Europe-bound, Brandon looks to “Finnish” what he started
Whoever said you need to play for a high-major college basketball program in order to break into the pro hoops ranks…was dead wrong. Former Northern Kentucky University players are putting this misnomer to bed with authority lately, with yet another Norse player getting sturdy recognition around the globe.
Norse big man Chris Brandon (Houston, TX) spent the past two seasons in Highland Heights – after a previous stint at fellow Horizon League rival Detroit Mercy – putting up gaudy rebounding numbers and setting records on the glass. After his recent spell with the Houston Rockets’ NBA summer league team in Las Vegas, the man they call “CB” will now be taking his athletic talents to Europe, after signing his first professional contract with Finnish power Kauhajoki Karhu Basket, who compete in Finland’s top tier Korisliiga basketball league. He officially signed with the team on July 31.
As a senior at NKU, Brandon started in 34 of 35 games played, shooting 65% from the field and 54% from the foul line, good for a 6.7ppg scoring average. Brandon’s offensive output may look modest on the surface due to the slower, more deliberate offensive style the Norse employ. But when he has the opportunity to score, more often than not he does as evidenced by his otherworldly shooting efficiency with the ball in his hands down low.
Brandon’s calling card has always been his hawk-like defensive mindedness and his propensity to own the glass on both ends of the court. His rebounding acumen was most evident this past season, as he eclipsed the previous NKU seasonal rebound mark held by Norse all-time scorer Drew McDonald on his way to recording a single-season program record 347 rebounds (8th in the nation) en route to averaging 9.9rpg which was good for top 15 in the nation.
About the Team and League
In the Korisliiga’s current format, each team plays every other team twice in the regular season, once at home and once away, for a total of 22 regular season games. After 22 games and just prior to the Playoffs, the league splits into two separate mini-divisions where the top six teams represent an upper stage, and the bottom six play in the lower stage. After the two stages are established and the teams all play each other again within their new respective stages, the best two top teams from both the upper and lower groups join back together for the Playoffs. The Korisliiga Playoffs are played in a best-of-seven format, except the quarter-finals which are conducted in a best-of-five format.
While the 12-team Korisliiga league itself dates back to 1939, Kauhajoki Karhu Basket has deeper roots, dating back to its original founding in 1910. However, the club is still fairly new to the Finnish top tier scene – the “orange and black” Bears landed in the top tier in 2017 and quickly became a league power, capturing league titles in 2018, 2019 and 2022 while narrowly missing the 2023 title in their championship game loss to the Helsinki Seagulls. The Bears play in the beautiful IKH Areena, located in Finland’s Western Province in the nation’s South Ostrobothnian region.
Along with the regular Korisliiga season and multiple rounds of Playoffs, qualifying member teams of the league also have the opportunity every year to compete in the FIBA-sanctioned Basketball Champions League as well as the FIBA Europe Cup which features 48 teams from all around Europe. Last season, the Bears fared well in the Euro Cup competition, bowing out in the semifinals to eventual Cup champion Klub Koszykówki Włocławek of the Polish Basketball League. To reach the Euro Cup Final Four, the Bears had to defeat top clubs from Hungary, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Ukraine and Israel.
Kauhajoki Karhu hopes to capitalize on all of Brandon’s talents, as he will immediately be inserted into the rotation as the team’s center with his back to the basket. According to Bears coach Janne Koskimies, “Chris comes as a rookie player on a two-year contract with the idea that he will develop into a starting center for us next year. We get a hard-engined, athletic and mobile player in the ‘5’ position who can do a lot of the same things as (current teammate and Auburn University product) Horace Spencer. We want to be able to do the same things offensively and defensively, regardless of which of the big men is (on the court at any given time).”
According to Robert Anshila, Brandon’s agent and CEO of Elevate Sports Alliance, Karhu plays a very fast up-tempo, full-court defense and Brandon’s physicality and defensive prowess will be counted on heavily to perform on both ends of the floor.
While Karhu felt like the right fit for Brandon right now based on multiple factors, he was also getting substantial attention from the top pro leagues in Germany, Netherlands, Italy, Greece and Belgium…in addition to further inquiries from NBA teams intrigued by what he can bring to the court now and in the future as his game continues to evolve.
Anshila went on to elaborate further on Brandon’s role: “Chris will be brought in to make a significant impact with his rebounding, finishing, defense and situational one-on-one scoring. (His) high motor, high character, fundamental mechanics and high IQ coupled with extreme athleticism and crazy work ethic has the coaches believing he is 1-3 years away from the NBA, if not at least the highest levels of competition in Europe.” Karhu’s season begins in September, and fans of both NKU – and the Horizon League as a whole – will surely be keeping an eye on his progress as he (and many other recent HL pro signings) continues to put mid-major programs on the map.