Article by: Samantha Snellings

Photos by: Charlotte Adams

Brandon Huffman, 6-foot-10, 255-pound forward for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is trading in his blue jersey for red and white.

Huffman will be joining the Jacksonville State University Gamecocks for his final year of college.

According to head coach, Roy Williams, this will only be UNC-Chapel Hill’s sixth transfer in 17 years.

Carolina fans know #42 best for his famous pre-game huddle dance moves, contagious smile and sense of humor.

While Tar Heel fans write messages to Huffman thanking him for the three years that he gave to the university, they should also thank someone else.

A guy named Milton, who unknowingly set Huffman’s journey in motion with a simple invitation.

THE INVITATION

Brandon Huffman went from being a kid who didn’t care much for sports to playing basketball for one of the most storied college programs in the country — the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

All it took was an invitation from a kid named Milton and a reluctant “yes” from then 12-year-old Huffman. 

He thought that he was just agreeing to trade in a few hours of his night for a game of basketball, which was already a big commitment considering the fact that sports didn’t thrill him. 

But his one-word answer would change more than just his evening plans. 

What was a routine, week-night basketball practice to others was a pivotal moment for Huffman. He discovered a passion that he never knew he had.

The following year, Huffman joined a team. At 13-years-old, he was at a considerable disadvantage. 

“That’s really late to a lot of guys. A lot of my teammates started when they were three or four years old,” he said. 

Luckily, he had strong coaches both on and off of the court. 

“My mom actually played [basketball] when she was coming up,” Huffman said. “She kind of wanted that to be what was for me.”

It turned out that she was right. 

THE POWER OF “YES”

That “yes” to Milton’s question would lead Huffman to church basketball leagues, grueling workouts and moments of triumph — like that time he led his high school team, West Anchorage, to a 4-A state championship title. He scored 23 points and had 24 rebounds in that showdown. 

At times, that “yes” would lead to seasons of doubt. 

Pursuing his dream of playing basketball at the college-level would eventually mean stuffing the contents of his life into little brown boxes and leaving Alaska — the place that he had called home for half of his life. 

It would mean moving to North Carolina and being the new kid at Word of God Christian Academy in Raleigh.

He would spend a lot of nights having conversations with God — too many to count — saying his prayers and wondering if this was the vision that He had for his life. 

He didn’t know it then, but someday he would have the opportunity to wear the same Carolina blue jersey that the superheroes of his life had worn. 

Huffman was a member of UNC-Chapel Hill’s 2017 recruiting class.

It was no longer Rasheed Wallace, Brendan Haywood or other Carolina basketball players that Huffman had looked up to battling the Duke Blue Devils on the court. 

It was him —  #42. On ESPN. 

And on one occasion, with former president Barack Obama watching in the stands

All it took was a “yes” to Milton’s question when it would have been far more comfortable to say “no.” 

LEAVING HIS MARK ON CAROLINA

Huffman spent many of his waking hours on campus and at the Dean E. Smith Center during his three years at Carolina. But there were things outside of the four walls of the classroom and off of the basketball court that piqued his interest. 

Like sneaker culture. 

“That’s something that I’ve been into for a long time, probably around the time I started playing basketball or maybe a little before,” Huffman said. He has over 100 pairs. 

“In seventh grade, I went to a shoe store when I was in Seattle with my dad and saw all of the shoes in there and just thought: ‘Wow. If I just could have a bunch of shoes, that would be the best.’” 

At the time, his dad didn’t understand his obsession. 

“I have a bunch of boxes. My closet is out of space. There was a certain point where my mom started saying stuff about it. She called it a ‘habit.’” 

But he said that his parents both eventually “came to terms” with his ever-growing beloved collection. “There are a lot of worse things that I could be doing.”

Huffman also took the time to explore other hobbies — like directing films.

“It really sparked something in me,” Huffman said, referencing the film classes that he took at UNC. He enjoyed hearing his professors talk about the different types of shots that went into films and how they all came together. 

“Our teacher would show us scenes and break it down for us… I thought, ‘Wow. I never saw how much goes into one shot and how complex it is.’ As an industry, I’ve looked into it a lot.”

He also took up writing. 

“I’ve written some poems. That’s not something a lot of people think,” Huffman said. “Poetry is really deep. I actually wrote a couple good ones.”

He is proud of the poem that he wrote about his dad’s military boots. 

He penned another one about Michael Jordan. 

“Who knows? Maybe that poem will get to Jordan and he will see it someday,” Huffman said with a grin. 

 “I was in a lot of creative classes and classes that I could express myself,” Huffman said, reflecting on his courses at UNC-Chapel Hill. “I’m not sure if that’s my gift, but it is something that I feel like I could look into more because I’m really creative.”

During his time at Carolina, he grew physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. 

Huffman said that his greatest mentors have been his pastor, Reverend William Barber; and his parents Byron and Varanda, who both served in the Air Force. 

“A lot of times I feel like I don’t understand things,” Huffman said, referencing his faith. “I haven’t been through certain things because I have to mature.” He used to call his mom to talk about the questions he had. She passed away on August 31, 2019, during his time at Carolina.

She helped him understand that “there is something for everything in the Bible and that it really has instruction and advice for every situation that you could go through,” Huffman said. It helps him find wisdom for everything. 

“I think that is something that has really defined who I am and there are a lot of people that maybe have not had an opportunity to meet Christ,” Huffman said.

SAYING “YES” TO WHAT IS NEXT

Huffman has aspirations for the future — like playing in the NBA — but he tries not to think too far ahead. 

His greatest desire? 

“Whatever God has for me is really just what I want. Sometimes being young that’s kind of hard to see,” Huffman said. “It could be anything. You’re not really sure how God will use you. But that’s kind of what I’m trying to do right now — focus on His plan.” 

“And if his plans align with mine, then I’ll go to the NBA and just live that next dream. That’s a dream that I’ve had since I started playing.”

So until that next season of life is at his doorstep, he spends his days saying “yes.” Yes to the things that are different and uncomfortable — like directing films and exploring the world of fashion and writing poetry. 

No matter where he ends up, he wants to use his voice. “I feel like there is something that I could do with it. I feel like the influence I have and everything is more than just basketball.”

Samantha Snellings

I like telling stories and what makes people tick. What wakes them up in the morning. What gives them a sense of purpose. I want to be let in on their hopes and dreams. I want to understand their struggles. I refuse to live a mundane life where I simply go through the motions, passing by people without truly seeing them. I want to be a voice for the voiceless.