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Brandon Raines coaching basketball
Brandon Raines in action at a previous coaching stop.

By Richard Burnett

Raines-Brandon Brandon Raines has worn many hats in his career in sports and education — from teacher, tutor, mentor, and recruiter to athletic director and coach. In his latest quest, Raines has donned the cap of Beacon College’s new assistant athletic director and head coach of the women’s basketball team.

The 30-year-old husband and father of two was hired in May after seven years as athletic director and head basketball coach at Riverside Christian School in Trenton, Fla. There, he energized Riverside’s sports program, started its first basketball team, and transformed it into a championship contender.

Compared with his past roles, Raines sees the Beacon job as potentially the most challenging — but most rewarding. He leads a women’s hoops team that began only two years ago as part of Beacon’s expansion into intercollegiate sports. This fall, the women’s team led by Raines — and the men’s team under Coach Sam Vincent — will compete in the small-college-oriented U.S. College Athletic Association.

For Raines, it is exciting to be part of that milestone in Beacon’s sports history, as well as the college’s $12 million capital initiative to build a new sports and fitness center that includes two university-level basketball courts — a move he believes will burnish the college’s growing national reputation.

He’s also excited to see a committed, skillful core of players returning for the upcoming season.

“I’ve watched a lot of game film and I know there are kids on the team I could work with to help make really good players,” Raines says. “But more importantly, I want to create a team culture where everyone gets along and grows together like a family. We’re not looking for an undefeated season right away. We just want them to go out there, work hard, have fun, and experience little victories along the way.”

From success to adversity and back

Raines’ own athletic career shines with highlights, beginning in high school at Melody Christian Academy in Live Oak, Fla., where he still holds all-time school records in assists, steals and free-throw percentage, while graduating as class valedictorian.

Fresh from his stellar high school years, however, he ran into some adversity in his first foray at the big college level. At the University of West Florida, he went from a star on the court to an oft-injured reserve who saw little playing time.

Many would have been crushed by such a fall, but Raines refused to wallow in self-pity. Confident he could still play college basketball he remembered the college coach who years earlier had truly believed in him. He called Coach Pat Milligan of Trinity Baptist College in Jacksonville.

“Coach Milligan had been the first coach to recruit me in high school,” Raines said. “He reached out to me when I was still a sophomore and told me he would always have a spot for me at Trinity. I knew coach wanted me there from the beginning. The bigger schools were tempting, but he convinced me Trinity was the right spot to transfer to.”

Raines blossomed under Milligan’s wing, becoming a starter in his first year, leading Trinity to a national small-Christian-college championship in his second year, and captaining the team in his last two years as Trinity landed a berth in the final four each year. He graduated in 2016 with a bachelor’s in sports administration and physical education.

“Brandon was the kind of player who was so solid; he was like a coach on the floor, always being a leader and keeping the team focused,” Milligan recalls. “Some kids are too much about themselves, flashy and selfish on the court. But Brandon was just there to support everyone. He has a heart for people, as well as the game itself. He’s competitive and tenacious, and he wants to win. But he wants others to succeed as much as himself.”

Chosen from candidates nationwide

The drive to help others has fueled another part of Raines’ life — his work as a recruiting advisor to connect student-athletes with potential college athletic scholarships. Ever since he was a freshman at Trinity, he has helped other talented athletes from small towns get recruited by small colleges. To date, more than 70 of his clients have received scholarships. He expects the list to top 100 by the end of 2023.

That is also how he first connected with Beacon in 2020 when he was head basketball coach at Riverside Christian School. One of his key players suffered a brain injury in a boating accident and was dealing with cognitive problems. Raines reached out to Beacon to pitch his player as a perfect fit for the college’s neurodivergent student body and its nascent basketball program.

Although it didn’t work out for his player to attend Beacon, Raines was impressed with the college’s vision for sports, led by athletic director Gabe Watson and his assistants Tony Wrice and Kyle Close. They agreed to stay in touch with Raines and let him know when Beacon had an opening.

That day came this past April and, after a series of interviews, the staff hired Raines over 140 applicants from across the country for the women’s hoops coach/assistant AD job.

For Watson, Raines checked every box — his track record as an athletic director, head coach, and recruiter; knowledge of the game and how to work with people; and experience working with students with learning differences (Raines was Riverside’s lead teacher for students with learning challenges).

“Brandon has the character, knowledge, and determination to do whatever it takes to get this job done,” Watson said. “He’s a calm, steady presence who knows what our student-athletes need, how to encourage them, and motivate them. Plus, he’s someone who can grow with our players as they develop.”

‘He won’t let you down’

If his work at Riverside Christian School is any indication, Raines’ career at Beacon will be a memorable one, said Judy Parks, Riverside’s former secretary. She worked with Raines for years as he built Riverside’s sports program and influenced the lives of many students — including her son.

“He made a big impression on everyone,” she says. “He’s so knowledgeable, and he has a vision for helping kids through sports. He’ll fit right in there at Beacon. He’s a great person with a great heart, and he won’t let you down.”

With practice scheduled to start in September, Raines says his main priority from the beginning will be to create a culture of respect, encouragement, and resilience in Beacon’s women’s team. That alone would be a key factor in recruiting new players to Beacon.

“We want each player to be so positive about everyone else on the team, it will show how much they care for each other,” he says. “So, when other candidates who are being recruited come to visit, they’ll see this is really a great family to join, a great place to play, and great place to go to college.”