COLUMBIA — At Douglass High School on Wednesday afternoon, junior Brandon Gleeson looked on from the sidelines as his teammates practiced for Thursday’s game at Slater High School. Gleeson had a look of frustration on his face and often shouted words of encouragement or instruction to his teammates.
It isn’t the performance of his teammates that frustrated him, it’s the fact that a fracture in his lower back from a traffic accident has sidelined him for the rest of the season.
“Just watching practice from the sideline killed me,” said Gleeson. He said that to him, basketball is more than just a game, and playing for Douglass is particularly special. It’s the place where he got his first chance to play for a school.
Though many high school basketball players have played for their middle school or junior high, or even in leagues at the elementary school level, Gleeson never participated in any type of organized basketball until he moved to Columbia from St. Louis during his eighth-grade year. He had made the team at Normandy Middle School in St. Louis but his mother, Cassandra Pierce, decided it was time to move to Columbia. Gleeson left St. Louis just before he had the chance to play with the team.
“I was happy that I would be getting to play with guys I grew up with,” said Gleeson. “But then we moved.”
After the move, Gleeson attended Jefferson Jr. High, where he had some trouble adjusting. He decided not to try out for the basketball team, thinking that the coach didn’t like him.
“I got in a lot of trouble there,” said Gleeson. “I was just being stubborn,”
After the move, Gleeson would go to open-gym nights at Douglass on weeknights to play basketball. The open gyms were intended for adults, and Gleeson didn’t get to play much until a man asked him to play one night.
“I played so hard to prove myself that night, and after that I got to play with them a lot,” said Gleeson.
During his time at Jefferson, a counselor recommended Douglass High to Gleeson. After looking into the school, he decided to transfer to Douglass during the summer before his freshman year. Gleeson’s sister, Kendra Pierce, transferred to Douglass as well, so that she wouldn’t have to go to school without her brother.
Over the summer before he started at Douglass, Gleeson got to do something that he had never done before: play in an organized basketball game. Kevin Bryant was coaching a summer league team called the Rising Stars, and asked Gleeson to play. Many of the boys on that team are Gleeson’s teammates today.
On his first day of school at Douglass, he was approached by assistant basketball coach Scott Williams who asked Gleeson if he played. Gleeson said trying out was a good decision, one that has helped him in the classroom as well as on the court.
“Coach (Lynn) Allen made me realize that it is important to do well in school,” said Gleeson, “and if I want to play basketball I have to behave.”
Gleeson has certainly taken that lesson to heart. Besides an altercation his freshman year with another player in a game against Logos High School in St. Louis, Gleeson has had no problems at Douglass.
“I’ve grown up,” said Gleeson, who says that his experiences playing for Douglass are a major reason for his maturity.
Even though he’s done for this year, with another year to go, Gleeson will undoubtedly be a team leader next season.