January 26, 2010

National spotlight shines on Olathe coach who hit halfcourt shot

Joel Branstrom's 15 minutes of fame are stretching into hours, even days.

Joel Branstrom's 15 minutes of fame are stretching into hours, even days.

It started with ESPN's morning show "First Take" filming a segment on Tuesday with the Olathe Northwest High School biology teacher and girls basketball coach in the school's gymnasium. That's where a blindfolded Branstrom hit a half-court shot last Friday and foiled a student-orchestrated prank during a pep assembly.

That single basket has made Branstrom, a walk-on with the Kansas basketball team during 1995-1997, this week's national media darling. In addition to ESPN, Branstrom was interviewed later Tuesday by "Inside Edition," after clips on YouTube and Deadspin had generated nearly 70,000 views by Tuesday evening.

Branstrom was told Friday that he would win NCAA Final Four basketball tickets if he hit the shot. But the prank called for the student body to cheer loudly after Branstrom missed the shot, in an attempt to dupe the popular teacher and coach into thinking he had won the nonexistent tickets.

To the shock of everyone, Branstrom then proceeded to make the 47-foot shot, with students from the school's e-Communication 21st Century program filming every second.

"I never thought it would get this far, but it's just one of those amazing things that happen," said student Brad Keepes, one of the students behind the prank. "Word has spread fast, though, because it's just a great story. I think that's why, and it couldn't have happened to a better guy. There was not a better person we could have picked to take the shot. It was meant to be."

Video courtesy of Olathe Northwest.

The video clip of Branstrom's shot was the No. 1 play on ESPN's "SportsCenter" for its top 10 countdown Monday night, beating out LeBron James' NBA duel with Dwyane Wade, a three-quarter-court shot from the NBA, and Kansas guard Brady Morningstar's three-point buzzer-beater ending the first half in the 84-65 win against Missouri.

Not only are people talking about the shot, they're having fun with it themselves. Included in ESPN's coverage Tuesday was a clip of studio analysts playfully making the same attempt on a basketball goal down a long hallway.

"I don't even have cable, so I didn't see it was on 'SportsCenter' until this morning when I came in," said Branstrom, who was awakened Tuesday by a phone call asking him to appear Wednesday on "Good Morning America."

Not surprisingly, with all the attention, Branstrom already has received offers for NCAA tickets. A man in Arizona who saw the video online has offered two tickets to the NCAA regional in St. Louis, and an offer for Final Four tickets also had been made, Olathe Northwest athletic director Chad Ralston said Tuesday.

"It'll be over soon," Branstrom said, referring to his status as the hot media topic of the week. "There are much more important things going on in the world, but this is a fun time and a moment to smile and enjoy, too."

It may not be over too soon, though. "First Take" host Reischea Canidate told Branstrom that if the second-ranked Kansas Jayhawks make the Final Four, he might be used as the show's special correspondent in Indianapolis.

As much as Branstrom doesn't like to be away from his classroom and loves his Ravens at Olathe Northwest, that would be an offer he simply couldn't refuse.

"If the opportunity arrives — are you kidding me? —I would absolutely be there to root on the Jayhawks and do some fun things," Branstrom said. "But the Jayhawks have a long way to go, and we've got to be lucky."

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