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Brandon McGlynn overcomes health woes to excel on court
Brandon McGlynn reclines on a table inside the training room at Dallastown High School before a boys' basketball practice in early December.
The wires attached to him stretch from his thighs to a machine, sending shocks into his muscles. It's a process known as electrical muscle stimulation.
He sports a University of Rhode Island basketball shirt, a gift from his older brother, Four, who played basketball there last season. Some day, Brandon will likely have his own wardrobe of team-issued gear from the NCAA Division I college that signs him. As a junior for the Wildcats' basketball team, he picked up his first D-I offer from the Naval Academy back in August, and more are sure to follow.
A smile never seems to leave his face. Nothing really rattles Brandon, not after everything he's been through.
To say that he's living on borrowed time isn't exactly true, but it isn't entirely false. Brandon is healthy now, but it wasn't long ago that he and his family went through an incredibly trying time during his middle-school years, when he endured a number of major surgeries to correct serious health issues.
“I know my heart (condition) was life-threatening. I could’ve died if I was older," he said. "I was really young, so if I was a little older, my body wouldn’t have been able to take it.”
Life in the emergency room: The scar up the back of Brandon's head and neck is about 3 or 4 inches in length.
His hair grows around it and partially conceals it, but it no longer grows where the incision was made. Surprisingly, of the major surgeries Brandon has undergone, this is considered the minor one, if there is such a thing.
When asked to describe why his surgery was required, he can only laugh and ask: "Which one?"
Brandon's brain surgery was the most recent of his experiences in the emergency room, and hopefully his last.
The series of health issues for Brandon began five years ago, when he was in sixth grade. During a basketball game, he could feel his chest starting to hurt and his heart beating faster than normal. Thinking it was his asthma acting up, he went to his inhaler. Still having problems, he went to it again. And again. And again.
When he was finally rushed to the emergency room, his heart was racing at 242 beats per minute. What doctors eventually found was that Brandon had Wolf Parkinson syndrome, a heart condition where there is an extra electrical pathway into the heart, causing the heart to beat much faster than normal. It took three surgeries to fix the problem. Doctors eventually singed off the end of the extra pathway to alleviate the condition.
"It's a parent's worst nightmare," Brandon's father, Patrick McGlynn III, said, fighting back tears and still noticeably shaken by the memory. "Let alone having been through it twice (with Brandon and) with my oldest son. But Brandon has been through so much more, not to sit there and compare them, but so much more than Four had. The three heart surgeries were just unbelievable."
For the next two years, Brandon got on with his life, seemingly fully healthy. By the time he got to eighth grade, however, his next big medical scare emerged.
After suffering a concussion early in the season, his symptoms never fully went away. He didn't have memory loss, like most concussed people, but he was experiencing piercing headaches and dizziness. So, another trip to the hospital was in store. What the doctors found on the MRI was that brain tissue went into his spinal canal and was blocking his brain fluid from flowing properly. The official diagnosis was Chiari malformation I.
"Originally, they didn’t think my headaches were caused by that," Brandon said. "So, I waited a few months, and they thought I had nerve problems in my neck, so I had to get 18 injections in my neck and scheduled neck surgery. Two days later, I went back to the doctors for my neck, I got another MRI for my brain, and it got worse and I needed brain surgery, so I got brain surgery. What they did was they expanded my skull. They cut my skull open and put a mesh plate there to make more room for my brain.”
Leaning on Four: The relationship Brandon has with Four goes well beyond basketball.
On the court, Brandon always looked up to his older brother, someone who had the talent to play high-level D-I but not the size. He still managed to play for Vermont as a true freshman, earning the America East Conference Freshman of the Year award in 2011-12. Four then transferred to Towson as a sophomore. After sitting out a year and then playing two seasons there — and with one year of eligibility remaining — Four transferred to Rhode Island as a graduate student, averaging double figures in points. Throughout his college career, he made his name as a sharp shooter.
Off the court, whenever Brandon had the chance, he was around Four, even when he went away to college. When Four would come home on breaks, they'd sit in the same room and do homework or go shopping together.
Four was perhaps most instrumental to Brandon in helping him overcome the difficulties of undergoing brain surgery. At that point, Four served as more than a brother, because he too had to go through a brain procedure to remove a cyst that formed near his brain about five years before Brandon's surgery.
"He helped me a lot," Brandon said. "Just knowing that I had someone I could relate to with that and somebody who was so close to me, that really helped me. Especially because he got back to basketball, that really helped me get through everything.”
After the heart surgery, it only took Brandon a week to get back to playing basketball. The layoff following his brain surgery was longer. Doctors told him that he would need to take anywhere from three to six months off from the game. As soon as the three-month mark hit, he was back on the hardwood.
'A coach's dream': When it comes to basketball, the shoes Brandon had to fill following Four at Dallastown seemed nearly impossible.
After all, Four is the boys' program's all-time leading scorer and recently signed a pro contract to play in Canada. Brandon, however, doesn't want to try to live up to what Four accomplished and constantly live in his shadow. He wants to establish his own legacy.
Patrick McGlynn, who coached Four in AAU ball and still coaches Brandon for the York Ballers, has dealt with other talented York County products, including Eastern York grad and former Colgate standout Austin Tillotson. Yet, despite Brandon's smallish 5-foot, 10-inch frame, he might just be the toughest player Patrick has ever coached.
"He's a coach's dream," Patrick said. "He does everything you're supposed to do. He's a leader on the floor, he's a great teammate and he's the hardest-nosed kid I've ever coached. ... He plays defense, he's a true point guard."
Despite everything he went through during middle school, it didn't seriously hinder his basketball ability. By the time he got to high school, he was starting for Dallastown's varsity team. Last year, Brandon finished second on the team in scoring as a sophomore, averaging 11 points, 4 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game.
This year, the Wildcats are a dark-horse team that could make some noise in York-Adams Division I after going .500 a year ago, and Brandon will be at the forefront of it. The Wildcats are a youthful group, made up of primarily juniors, so the next two seasons could be huge for the program.
In order to get there, however, Brandon will need to take that next step. One could argue that, behind Spring Grove's Eli Brooks, who has committed to Michigan, Brandon is York County's next best shot to play D-I basketball. He's the perfect point guard. He loves to get everyone else on the team involved, but head coach Mike Grassel wants to see him shoot more.
"He’s a great facilitator, but this year, we’ll need him to shoot a little bit more," said Grassel, who's in his fifth season as head coach of Dallastown and 11th overall with the program. "He works all the time on his shot, he has a great shot, so I think this year he’s going to need to shoot a little more."
Brandon has had contact with other D-I scouts but mostly from lower-level and mid-major programs. He's still holding out hope that one big-name school comes knocking and gives his undersized frame a chance. He expects to be in contact with more college coaches in April — following the high school season — and in July, the height of the AAU circuit.
This season could arguably be the most important in Brandon's career. This is the one that could dictate which schools offer him a chance to play at the next level and forge a path that parallels Four's.
After everything that Brandon's been through, however, just being able to play basketball seems like the ultimate gift.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at email@example.com