The Fairmont State University men’s basketball program needs a shooter right away. Brendan Paul, a 2017 Hawken School graduate, has the goods to deliver.
The 6-foot-3 guard committed April 19 to join head coach Tim Koenig, a 2002 University School graduate, and the Division II Fighting Falcons in Fairmont, West Virginia, about 65 miles south of Pittsburgh.
Paul set a single-season program record for 3-pointers, 70, during his days with the Hawks, who went 16-8 with an 11-3 mark in the Chagrin Valley Conference his senior year.
Paul then took a postgraduate year of hoops at Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, when the Bobcats played in the National Prep School Championship quarterfinals.
After that, Paul spent the past two seasons playing Division I college basketball as a walk-on for head coach Jim Boeheim and the Orange at Syracuse University in New York, before deciding to transfer to Fairmont State.
“The last two years at Syracuse were obviously amazing, and I wouldn’t take those for granted or that sort of thing,” Paul said. “But I knew at the end of the day I wasn’t going to play as much as I wanted to play, and I ultimately just decided that I would go play somewhere where I would most likely start and have a very prominent role.
“At the end of the day, I’ve got two or three years left, depending on exactly what I want to do with my eligibility, and then see if the overseas professional route is an option. I just want to be able to have said that I played as much as I could and not have any regrets about it.”
Paul would have become eligible for a scholarship at Syracuse for the 2020-2021 season, but he said he didn’t want to continue rolling the dice with playing time.
Competing with and against the best college cagers in the nation every day in the Atlantic Coast Conference, Paul saw limited action in seven games his sophomore season with the Orange.
“I got to see how basketball works on the biggest stage,” Paul said. “I mean, the ACC is real. When everyone says it’s a jump from high school to college, and it’s a jump that’s indescribable, I would completely agree with that. I was ready for it. But there’s still just a lot that goes into that kind of program.”
After the Syracuse men’s basketball program took an exhibition tour in August 2019 to play four games in Italy, competing in the cities of Como, Venice, Florence and Rome, Paul said he knew he wanted to enter the transfer portal, and coach Boeheim was OK with that.
Paul played in two of the four games overseas, splashing 3-pointers in each.
“I had played really well in Italy, and I just had a feeling that I really could go play somewhere and do something really meaningful with that instead of, at Syracuse, gamble each year to see if I would have a chance to be a player in the system, you know, a player who played all the time in the system,” he said. “And, I guess I was willing to take the risk of entering the portal, because I knew that I’d have some schools that would definitely recruit me.”
Last summer, before the Italy trip, Paul spent a lot of time working out at Notre Dame College in South Euclid, where Koenig was the head coach before getting hired to take the reins at Fairmont State on June 28, 2019.
Paul met Koenig through his buddy Jordan Barham, a 2012 US graduate who averaged 25 points per game as an all-Ohioan his senior year with the Preppers before playing Division I hoops at Davidson College.
Before Hawken, Paul attended University School in fourth, fifth and sixth grades.
“Jordan (Barham) and TK are very close, so that’s how we got connected, and he just expressed interest in my game and asked me what my plan was and all the kind of stuff,” Paul said of Koenig. “It was a good conversation, but, at the time, in my head I was thinking my goal is to play Division I basketball. Obviously, that changed later on.”
Despite having short notice to take the reins at Fairmont State, after previous head coach Joe Mazzulla took an assistant job with the Boston Celtics, Koenig still led the Fighting Falcons to a 23-7 record with a 16-6 mark in the Mountain East Conference this past season.
Fairmont State was scheduled to play Shippensburg, of Pennsylvania, in the Division II NCAA tournament, but that was canceled because of the coronavirus.
“I just know he’s a (darn) good coach, and I think the biggest thing for him in why he’s such a good coach is because he’s able to relate with each one of his guys in a different way,” Paul said. “He just understands his players. I mean, even from the first time I talked on the phone with him, it was just like I felt an instant connection.”
What also caught Paul’s attention was Koenig expressing his need for a shooter. While Koenig doesn’t make promises to his players about getting minutes, he did promise Paul that, if he goes to Fairmont and works his tail off, then he knows exactly what will fall in place, Paul said.
And while Paul is known for shooting deep threes, he said his time at Syracuse transformed him into a three-way scorer.
“I think the biggest transition in terms of my game has been my ability to pass the ball and my awareness on the court, compared to what it used to be, since I was playing with really, really good talent,” he said. “And I’m just a three-way scorer now. I’ll score at all three levels – getting to the paint, mid-range and from three.”
And with a campus life at Fairmont State that is night and day from Syracuse, Paul said the opportunity to play in a backcourt with Dale Bonner also attracted him to the Fighting Falcons.
Averaging 18.4 points his senior season at Shaker Heights, Bonner was an all-Ohioan in 2018. After taking a redshirt season at Fairmont, Bonner became the Falcons’ leading scorer, was named MEC freshman of the year and earned Division II all-region honors this past season.
“We played together when I went to Shaker Heights Middle School, and his dad and my dad have a very good relationship through basketball,” Paul said. “We played a lot of AAU basketball together and stuff. And he just had a killer year. I just think he and I together in the backcourt is going to be something extremely special.”
Academically, Paul plans to shift from sports management to possibly business management or marketing, he said. But his long-term athletic goal is to play some pro ball in Europe following college.
“If that’s something I can do and have the possibility to go make some money over there before I settle in and figure out what exactly I want to do with jobs and stuff, that’s definitely something I would pursue,” he said. “And I think my best chance, or at least having a chance at that goal, is going somewhere in college where I’m going to play all the time.”