Apparently he still has that deft Jimmy Braddock shooting touch.
The former Baylor School star was inside Grace Academy’s basketball office shortly after a midweek morning session at the Jim Braddock camp when Grace coach Jon Mattheiss came in and told him what one boy said to a fellow camper after missing a jump shot.
“He said, ‘Why can’t I shoot like Jimmy?’” Mattheiss said.
“Because he hasn’t shot a billion shots,” Braddock responded.
Braddock may have. His shooting skills and ball-handling wizardry, coupled with his quickness and knowledge of the game, took him from Baylor to the University of North Carolina to several places overseas to play professionally. The last 15 summers he has held his instructional sessions for boys and girls at Grace.
“As long as they’ll have me come over here, I’ll continue running camps. They haven’t turned me away yet,” he said of Mattheiss and Grace girls’ coach and athletic director Les Compton. “It’s always good to come back to Chattanooga. Chattanooga’s a great place.”
Braddock, 49, was all-city four years in high school and was a McDonald’s All-American as a senior in 1979. He signed with North Carolina and helped the Tar Heels to an NCAA runner-up finish to Indiana in 1981 and a national-championship victory over Georgetown in ’82.
He played professionally overseas until 1987, then returned stateside to teach and coach in Jacksonville, Fla. He ended up spending one more season abroad in 1989-90 as a player/assistant coach in New Zealand.
Braddock returned to Jacksonville, then in 1996 left for Columbia, S.C. He spent 12 seasons as varsity boys’ coach at Hammond School and guided the Skyhawks to four state finals in the South Carolina Independent Schools Association, including a championship in 1999.
After last season Braddock left Hammond to devote more time to a sales job he had been doing part time and to pursue investment interests. He turned the program over to his assistant, Jody Lumpkin, a Hammond alum and former standout player at the College of Charleston (1998 to 2001).
Braddock cited changes in administration, being run down after more than 20 years in coaching and the need to get away from the school atmosphere as factors in his decision.
“I did a lot of soul searching last year,” he said.
He has continued to stay close to UNC’s program. He went with his sister, Beth Warren, to the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament in Atlanta in 2009, a year when the Tar Heels lost the conference tournament but won the national championship.
“I’m not sure there’s a bigger North Carolina fan than my sister Beth,” Braddock said.
The first UNC game attended by Beth’s oldest daughter, Libby Weaver, was against Rutgers, which happened to be the same school the Tar Heels played in 1983 when Braddock made the first 3-point goal in school history. Other nieces Jennifer, Erin and Michelle also have been to games.
Braddock returns to Chapel Hill occasionally. Last year, when the Tar Heels celebrated 100 years of basketball, he was among the 300-400 lettermen in town the weekend of the North Carolina State game in mid-February. He said his highlights included meeting the oldest living Heels player, who’s 99.
In 2007 Braddock returned for the 25th-year reunion of the 1982 national-title team, which was celebrated along with the 50th-year reunion of the ’57 title team. He sat beside NBA Hall of Famer James Worthy at the Wake Forest game.
“We still talked about the same things we did in college,” Braddock said.
His mother, Mary Carter, still lives in this area. He routinely returns at Christmas time, too, and said his trips home could become a little more frequent now.
Much like Riverside High School star Anthony Roberts proclaimed Braddock as someone to watch when he was in elementary school, Braddock’s prize pupil is 9-year-old Jordan Rawls, son of former Brainerd, Hiwassee and Austin Peay standout Keith Rawls. Compton and Mattheiss said Braddock has made such an impact with campers over the years that many who now are grown come back to see him during camp week.
“It doesn’t matter where the kids are from,” Braddock said. “Looking back and seeing what they’ve done is what makes me proud. Credit Les and Jon for the coaching jobs they do during the season. I just experiece five days with them. Some may go on to stellar careers, and that makes you happy. That’s nice to see, but all of them have a love for the game. It’s great for the community, and the kids love to play.
“When I played it was all about the games. As a coach it’s all about practice. I enjoy teaching the game.”
Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or firstname.lastname@example.org.