Varsity Basketball

Incredible adversity has helped West's next basketball coach find his success

West hires Tommy Brumbelow as boys basketball coach

Wichita West High School hired Tommy Brumbelow as its next boys basketball coach April 19. Brumbelow replaces Michael Lewis, who coached the Pioneers for four seasons.
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Wichita West High School hired Tommy Brumbelow as its next boys basketball coach April 19. Brumbelow replaces Michael Lewis, who coached the Pioneers for four seasons.

Walking through the hallways of Tramway Elementary, 11-year-old Tommy Brumbelow found basketball through a man with a mop.

Janitor Tim Carnegie took one look at Brumbelow and told him he needed to play basketball. Stout and tall, he picked it up. On April 19, the game paid him back.

Brumbelow has been named the next West boys basketball coach. He was an assistant coach at Carroll under Lonnie Lollar and East, most recently, with Joe Jackson.

Lollar, Jackson and Brumbelow said this is as close to a perfect fit as one could find.

"West High has always intrigued me," Brumbelow said. "I think there is potential here. I think there are kids here who can be successful if motivated the right way."

Brumbelow's story is one of overwhelming doubt and self-deliverance. He grew up in North Carolina. His father has been incarcerated for most of his life, Brumbelow said, and his mother has battled substance abuse.

He had a choice, and he chose success.

Brumbelow moved in with his grandparents. They raised him for three years, showed him the way — how to act right.

"I love my parents," Brumbelow said. "Outside of that three-year period, my mom raised me. She tried. She did. She went to work every day. She tried to be successful. She tried to give us everything she could, and that was kind of the motivation, too: If she can do it, so can I."

He went to college at Newman on a basketball scholarship after moving to and graduating from Derby. He wasn't the most dynamic scorer, but his passion and energy got him on the floor, and at times made him shine.

Against Friends in just his second collegiate game, Brumbelow scored 18 points off the bench. Later that season, he scored 16 against the No. 1 team in the nation, Bellevue.

Much of Brumbelow's success can be traced to his grandparents, and he wanted to make sure that was clear.

"They won't ever know how much what they did means to me," he said. "They did it because they thought that's what they had to do, and that's kinda the position I'm in here at West. These kids deserve that same chance here."

Some of Brumbelow's story comes from within. He tapped into his passion and channeled it in the right direction. Brumbelow's wife asks how he did it from time to time.

Brumbelow said he tells her that he felt like he just had to get it done.

"I can remember being in the third and fourth grade and setting my own alarm early in the morning," he said. "I was just a little different.

"It might suck right now, but there is someone somehwhere 10 times worse off, that doesn't have the opportunities, that doesn't have the practice uniform, that doesn't have the ride to the game, that doesn't have the teacher sitting in front of them begging them to do their assignment. That's hopefully the things we can point out here."

Brumbelow is the first in his family to graduate from college, he said. After his four years at Newman, he landed a job with Lollar at Carroll, where he stayed for five years. Jackson said when Brumbelow got to East, he already had the sort of sharp knowledge of the game that only Lollar could have taught.

Lollar was ecstatic after he learned Brumbelow got the West job. When they were at Carroll together and went on the road against the Pioneers, Lollar said he, too, felt that indescribable sentiment for the school.

Lollar knew his assistant's story, and he said Brumbelow will be a much better coach because of it.

"Tommy has proved to me, it doesn't matter where you come from," Lollar said. "He is gonna work hard. From the moment I met him, I knew he was special. ... He's like a son. He has always been there for me, and I've tried to be there for him."

Jackson agreed. Although it isn't easy to lose top assistants, especially ones like Brumbelow, he is happy he got the opportunity.

Brumbelow said he has wanted to become the leader of a program for years. Brumbelow met Jackson while he was at Carroll, and when Lollar got the job at Halstead two years ago, Brumbelow wanted to stay in the City League. Jackson said they have known each other for almost a decade.

"There are people in the coaching world that would probably not advise young coaches to go and take a job where they haven't had a bunch of success," Jackson said. "But Tommy is not scared. I genuinely believe he is the right man for the job.

"They talk about how things are 'much bigger than basketball,' and Tommy is a prime example of that."

West is coming off a one-win City League season. The Pioneers were winless and outscored by 30 points on average against teams with winning records in the second half of the season.

Winning at West is hard right now. Brumbelow replaces Michael Lewis, who came to West with coaching experience at the college level. But in four seasons, he went 9-78.

The Pioneers are going through heavy changes, even at the top of the athletic department. West named football coach Weston Schartz its new athletic director on Saturday.

Few will expect West to make drastic improvements from the 2017-18 season, but that isn't necessarily the point.

When a player from last year's team approached Brumbelow to introduce himself Friday, Brumbelow's first question was whether he was passing his classes. Brumbelow has a passion for basketball and for winning, but he also has a passion for success.

Confronted with failure, he chose hard work. He is now presented that same situation in a position of power. He said he was an underdog growing up, and he looks forward to getting his players to buy into that same mentality.

"If we can flip it and get that enthusiasm and that desire to wear the jersey, I think you'll start to see the wins come," Brumbelow said. "I'm all about challenges.

"Life will throw you different wrenches, but you have got to find a way to work through it."

Even if it doesn't work out at first, Brumbelow will still be working hard. That was a lesson he picked up as a child, and one that was reiterated to him as a sophomore in college.

Brumbelow went back to North Carolina recently to see his grandparents and watch his sister graduate from high school. He went back to his grade school.

And he found Carnegie, the janitor who introduced him to the game.

"He was still on the janitorial staff at Tramway," Brumbelow said. "That's what started it all. Just a simple conversation and a hard-working man."