By Jonathan Hawthorne | Oct 12, 2017
Special to espnW
Year after year, the same formula — a tireless work ethic and diligent preparation — has powered Samantha Brunelle‘s basketball ascent. It has helped her capture two medals with Team USA. It has catapulted her up the recruiting rankings. And it’s one of many reasons countless college coaches have come calling.
Last weekend, the 6-foot-2 forward used her basketball skills for a much-needed assist. She organized a basketball clinic and silent auction for Houston schoolchildren impacted by Hurricane Harvey.
“She really grabbed it with both hands and ran with it,” said Jess Stafford, Brunelle’s coach at William Monroe in Stanardsville, Virginia. “It was extremely impressive. Helping people is just who she is. Once she gets an idea in her head, it’s going to happen.”
In total, Brunelle, the No. 1 recruit in the espnW HoopGurlz 2019 class, raised $4,100 for the Houston Independent School District. During the Oct. 7 event, which included two-hour sessions, Brunelle tutored aspiring hoopers from kindergarten to fifth grade. After an hour break, another group came: sixth to ninth graders.
Asking for a $20 donation for entry, Brunelle put the young players through shooting drills and taught them the keys to the defense that has helped put her game on the map.
“I had always dreamed of doing a clinic with little kids,” Brunelle said. “Little did I know I was going to do it to actually help kids in another state. It was amazing to see it all come together.
“This is really important to me because I’m helping kids get back on their feet.”
Beyond her time, Brunelle made a personal donation: her USA Basketball No. 12 Nike jersey, the one she wore while averaging 11.0 points and 7.0 rebounds last June.
In the end, the winning $600 bid for her jersey belonged to a familiar family. Steve and Cathy Morris work at the local Corner Store, where the Brunelle family purchases its Christmas tree each year, and have a granddaughter who plays for William Monroe.
“They talked about how proud they were of the things I was doing,” Brunelle said. “And really proud that I was doing it for a good cause while donating to kids that really need it. … It’s about more than just me. It’s about helping out other kids, too.”
The jersey’s impact doubled when South River Farms, owned by a Brunelle family friend, matched with a $600 donation.
Brunelle’s mom, Katie, and dad, Rod, sat back in awe as the bids poured in.
“I guess the right word is speechless,” Katie said. “That so many people would rally around her for this cause and appreciate what that jersey stands for — the hard work that was put into it — and that it has USA across it. It was a proud momma moment.”
Brunelle managed all the event-planning despite a jam-packed schedule. She’s taking the SAT next month. The academic quarter is soon coming to a close. It’s homecoming week at William Monroe.
Then there is basketball. The coveted recruit trimmed her list to 11 schools in August and plans to visit Duke, Notre Dame, Louisville and Kentucky in the upcoming month.
Amid it all, Brunelle carved out time to secure gym space from the school district’s superintendent, contact vendors for a variety of silent auction items, build the event’s website, plan basketball drills and recruit teammates to join the cause.
Besides a chance to pay her support forward, the clinic reaffirmed Brunelle’s interest in coaching.
“She said, ‘I always thought I wanted to [coach]. But now I know.’ I thought that was really cool,” Stafford said, “to have her use such an amazing event to also realize another dream she has.”
Saturday’s event was just the latest showing of support for Brunelle by her hometown of Ruckersville (population just over 1,000) and the surrounding communities. Two summers in a row, they’ve welcomed her back from USA Basketball trips with surprise parties. Hundreds of residents created signs and lined the streets. There was even a police escort.
“They show up time and time again,” Stafford said.
Added Brunelle, “It’s crazy how much community support there is around Greene County, even though it’s one of the smallest [in Virginia].”
Before each session ended Saturday, Brunelle surprised Stafford. After scrimmages, the youngsters joined in on a tradition that completes each practice at William Monroe.
They call it “celebrations.” Teammates highlight each other, dishing out positive compliments to cap practice.
“I was just floored,” Stafford said. “You watch your heart fill up and try to keep it together since you’re in public. I was so proud.”