It’s not all that uncommon for a young man to come back home as an adult to continue his professional career. There’s much to be said for returning to the comfort and familiarity of family, old friends and beloved pets.
But when you return as a neighborhood hero to pursue your dream job, well, home really does become where the heart is. In the case of former Florida Gulf Coast University basketball star Brandon Goodwin, it means a chance to return to his native Georgia and play with the Atlanta Hawks of the National Basketball Association. The 6-foot, 24-year-old point guard is from nearby Norcross, a 17,000-resident city about 20 miles outside Atlanta, where at Norcross High School in 2013, Goodwin led his team to a state championship as the Georgia 6A Player of the Year.
“It’s the first time in quite a while I get to play in front of my mom where she doesn’t have to fly or have a long drive to see me play. She’s only about 20 minutes away now,” Goodwin said. “I also have family in Columbia, South Carolina, which is only about three hours away. You can’t underestimate how great it is, after a workout or practice, to go home, sleep in my own bed, play with my dogs, get homecooked meals. It’s been really cool.”
The road back home actually marks his third NBA destination after quick tours with the Memphis Grizzlies (2018) and Denver Nuggets (2018-19) organizations, but not before Goodwin spent two years setting the men’s hoops standard at FGCU as the greatest player in the program’s almost-20-year history.
After sitting out a season following his 2015 transfer from Central Florida, where he played two years, Goodwin was named ASUN Newcomer of the Year and was the conference tournament’s most valuable player on an FGCU championship team in 2016-17 that earned an NCAA Tournament berth. After declaring for the 2017 NBA draft — but without hiring an agent, which would have negated his collegiate eligibility — Goodwin elected to return to the Eagles for his senior year, and did not disappoint. He led FGCU to an ASUN regular-season title and a bid to the National Invitation Tournament while being named conference MVP and first team all-conference.
In both seasons with the Eagles, Goodwin’s production was consistent and impressive: averages of more than 18 points, five rebounds and four assists per game.
“Brandon was the best player in the Atlantic Sun both of his seasons,” said FGCU head coach Michael Fly, who was the program’s top assistant when Goodwin played for the Eagles, and was the staff member who originally scouted Brandon. “I recruited him out of high school and missed on him, but then we were fortunate to get him on the transfer.”
Fly noted Goodwin’s impact on the program even before he actually played a game. “He was instrumental in our 2016 NCAA appearance because he drove our guys so hard in practice during his redshirt year, that games became easier for them because they weren’t having to battle Brandon Goodwin when we played someone else.
“Brandon set the tone for our program every day for three years by being one of the hardest-working, most competitive players I have ever coached.” Fly said. “I am still in close touch with him, and I am so excited for his opportunity in Atlanta.”
That opportunity has come because of the hard work Fly talks about, along with some persistence and perseverance.
Goodwin wasn’t picked in the 2018 NBA Draft, but hooked on with the Grizzlies for the NBA Summer League and was invited to training camp that fall. He was one of the final cuts for the NBA roster, instead joining Memphis’ NBA G League affiliate, the Memphis Hustle. His impressive numbers over nine games — 23.4 points, 5.3 rebounds and four assists per game – earned him another NBA shot with the Denver Nuggets in late November 2018, after which he signed a two-way deal with the Nuggets that let him transfer between the NBA roster and the Iowa Wolves of the G League. He appeared in 16 games with the Nuggets, averaging 1.4 points in limited playing time, but continued lighting up the G League, finishing with averages of 22 points, seven rebounds and more than five steals per game.
Still free to join any pro organization, Goodwin came home in the figurative sense Aug. 6 when he signed a two-way NBA contract with his home-area Hawks – the same type of deal he had with the Nuggets. Under his two-way contract, Goodwin plays most of the time for Atlanta’s G League affiliate, an expansion team in the south Atlanta suburbs called the College Park Skyhawks, but can spend up to 45 days with the NBA team during the season. Two-way contracts are only available to players with three years or fewer of NBA experience.
Goodwin is coming off his best game of the G League season this past weekend, recording the first triple-double in franchise history in leading the Skyhawks to a season-best three-game winning streak in beating the Greensboro Swarm, 135-111. He had a season-high 36 points (including 7-for-11 from 3-point range) to go with 16 assists and 12 rebounds.
Through 14 games with College Park (8-6 overall), Goodwin’s averaging 19.7 points, 6.2 rebounds and 8 assists per game. His next game is Jan. 17 at home against Windy City in a 7 p.m. game that can be seen on ESPN+.
“Every game that we’ve won, we’ve gotten out to a great start and controlled the game,” Goodwin said. “We have a bunch of guys who play hard. We’re still kind of scrambling a bit sometimes, but the effort and energy are always high. We’re all willing to learn, which is most important, and we have a really good locker room, which will help long-term during the season. I consider myself sort of a leader, and since we do have a few rookies, I guess you could say I’m a veteran on this team.”
Goodwin has already been called up to the NBA Hawks once, when starting point guard Trae Young was injured, and will likely get repeat call-ups during the season. Under his two-way contract, he makes about $5,000 a day when he’s with the Hawks – about five times what he gets when he’s with the Skyhawks.
One of the part-owners of the Skyhawks is the rapper known as 2 Chainz, who, under his real name Tauheed Epps, was reportedly quite the high school hoops star himself while growing up in Atlanta. “I haven’t seen him or met him, but I know he loves basketball, so I’m pretty sure he’ll be around a lot,” Goodwin said.
As is the case with many players who are the best on their lower-level teams, Goodwin now finds himself competing on a daily basis with the very best in the world. “It’s a challenge,” he said. “Everybody’s competing like it’s their last game. For me, I’ve had to learn to use my body a lot more than I did in high school and college. Now, I have to give a little shove before I go up to shoot, hold the defender off before I make a pass. It’s the little things now. Everyone can do what you do, and more. You have to get smarter and get stronger.”
While he’s busy concentrating on that, Goodwin hasn’t forgotten where he comes from, nor the people who helped get him where he is today.
“Coach Fly was the reason I came to Florida Gulf Coast,” he said. “We built a great relationship when I was coming out of high school, but at the time, I wanted to play for a bigger program. Once I got my release from UCF, he was the first person I contacted. He has always tried to help me grow as a man, on and off the floor. He helped me see the bigger picture.”
Goodwin also has special places in his heart for former FGCU assistants Lawrence “LB” Brenneman, who died this past April at age 56; and Aaron Miles, who after leaving FGCU was head coach of the Golden State Warriors’ G League team in Santa Cruz, Calif., before being promoted to the Warriors’ NBA staff this season as player development coach.
“I watched a lot of film with Coach LB,” Goodwin said. “He always gave me extra time, and I’ll never forget him for that. He knew how to bring that big-headed side of me down, and to show me what I could do to get better. May he rest in peace.”
Goodwin also said he’s proud of the entire FGCU Athletics program, which he says “sets a high standard collectively. Women’s basketball, soccer, volleyball … I’m excited for everyone there.”
Most of all, though, he’s happy that Fly is getting the chance to lead his former men’s team. “He doesn’t give up. He’s the same guy every day. If you aren’t bringing the same energy he’s bringing, he’ll let you know. He’s the kind of coach who makes you want to play for him. If those guys buy in, they’ll succeed. At the end of the day, it’s up to them.”
So while Goodwin has made it back to his boyhood home the way he dreamed he’d return – as a professional basketball player – he hasn’t forgotten the university that helped him along that path and will always be his second home.
“I’m very excited to see what Coach Fly can do,” he said. “I can tell they’re building something special there, because from what I’ve seen on video, they have some hardworking guys. I keep up with them as much as possible, and I hope to get down there to see them when I can.”
- To follow Brandon Goodwin’s season and see video highlights of his pro career, check out his G League bio page.