way as he constantly refines his shot with an eye toward playing professionally after this season. “You start to see that the end is near and his work ethic went through the roof,” Stores said. “You’re seeing the results.”
As circuitous as his path has been, Brennen would not change a thing. “I think all of the adversity I’ve faced has definitely helped me,” he said. “I don’t think I would be the player or person I am today without it.”
When the season ends, Brennen will begin to explore opportunities to play professionally overseas. “I still feel I have more to achieve,” he said.Read or leave a comment on this story...