It was just another day of practice for Brandon McGlynn as he prepared for his first season of college basketball.
Then, one moment changed everything.
McGlynn and a Lock Haven University teammate collided away from the play and he was struck in the head and hit the floor hard.
This wasn’t something new for McGlynn. The Dallastown High School graduate battled six concussions during his middle school and high school basketball careers, and the only thing on his mind was hoping he didn’t suffer another concussion.
“My first thought was, ‘Not again, not again, not again. Please be something else,’” McGlynn said.
That day, his symptoms weren’t too bad, just a headache, which is something he had gotten used to over the years. The following day, it became clear it was serious. McGlynn couldn’t stand a moment outside because of the brightness of the sunlight.
The decision was made for him to redshirt the 2018-19 season and focus on his health, with the possibility of a return to the court the following season. Lock Haven coach Mike Nestor had dealt with players getting concussions during his career, but none with the history McGlynn had.
The concussion that McGlynn suffered last season, however, left symptoms that wouldn't relent. It eventually forced him to end his playing career before his first game. Although he couldn't get back on the court in uniform, McGlynn used one of his lowest moments to launch his role this year as a student assistant coach with Lock Haven.
History of health concerns: The first concussion came during his eighth-grade season, when his head connected with an opponent’s shoulder. After 18 useless cortisone shots in his neck and a trip to see the Baltimore Ravens’ concussion specialist, an MRI showed he needed brain surgery to create more room in his skull for his brain.
That was after a Wolf Parkinson syndrome diagnosis resulted in three heart surgeries to singe off an extra electrical pathway into his heart that caused his heart to beat faster than normal and nearly took his life.
As the concussions continued to occur, McGlynn was forced to spend a lot of his time in a dark room without any TV, computer or phone. It was difficult for him to miss out on the bond he had with his teammates and the sport he had played since he was 4 years old.
“It was really hard because I had played basketball my whole life and that was a lot of what I knew,” McGlynn said. “I had to see all my friends be able to play and everybody just seemed like they were moving forward and I felt like I had to take a step back. Every time I was reaching a certain point, I just kept getting hurt.”
It wasn’t just concussions that held McGlynn back. While he was being recruited by NCAA Division I schools such as the Naval Academy, which offered him a scholarship, as well as Ivy League and Patriot League teams, other injuries derailed his recruiting.
In his first AAU basketball game back from a concussion, a water leak in the ceiling led to a severely rolled ankle that cost him more than a month. Torn cartilage in his wrist forced him to sit out some time as well.
So, when he connected with Nestor and the Lock Haven program, McGlynn was ecstatic that, despite all the injuries, he had achieved a goal he had set out for himself so many years before.
“It was such a great feeling knowing that, even though all that happened, I was still able to get to my dream of playing college basketball,” McGlynn said.
Nestor, too, was excited about the point guard’s future with the Bald Eagles. He planned for McGlynn to play in a reserve role his first season, but had bigger plans for him as his career progressed.
“The way I envisioned him was taking over that starting position (to) run the team and run the program,” Nestor said.
That plan ended this summer.
Becoming a coach: Nestor had serious concerns that McGlynn would never play again because of the concussion he suffered in practice before he ever played his first college game. At the end of the season, he mentioned to McGlynn the possibility of becoming a student assistant coach the next season.
It took McGlynn by surprise because he had never considered anything other than continuing to play after he got healthy. He grew up in a basketball family. McGlynn’s father, Pat, spent 36 years coaching basketball and running the York Ballers program. His older brother, Four, was a successful player at the NCAA Division I level before a professional career overseas. So, not surprisingly, Brandon couldn’t imagine life without the sport.
“That was never a thought for me,” Brandon said. “Especially with how much I love basketball and how rooted my family is in it.”
After consulting with his family and doctors, Brandon decided that his symptoms of headaches and memory loss weren’t going away and it was time to end his playing career. He called Nestor and told him he would like to coach and the coach was so happy he accepted the offer.
Nestor wanted to keep Brandon around the program because he is such a positive influence on his teammates and fellow coaches, in addition to the expertise he offers.
A new passion: While he was stuck in his room recovering from concussions, Brandon said, like any kid, he disregarded the doctor’s orders and spent a lot of time on his laptop.
He wasn’t playing video games though, he was finding a new passion. He had always enjoyed working out and decided to read case studies and reports on the benefits of exercise for the human body.
“Instead of being somebody who just looked at YouTube videos, I wanted to know the science and use physics and the biomechanical aspect of why to do things and why it’s important,” Brandon said. “I wanted to be somebody who was reputable in the field, rather than somebody who just saw somebody do something and then they wanted to do it.”
That led to becoming a health science major with a concentration in physical therapy at Lock Haven.
This summer, Brandon started to train athletes, including Northeastern graduate and NCAA Division I University at Albany basketball player Antonio Rizzuto.
With the Bald Eagles, Brandon was tasked with implementing a new strength and conditioning program and Nestor said the team has responded well.
“His commitment to strength and training in the weight room is something that our guys absolutely love and really take what he is telling them to do seriously,” Nestor said. “When somebody shows real commitment and care, those players will absolutely be invested and listen to what they say.”
In addition to taking the players through workouts, Brandon is responsible for attending all six practices per week, each game and updating social media for the program, on top of his 16 credits. He said the workload can be daunting, especially because he still suffers from daily headaches and memory loss issues.
Studying has been the biggest adjustment for him because of the post-concussion symptoms. His first anatomy exam required studying 400 slides and took him several attempts to retain.
Although his dream was to play college basketball for as long as he can remember, McGlynn said he wouldn't change anything about his career. His plan is to have a rehabilitation and sports performance business after graduation. While it’s difficult at times to be around the sport he can no longer play, he found a way to make the situation benefit him.
“What I am doing right now is completely different than what I thought that I would be doing a year ago,” McGlynn said. “Life (can) hit you in a different way and it opens up a lot of doors, and it’s very eye-opening, if you let it be. Whether you want to take that as a positive thing or a negative thing is up to you. You have the choice to decide your own destiny, so take it into your own hands and be the best version of yourself.”
Reach Rob Rose at firstname.lastname@example.org.