Sounds counterintuitive, but it took a college clear across the country for Whittell graduate Garrett Bronken to feel at home.
“It was basically just everything I was looking for in a college,” Bronken said. “They’re not too big so it’s kind of like Whittell in the sense that they have small class sizes. They have a really good pre-med program, and the icing on the cake was that I had the option to play Division II basketball.”
Bronken’s good grades and strong work ethic on the court earned him a scholarship to play basketball for Coker College, a Division II school in South Carolina.
If the name sounds familiar that’s because Coker College is the same school that fellow Whittell graduates Amanda and Emily Harris committed to last month, and three recruits from Whittell is a little more than coincidence.
Former Whittell baseball coach Don Amaral may have had something to do with the Whittell roundup. Amaral is on the Coker College Board of Trustees, and obviously liked what he saw from the three Whittell athletes.
And all it took was one visit from Bronken for Coker basketball coach Dan Schmotzer to be in agreement.
“It wasn’t so much his talent level, at least for the time being, as it was his presence around our players. He made a good impression on everyone he talked to while he was out here,” Schmotzer said. “He’s a well-spoken kid and he really wants to play four more years of college basketball. Most kids just don’t want to put that kind of work or sacrifice in.”
Bronken has no illusions about the work or sacrifice needed to become a starter at the Division II level. He will have to earn his playing time.
“I know that I won’t be a starter any time soon because the level of play out there is insane. But just the opportunity in itself to play college basketball is going to make me a better player, and I feel like it will help me in college too by making me more adamant about my time management,” Bronken said. “They play top ranked Division I schools sometimes in preseason so honestly, it’s kind of like a dream.”
Bronken earned that dream during his senior year at Whittell when he would roll out of bed at 5 a.m. every chilly morning to voluntarily put in extra practice time. Bronken, along with his brother Bryce Bronken and teammate Palmer Chaplin, hit the basketball court or gym for one hour every morning with help from Whittell coach Phil Bryant.
“He prepped me a lot for how college basketball would be, the pace of play and what I needed to improve on. He really taught me how to be a better person in all that I do,” Bronken said of Bryant. “He was just a really good mentor to me, and it was a blessing to have him for at least one year. I’m jealous of everyone else who gets four more years with him.”
Coach Bryant, along with Bronken’s parents Paul and Linda, could have been the difference between Bronken playing at a Division III or Division II school.
“My dad has been to every single sporting event I can think of, even if it means driving out to Elko, he’s there. And my mom tries her best to come to every game too,” Bronken said.
Coker College will be a bit of a commute, but no doubt that the Bronkens will be out there to catch a game or two and watch their son reach his full potential.
“I realize I’m not going to the NBA or anything, but any opportunity I get to play is amazing,” Bronken said. “I’m even looking forward to the practices.”
Which is good since it sounds like Bronken will be logging some significant practice hours.
“He knows his role and what it’s going to be when he gets here. He’s going to have to put a lot of work in to get where he wants to be, but we can do it for him,” Schmotzer said. “But we really wanted him here because we’re going to have to have guys like Garrett here to succeed in what we’re doing.”