The family that plays together, wins together for the Stiths
After guiding Brunswick High School to a third consecutive Virginia state title in 2013, Bryant Stith thought it was the last time he’d coach his sons Brandan and B.J.
Stith had accepted an assistant coaching position at Old Dominion under Jeff Jones, who coached him at the University of Virginia before he played 10 years in the NBA. Brandan had already signed to play the upcoming season at East Carolina. B.J. was going to play his final prep season at Virginia’s Oak Hill Academy.
Ends up Stith was wrong. Brandan left ECU after a year to join him at ODU. A year later, B.J. transferred from Virginia to play for the Monarchs and reunite with his dad and brother.
“I wish I could claim it was by design, but it wasn’t,” said the elder Stith. “A higher power brought us all together again, and we’re extremely happy. Coaching them in high school and college has allowed me to capture some of those moments I missed while playing in the NBA.”
A 6-7, 240-pound forward, Brandan is having his best collegiate season as ODU (5-3) prepares to play VCU (6-3) Saturday on ASN. The redshirt junior is the team’s top scorer (13.4 ppg) and shot blocker (1.9 bpg) and second-leading rebounder (8.0 rpg).
Last season Brandan averaged 10.4 points, 9.7 rebounds and 2.0 blocks per game and made the Conference USA All-Defensive Team as the Monarchs won 25 games and claimed the inaugural Vegas 16 tournament title. That was a significant improvement from his freshman totals (4.5 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 1.2 bpg) at ECU.
“If you would have told me in high school we’d be together again I wouldn’t have believed you,” Brandan said. “Now that we’re together at ODU, I’m just cherishing all the moments we have while they last.”
Built like his dad, B.J. is a 6-5, 210-pound redshirt sophomore guard who sat out last season at ODU after seeing limited action as a freshman at Virginia behind All-Americans Malcolm Brogdon and Justin Anderson. The former top 100 prep recruit is averaging 6.3 points in 19.6 minutes through eight games this season at ODU. He had a game-high 15 points and hit the go-ahead 3 in a Dec. 3 win at Towson.
“I had no idea that this was going to turn out the way it did,” B.J. said. “After Brandan transferred from East Carolina, I thought about what could be. When I left Virginia and it did happen, I was excited. It’s been a joy and great to be together again.”
It was a surprise that Stith, who scored a school-record 2,516 points at Virginia, became a coach. After retiring from the NBA in 2002, he spent the next year rehabbing four times a week just to get his body healthy again following seven surgeries as a pro.
The following year Stith moved his wife and four children to Lawrenceville, Va. Stith and his wife had grown up there and married after being high school sweethearts. Brandan and B.J. were in elementary school at the time.
“At that point in my career, any NBA deal I would have received would have been for one year,” said Stith, who averaged 10.1 points per game and made 84.1% of his free throws in 10 NBA seasons. “I’m a family guy, so my family would have come with me. I thought it would be unfair to move them around. The ideal place to raise our kids was in our hometown.”
Stith thought he was done with basketball, at least as a paid profession, but in 2006 he was asked to coach Brunswick High’s boys basketball team. He’d led the Lawrenceville school to two state titles before playing at Virginia.
Initially, Stith hesitated to take the job as he didn’t want to add to the pressure his sons would face following in his footsteps. Stith spoke with his family about it, and they felt he’d be able to put — and keep — his sons on the right path.
Looking back, Stith is glad he became a coach as it’s allowed him to develop an even stronger bond with his sons.
“The great part about my relationship with my sons is we are so close,” Stith said. “Our relationships are not predicated on the next basket; it’s predicated on love. I want them to get a great education and be happy.”
Coaching your son and playing for your father can be a challenge for both sides. According to B.J., that’s not the case for the Stith family.
“My dad is more mellow now because he’s an assistant coach instead of a head coach like in high school,” B.J. said. “He doesn’t have to take on that bigger role, so it’s more of a relief.”
Brandan is grateful for his father’s sacrifice and love.
“He taught me the majority of what I know and helped me become the person I am today,” he said. “Now that I’m older, I understand what he sacrificed for us, and that means everything to me.”B.J. echoed his brother’s thoughts.
“The sacrifices our dad made for us make us want to play even harder for him,” he said. “Not because he’s blood and our father, but because he’s shown us how much he’s cared and how much he loves us.”