CINCINNATI — A day before Mount Notre Dame’s regional final, a teary-eyed, fatigued KK Bransford felt like throwing up.
The MND freshman basketball standout guard was in the Finneytown Middle School gym playing 1-on-1 with her elder brother, St. Xavier junior BJ Bransford.
BJ, who plays varsity basketball for the Bombers, would drive past her. He’d take the ball from his younger sister and go down to the other basket to score.
KK, who had already stayed 30 minutes after MND’s practice working on free throws that afternoon, felt like giving up. Big brother didn’t allow it.
“’I’m not going to go easy on you because you have a big game tomorrow,’” BJ told her.
KK, 15, appreciated that even if she couldn’t sense that in the moment. She has thanked her brother after MND games.
BJ has been an inspiration to her as a close sibling and through basketball going back to when KK was 3 years old. Later, KK would attend open gyms and play against BJ’s friends.
BJ helps to select pregame music for his sister. They hang out together and enjoy each other’s company at home.
“We are very, very close,” BJ said. “We tell each other everything.”
On March 8, KK scored 17 points and grabbed five rebounds in the Cougars’ 70-63 win over Centerville in the Division I regional final at Kettering Fairmont. She averages 16 points, 4.6 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.7 steals for the Cougars.
“She is so mature as a freshman,” MND coach Dr. Scott Rogers said this week. “We are so lucky to have her. I kind of almost don’t have to say anything to her because the upperclassmen take care of it.”
As MND (25-2) prepares to play Canton GlenOak (24-2) in a Division I state girls’ basketball semifinal at 6 p.m. Friday at the Schottenstein Center in Columbus, BJ will be there with the siblings’ parents, Johanna and Bryan.
MND is in the state tournament for the ninth time this week and is seeking its seventh state title after winning the championship in 2017.
This week, senior guard Gabbie Marshall (Iowa signee) and senior forward Julia Hoefling (Loyola University Chicago) offered perspective to Bransford and some of the other younger MND players about being at The Schott.
“She has never played like a freshman,” Marshall said. “She knows what she is doing. She knows her role. She plays it well. She does everything. She can do it all.”
Even though she plays beyond her years, KK is new to the state tournament.
“Us winning regionals and going to the Final Four that’s really surprised me,” KK said. “It’s like, 'Dang we are just here in Cincinnati – we get to go to Columbus.' I’m really excited about it.”
Bransford is used to being in the spotlight. She always played a grade ahead during competition. She played on a boys’ team in elementary school in Finneytown. BJ knows everything about her game. He knows when his sister will make a free throw.
“I played with boys growing up – it’s made me faster and stronger and being more mature on the court,” KK said.
KK is one of the top freshmen in the country, according to Ohio Girls’ Basketball Report Director Bryce McKey. Her scholarship offers that include schools from the Big Ten, Southeastern Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference.
But, she is a team-oriented player whose basketball IQ is beyond her years. She is also humble.
“She has the ability to score in multiple ways, typically guards the other team’s best player and is an incredible teammate,” McKey said. “Her ability to affect a game on both ends with her length is immeasurable. She gets better every time we see her.”
Marshall, an Iowa signee and first-team all-state selection, wasn’t surprised with the impact that her friend has made this season.
It didn’t take long for Bransford get acclimated to MND basketball. BJ thought his sister might score six points a game or struggle to get playing time.
But, when KK scored 29 points against nationally-ranked Columbus Africentric Early College in the season opener, he knew this season would be different. He almost thought KK was his elder sister.
“She is bigger than anything I would ever be,” BJ said.
A state title would mean everything to MND and those who know Bransford, especially her brother.
“I’m nervous but I’m just hoping they can pull through and finish the season strong,” BJ said. "They got all the way here so they might as well win it all like I know they can."