Despite receiving no offers from Division I schools to play basketball, Brendan Casper wasn’t going to giving up on his dreams of playing at the highest level of college basketball.
So instead of taking the safe route and attending a Division II or III school, the sophomore from Audobon, Pennsylvania, decided to stay in state and join the Saint Joseph’s basketball program as a preferred walk-on.
“My dream was always to play Division I, from the time I was a little kid and I started playing,” he says. “I felt that I could compete at this level because I always had confidence in my game. Even though Division I schools didn’t offer me, I still felt I had a good shot at competing, so when the opportunity to came to walk on at St. Joe’s, I wanted to prove everyone wrong and show that I still had a shot at playing.”
Hawks head coach Phil Martelli says there were many qualities about Brendan that he valued as a coach.
“His incredible love of the game of basketball, his desire to improve, and willingness to accept a limited role,” Martelli says when asked what led to offering Casper a spot on the team. “This kid was a high school star and now he’s coming into college and we’re telling him unless there’s some mistakes along the way, there’s not gonna’ be playing time.
“Since he’s been with us, what I admire the most is his willingness to compete and improve.”
In his freshman year with SJU, Casper only appeared in eight games, logging a mere 15 minutes total. But in his second year as a Hawk, he has taken the court in 20 contests, most notably a 20-minute effort on Dec. 6 against Big 5 rival Villanova in which he recorded nine points and nine rebounds, both setting career-highs.
As someone who grew up in the Philadelphia area watching Big 5 basketball, he says that was a game he would never forget.
“It was great, that’s what I worked hard for my entire life to be able to play big minutes in big time games,” Casper says. “I knew the significance of that game and that rivalry. For that to be my first game to put my name on the map and really show that I could play and for all the people that doubted me, for me to have that game, it really boosted my confidence. My family was there so it was a dream come true to have a big game in one of those rivalries.”
Casper has also seen minutes in games this season versus opponents like Gonzaga, Western Kentucky, George Washington and VCU.
“It’s great,” Casper says about the increase in minutes he has received. “I feel great that coach has the trust to play me. I’m in a situation where he needs to play me more in certain situations and I’m always ready. As a sophomore I can keep building off of this year.”
Casper added that unlike most walk-ons who don’t get their chance until late in their careers, he’s excited to gain experience in games and build off it for the future.
Another part of Brendan’s game that is well known is his extremely hard work ethic, which is something he’s always prided himself on.
“I’m not the most athletic player, I’m not the fastest player, but I’m not gonna; let anyone outwork me,” he says. “It’s something that I’ll always play by and even at this level the athleticism is at a different level.
“Everyone told me I wasn’t athletic enough but no one can tell me I can’t out work anybody.”
And that effort has left a big impression on his head coach.
“It motivates you to make sure his experience is really a life-changing one, not just an average one,” says Martelli. “You can always use him as an example for others to say ‘here’s a kid who not only is dedicating himself on the court, but dedicates himself to the classroom.’ He’s a wonderful teammate and a great example for all that’s good about college basketball.”
What people may not know is that this isn’t the first time a Casper has been coached by Martelli: Brendan’s father, Rob, played under Martelli at Bishop Kenrick high School in Norristown, making it to the state championship in 1980.
“It’s pretty cool,” Casper says of the connection. “It’s cool that Phil got to coach my dad and then 30 years later he gets to coach his son. My dad gives me good advice, which is come in, keep your mouth shut and play as hard as you can and everything with work out.”
Despite being related, Martelli said there aren’t many similarities between the two out on the court.
“When I coached Rob, he was probably the most athletic guy that I had coached up until that point in time. The love of basketball was the same, they loved playing the game, they love competing. You want them to grow as players, but you want them to grow as people as well and to create memories for a lifetime.”
When asked about the future, Casper says he’s just focused on improving each year, and is confident that he can help the team.
“Getting these minutes as a sophomore gives me an idea of what exactly I need to improve on moving forward, which is always a good thing,” he says. “Last year playing in practice against all of these players every day was very helpful. But this year getting the game experience and actually feeling what its like to be out there and playing in front of people and on TV and in big games, that’s been a big step up for me and really shows me what I can improve on in the summer.
“I still have two more years and just want to continue helping the team in any way I can.”