June 21, 2005
RALEIGH -- Two questions followed Andrew Brackman from the moment he arrived on the N.C. State campus last fall.
Was he as good as he was cracked up to be as a right-handed pitcher with major-league potential? And if he was, how would it ultimately affect his basketball career as a 6-10 power forward?
It's safe to say that the answer to the first question is an emphatic yes. Brackman is the real deal on the mound, sporting a fastball clocked regularly in the mid-90s along with a nasty knuckle-curve, a change-up and a straight curve that sometimes looks like a slider.
He finished his freshman season for coach Elliott Avent's baseball team with a 4-0 record and a sparkling 2.09 earned-run average in 10 outings. The other numbers were excellent, too: 43 strikeouts against only 32 hits and 18 walks in 43 innings. He didn't give up a home run all season. Opposing hitters had a combined .216 batting average. Most importantly, the Wolfpack was a perfect 10-0 in the games he pitched.
His most impressive performance came in the ACC Tournament, when he mowed down Miami in a 2-1 win, going seven innings, allowing only six hits, and striking out five.
All of that, of course, only makes the second question more intriguing.
If in fact Brackman is destined to be a high pick when he becomes eligible for the baseball draft again in 2007, it's inevitable that his basketball career is going to be impacted. But how? For now, Brackman continues to take a Pollyanna approach to it all, suggesting that he'll play both sports for as long as he can.
"I love them both," Brackman said recently. "I don't really plan on giving up either of them. And if one takes away from the other, that's just how it's going to be."
That sounds nice, and it's no doubt well-intended. But really, it's hard to imagine that it actually will play out to where Brackman plays the next three years of basketball and the next three years of baseball at State without something changing.
Brackman didn't join the baseball team this year until March 26, the day after the Wolfpack basketball team lost to Wisconsin in Syracuse, N.Y., in the NCAA Regional semifinals. That was seven weeks and 25 games into the season. He didn't make his first appearance until April 2, and he didn't get his first start and his first decision until April 20.
Because of NCAA rules that limit the amount of time two-sport athletes can play or practice in any given week, Brackman was unable to work out with the baseball team at all while playing basketball, and he was able to do only a limited amount of throwing throughout the winter.
It's hard to argue that Brackman's pitching suffered because of basketball, considering his success. But one could argue that it affected his development. It clearly put him in catch-up mode, joining the baseball team late, and it definitely cost him several starts.
The line from baseball scouts, of course, is that Brackman would quicken his path to the majors by dropping basketball completely and concentrating solely on baseball, so he could train and throw all winter and then pitch the maximum number of innings in the spring.
Baseball Focus Of Summer Plans
Brackman is spending this summer in Newport, R.I., in the Newport Collegiate Baseball League, instead of working various basketball camps around the country. That's a pretty good sign that he knows where his real future lies, that baseball ultimately will be his meal ticket.
State officials have made arrangements for Brackman to get some shooting in occasionally at a gym near where Brackman is staying in Newport, but in fact there will be very little basketball on his plate this summer and none against top-flight competition.
Brackman had a nice freshman season for coach Herb Sendek's basketball team, averaging 7.4 points and 3.5 rebounds in 35 games. He was a pleasant surprise early, then caught his second wind around tournament time and was a key contributor again.
He's projected to be the starter at power forward in 2005-06, teaming with fellow sophomore Cedric Simmons and highly touted freshman Brandon Costner to give State a potentially strong front line.
But Brackman did hit the wall on the basketball court in the middle of last season, and his play suffered. Maybe that simply came from being a freshman, but one has to wonder if playing two sports added to it. And it's hard to imagine Brackman improving as a basketball player if he's devoting the summer to baseball.
Brackman has laughed at all the analyses (and over-analysis), pointing out that he has played both sports for all of his life and done pretty well. And he does make a good point.
But as he moves up to higher levels in both sports, the competition increases and the margin of error decreases. There's a fine line between greatness and failure at the highest levels.
That brings us back to square one. Even if Brackman continues to play both sports at State for the next two years, one can assume that he'll be selected high in the June 2007 baseball draft, barring an arm injury or some other unexpected setback. The draft is as much about talent and potential as anything, and teams would have every reason to give Brackman the benefit of the doubt.
Some big-time decisions would have to be made at that point. Would Brackman sign a baseball contract at that point and skip his senior year? He would retain his senior season of eligibility in terms of basketball even if he signed a baseball contract. But in reality, any baseball team that invested a lot of money in him would want him to go to the Instructional League or play winter ball that offseason, instead of going back to State to play basketball.
Would Brackman put off signing a baseball contract at that point just to go back and play a final season of basketball? That would further delay his route to the majors by at least a year, and it obviously would be financially risky.
There's another scenario that is beginning to develop. Brackman has been contacted as a potential candidate for the U.S. Olympic baseball team that would play in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. If selected, he could continue to go to State and train in Raleigh between now and the time the Olympic team sets out on its pre-Olympic schedule.
However it turns out, all indications are that Sendek and Avent are committed to making this work. Avent has gone out of his way to praise and thank Sendek for his cooperation, and for living up to the promises that were made during Brackman's recruitment. Sendek does hold a few keys in this, even if Brackman's brightest future is in baseball, because Brackman is on a full basketball scholarship, not a baseball scholarship.
So this is going to be a story worth following for some time, especially once Brackman enters his junior year. For now, all indications are that he will indeed play both sports again -- for one more year, at least.