Thunderbirds athletes recognized despite disappointing season

By Ulysses Smith, Sports Editor

Four members of the Merritt College Thunderbirds Men’s Basketball team were offered full scholarships: Brandynn Manning (55), Adam Sindelar (33), Jared Bailey (0), and Devin Pierce (22). Team photo of the 2019-20 season at the Merritt College basketball gym in Oakland, Calif. Photo courtesy of Merritt College

Four players of the Merritt College Thunderbirds Men’s Basketball team have accepted full sports and academic scholarship offers from four-year universities around the country. The T-Birds finished off the 2019-2020 season with six wins and twenty-two losses.

Head Coach of the Merritt T-Birds Derrick Jones. Photo courtesy of Merritt College

“The season obviously didn’t end or go the way we wanted it to,” said Derrick Jones, head coach of the Merritt T-Birds for the last two years. “We’re addressing those concerns by recruiting new players, bringing in fresh blood, so we can get back to where we were the year before, when we made the playoffs.”

Despite the rough season, players Jared Bailey, Brandynn Manning, Devin Pierce, and Adam Sindelar were all offered full scholarships to schools across the country.

“It’s huge. People are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to go to college and are taking out and then paying off loans for ten to twenty years of their life,” said Jones.

“We have an opportunity to put a kid in the position to go finish college, and they don’t owe a dime.”

Devin Pierce, 20, was accepted to Pacific University in Oregon on a full academic scholarship. Adam Sindelar, 20, was accepted to Florida National University on a full athletic scholarship.

T-Birds point guard Jared Bailey, 20, has been with Merritt College for a year after transferring from San Jose City College. He has been offered five full-ride athletic scholarships to play for schools nationwide, including Eastern Nazarene College in Boston, University of Maine at Fort Kent, Montreat College in North Carolina, Dillard University in Louisiana, and University of Rio Grande in Ohio. He decided to accept the offer to play at Montreat College for fall. Despite the shelter-in-place orders, Bailey still practices two hours a day, five days a week with his trainer on FaceTime to “stay sharp” for the next level.

“These scholarships mean everything to me and my family,” Bailey said.

T-Birds point guard Jared Bailey, 20, during a home game at Merritt College in spring 2020. Photo courtesy of Jared Bailey

T-Bird shooting guard Brandynn Manning, 22, has also been at Merritt for a year; he transferred from Diablo Valley College after his freshman year. He received three scholarship offers to take his talents to their schools, the University of Toledo in Ohio, and Howard University in Washington, D.C., but Manning opted to accept the full ride from South Carolina State University to work towards a degree in criminal justice.

The scholarship had a huge impact on both Manning and his hometown Pittsburg, Calif. According to Manning, he’s “the first person in my city to play Division I basketball” which is huge for him.

“To play at Division I, to play at the highest level, was always the goal,” Manning said. “To accomplish a goal that not a lot of people can accomplish where I’m from, that meant a lot to me . . . I have three brothers who all had the opportunity to play at Division I basketball but didn’t make it; one of my brothers could have gone pro. I have to watch their mistakes and just try to capitalize off of their pitfalls.”

Much like his other teammates, COVID-19 hasn’t affected his workout routine much.

Brandynn Manning, 22, shooting guard for T-birds at an away game in spring 2020. Photo courtesy of Brandynn Manning

“I’ve been good. I can get into my high school gym whenever. I’ve been on the track. I actually just finished a mile at College Park right now. All I do is workout and sleep anyway,” Manning said.

To many of the players, these scholarships fulfill childhood dreams of playing through college and taking their game and education to the next level.

“When students arrive at community college their ultimate goal is to move on I look at it as our duty to find them a school to move on to, you know that’s what the two-year institution is all about.” said Jones.

“The good thing about it is all my guys are above a 3.0 [grade point average]; they’re all talented, smart, and good students. For me, the most important part is that my team is developing skills that they can use to be successful in life outside of basketball.”