Next stop – NBA’s Houston Rockets
Every college basketball player in the nation – whether they are a backup point guard for their local neighborhood community college, or the starting post man on a Division I “Power Five” program – surely has had at least the fleeting thought of making it big and playing professional basketball one day. The Horizon League is no local community college, nor is it one of the nation’s foremost NBA player factories.
In terms of competition and notoriety, the HL as it stands today lives in that “grey area” of college basketball – not a doormat, but also not elite. So when a player emerges from the modest mid-major conference and receives attention from the world’s best professional basketball league, it’s hard not to take notice.
On June 7, the Northern Kentucky University men’s basketball program announced through its official Twitter account that Norse forward Chris Brandon (6-8, 220 lbs.) was extended a formal tryout with the NBA’s Houston Rockets. After having a chance to review his collegiate body of work over the past five years, as well as breaking down his in-person workouts with the team, the Rockets front office extended Brandon a spot on their NBA2K24 Summer League roster.
Growing up in the Houston area himself, Brandon is no stranger to his hometown’s NBA franchise. As a star player for the Houston metro area’s Bellaire High School, Brandon wore the familiar red and white of the hometown Cardinals during his prep career, which ended in 2018 upon his graduation. Brandon chose to continue his hoops career at University of Detroit Mercy, where he played three seasons before transferring to NKU in 2021 to complete his final two campaigns. At NKU – with the outgoing transfer of fellow forward Adrian Nelson to Youngstown State – Brandon had the opportunity to expand his game while setting personal season bests in nearly every statistical category his senior season, including games played, minutes, rebounds and points scored among others.
Brandon is currently wearing jersey No. 54 for the Rockets and has yet to make an official appearance in Summer league play as of this writing. While he has no official recorded minutes yet, he is still working with the team every day and getting valuable exposure and repetition under the tutelage of an NBA coaching staff that thought enough of him to bring him into camp to bang bodies with both established pro players and other hopeful trialists.
Whether or not Brandon sticks with the team at the conclusion of the Summer League season remains to be seen. Making the final roster cut for the upcoming NBA season will be no easy task. Brandon will be scrapping for a contract against established NBA stars, newly drafted college players and fellow undrafted free agents. Despite his impressive college resume…his countless conference awards…his 1,000+ career rebounds…his nose for the ball…his undeniable willingness to play defense and do “the little things” that coaches want to see day in and day out…the uphill battle may be described as steep. But Brandon has battled long odds before, and he has the “pro build” to latch on somewhere, if not his hometown Rockets.
If he doesn’t make the final cut on the main roster, Brandon should still have some very attractive options in front of him. Houston’s NBA G-League team, the Rio Grange Valley Vipers, are located near the southern tip of Texas and compete in a full professional season with other NBA developmental teams packed with former NBA players and current NBA hopefuls. NBA trialists who don’t make the final cuts may find themselves retained by the parent club and offered spots within the organization’s developmental system where they have a chance to grow their game further and then be “called up to the big show” if they are deemed ready.
Additionally, adding a legitimate NBA team stint to his player portfolio will likely place him firmly on many international pro basketball radars. In the past NKU has landed players on professional rosters all over the world, including: The Netherlands, Hungary, Slovakia, Japan, United Kingdom, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Poland, Argentina and Czech Republic among many others. The international markets have been good to U.S. college players looking for pro contracts, but if the NBA is the ultimate goal for most, then Brandon is in the right place for now.