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Dec. 18, 2008

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Senior guard Branden Conrad garnered his first career start this season in an impressive Gamecock victory over Winthrop. Conrad’s career has come full circle this season for the Charlotte, N.C., native, who recently took time to visit with about the 2008-09 campaign.

Q: You were able to make your first career start vs. Winthrop earlier this season. How would you describe the journey of your career and what it meant to you to be able to walk out there in the starting five?
A: Going to college at Navy to start out off my career, it didn’t work out basketball-wise. I played JV my freshman year, didn’t play my sophomore season and I never really got a chance. Then I came here to South Carolina and things started changing. I’ve loved every minute of it here. I sat out my first year with Devan (Downey) and Zam (Fredrick) and last year I didn’t get to play much but I kept working. My first start really came about in an unfortunate way when we lost Brandis (Raley-Ross) (to injury). As far as the start, it felt like I accomplished something and that the hard work paid off.

Q: Do you think about all those years waiting for your turn? It wasn’t just one year, more like three or four. How would you describe that period and the time you spent to get to a position to start?
A: I think that it is something I learned really early in life. Just playing AAU at a young age, I’m not as athletic as most of the other players. I always had to prove myself and I felt at the start of every year I was listed as one of the last guys and I had to work my way up for playing time. I think that played a big part in going through the last two years and not playing a lot. I kept telling myself that I am good enough to play at this level and if I keep working hard that I have to be ready for the opportunity.

Q: When they announced your name that night, lights were off, you hear `Branden Conrad’, how did that feel?
A: I definitely had goose bumps. It was surreal and a great feeling. It was a dream I had early in my life to play and start at this level, it was really a blessing.

Q; And it had to be good to make your first shot and put that behind you?
A: That was great too. Once you’re our there, its playing basketball with your teammates and it was a great unselfish pass by Devan (Downey) to give me the opportunity to make that shot. Once you’re out there, you settle down.

Q: Talk about working in the offense and the system Coach Horn has put in place.
A: We are still learning it every day. The main part on the offensive end is spacing and learning how to space, especially with a guy like Devan Downey, more space will allow him to penetrate more and when they converge on him, it opens it up for Zam (Fredrick) and I. Zam is a great penetrator as well and does a great job finding the open man. Coach Horn’s system is great for our team. I think we are getting better every day (with it).

Q: Coach Horn has talked a lot about effort and how he is looking for that on the court when the team is facing an opponent. You have had to give effort throughout your life and in your journey as a starter, can you talk about how important effort is for not only you but the team? Also, what has Coach Horn taught you about basketball that you may not have been aware of as much or what opened your eyes a little bit as he has taught you these first few months?
A: I’ve kind of always had to display effort to kind of even myself with the athletic players at this level. Coach Horn puts such a big emphasis on effort and not only physical effort, which I feel I have worked hard at, but I think the main challenge I have had is when he has challenged us mentally and to give that mental effort. That’s the biggest challenge I have had and I need to have it in my head to be ready at any time. I went through Navy and that has its own challenges but the mental challenges (Coach Horn) has brought (has helped me as a basketball player). We have to come out with a mentality that we are going to get it done, no excuses, no matter what has happened in the game. Come out with a good mental effort and toughness.

Q: You have a pretty close relationship with your parents. How has their support been with you here at South Carolina? Your father was a successful player at Clemson, how special is that connection that both of you were able to play Division I athletics in the state of South Carolina.
A: I love seeing my mom and dad in the stands. It’s great seeing them wearing Garnet. With my mom, she has been such a big part of my life and has always taught me to do the right things. With my dad, it’s a great bond that he and I have with basketball. He has taught me a lot from growing up and going on AAU trips together, getting through the tough times and helping me to keep my confidence.

It has been neat coming here, doing something on my own at South Carolina and just having my mom and my dad here in the stands wearing South Carolina gear is pretty cool. It is such a blessing how much support I have received from my family.

Q: Who was your favorite basketball player to watch when you were growing up?
A: I always respected John Stockton. I enjoyed watching him play, how he controlled the game and how smart he was on the court. I have a great respect for his knowledge of the game and I’m trying to repeat that in my own way.

Q: You are majoring in business finance and real estate, have you decided what you might want to do in your future when basketball is over?
A: They are both great majors and the economy is not doing too well today but I have full confidence that both those majors will do great things for me in the future. I think I’ll try to get into banking, maybe as a commercial vendor on the business banking side. I’m just working hard to try to get my degree.

Q: Have you learned a lot since the economy has soured in the last year? What has that been like as you study?
A: When I tell everyone my major, people look at me with big eyes and ask me `How are you going to succeed with that major right now? Going through school right now, it’s a great opportunity in class to learn about how the economy reached this point. We are studying a lot of what went wrong and ways to fix it. I think it helps with learning from mistakes and it has been repetitive in history that our great successes comes after great failures.

Q: Having spent a couple years at Navy, I know you have a great appreciation for the students there now and what it takes to be a successful student. What can you share about the experience and the people you met up there? Not a lot of us would know, what did you learn while you were there?
A: It’s an incredible honor to have been a part of the U.S. Naval Academy. I didn’t think I fit in well with it and that’s why I left but I have an incredible amount of respect for everyone there. The hardest part about leaving was my friends and the bond that I had with people in my company. I still talk very often with my roommates and some of the other guys. I just got off the phone (the other day) with my former roommate who was in Virginia with Marine Training. He will be out in Iraq in a year or so. Their character is what I have the most respect for. Just being willing to serve our country in a time like this. It’s tough, as close as I am, to see them going over there but its something our country needs and I’ll support them as much as I can and they are letting us all live in freedom. I have the utmost respect for each of them and I thank them for what their service.

Q: Switching back to basketball, tell me about what it means to be on this team and the group of players that you go to work with each day? What does it mean to be a part of this team?
A: This team is a lot of fun and we have been around each other now for two years. We have grown closer together and I think a big part of that was the European trip (this summer). That was unbelievable and we had just a phenomenal time. Each place was great to visit and to learn basketball at the same time and playing together as a team was huge. I think ever since then, it has been better and to take in the experience, with the new coaching staff, we have bought in and it is just fun playing basketball this year.

The games are going to be tough this year. I think we are getting better every day and it is fun going through this season with the guys we have, because I think we have great character on this team.

Q: Looking back, even before the European trip, have you seen the progression of this team and do you look back and see how your basketball education has developed since before that trip and just in the first couple months when Coach Horn and the staff came in?
A: We see it every day. I remember when we first started and we would be just trying to get through it because it was demanding. (Coach Horn) would teach us things and we wouldn’t really fully grasp the concept but now that we are in the games, we can see it. For example, I mentioned the spacing, how great that offense works when it is clicking. And also the defensive pressure. Are offense comes from our intensity on defense. It was hard in the beginning because Coach had to teach us the mentality of bringing the intensity on defense because that is what is going to win us games.

Q: What would you like to say to the Gamecock fans that are out at the games?
A: We are a close team and we are really enjoying playing basketball this year. We have a great cast of Gamecock fans at this school and I just ask that they all come out and support us. It’s a fun style of play we have going this year. I ask that they keep coming out and make some noise in the Colonial Life Arena.

Compiled by Assistant Director of Media Relations Andrew Kitick