"I've narrowed it down to two, and they've been with me the whole time. It's Stanford and Virginia," John Brandenburg declares. "I have visits planned to both of them. I'm going to Stanford on the 9th, and then I'm going to Virginia the weekend after Labor Day. Right after I take both those trips, I'm going to make a decision."
The 6'11" center from St. Louis (Mo.) De Smet Jesuit High School has been once before to each of the two campuses, though in admittedly limited opportunities. In late June, Brandenburg was in Charlottesville on the Virginia campus for the NBA Players Association Top 100 Camp. The event was held in the John Paul Jones Arena, the home of the Cavaliers.
But there is much more Brandenburg hopes to experience during his official visit, set for September 8.
"Virginia was a really, really amazing school," he says. "It has a great history, with Thomas Jefferson, and the campus was really nice. I really like the coach, Coach [Dave] Leito. As far as the official, I want to really get a feel for the school while it's in session. Just get a feel for the atmosphere, the type of people at the school and on the team."
"The people really make up the team, so if I don't feel that I'm going to mesh well with the team, then it's going to be hard for me to say that I'm going to be here for four years," Brandenburg adds.
First, the #15-ranked center in the nation will take an unofficial visit to Stanford later this week. He is scheduled to fly late Wednesday the 8th and then spend Thursday touring San Francisco. He will explore the Cardinal campus on Friday and Saturday, the 10th and 11th.
There will be some inequalities between the two visits, with Brandenburg's Stanford trip an unofficial one. That means he has to foot the bill for airfare, hotel and meals during his visit, while those expenses and more will be paid in September at Virginia. Stanford, which operates on an academic calendar of quarters, does not start its autumn classes until September 24. Moreover, the Stanford players and coaches will be in Italy the first part of September on their foreign tour.
"I wouldn't be able to visit until late September," Brandenburg explains. "I didn't want to have to wait that long until I make my visit, so we're just going to go. Summer school will still be in session, so there will be some people there. Most of the team - I think all of the team - should be there. I know there will be some students there, so I hope that I can still get a lot out of the visit."
This Friday also marks the first day of the 10 pre-Italy practices that Stanford will conduct as a team.
Brandenburg has been to Stanford once, before, though several years ago. He was just a gangly eighth grader then, dropping by the campus while on a vacation to San Francisco with his father.
"We stopped at Stanford, but I had no idea at the time that I would even be playing college basketball," Brandenburg admits. "I was kind of a late bloomer."
A new education on the Cardinal has been well underway for the past year, during which time the St. Louis center has deepened his relationship with head coach Trent Johnson and assistant coach Nick Robinson.
"I really like the coaches there," Brandenburg says. "Coach Johnson is a great guy. Coach Robinson, I've been talking with him a lot. He's the one who first started recruiting me. Stanford is just amazing as far as academics. It's one of the best schools in the nation; that's really what's appealing. They have both basketball and academics. They're in the Pac-10, a great conference."
"The assistant coach is the first person you talk to when you're getting recruited usually. He was the first picture of Stanford that I saw," the recruit comments on Robinson, who is also a Missouri native. "He tells me how the team is doing, what they're doing. He tells me about Stanford. He just really gets me excited when I talk to him. He's a really good recruiter. They should be giving him more."
That is not to say, however, that Brandenburg has needed Robinson to sell the virtues of Stanford to him.
"The great thing about Stanford is that it really speaks for itself," Brandenburg offers. "Nobody has to tell you how great it is because it's such a household name as a school. It's the Harvard of the West."
Hand-in-hand with the high esteem with which Brandenburg holds The Farm came high anxiety toward the school's admissions application process. On paper, the 6'11" recruit could have approached that aspect of his Stanford recruitment with a little more calm. The De Smet senior owns a 3.9 weighted GPA, and his grades have been on the rise as he has taken school "more seriously" with each passing year. As a junior he took honors courses in physics, precalculus and Spanish. Last December he scored an impressive 30 on the ACT, which converts to a 1340 on the 1600-point SAT scale.
Despite what has to be the strongest profile of the first four men's basketball prospective student-athletes to apply to Stanford in the Class of 2008 (some might call him a "slam dunk"), Brandenburg was scared stiff of his Admissions prospects.
"That's how highly I think of Stanford," he explains. "That's the thing with a school like Stanford. You have to be accepted before they can even offer you. I mean, they could offer you, but if you don't get accepted, then there's no point. They don't separate the athletic admissions from the regular admissions."
In late June, Brandenburg had his Stanford admissions application accepted, clearing a giant emotional hurdle in his college recruitment.
"It was really exciting getting in there," he says. "I didn't think I would. I almost crossed Stanford off my list because I was thinking there's no way I can get in there. I just filled out the application and hoped for the best."
"I had a lot of problems with the essay on the application," Brandenburg admits. "I wrote one essay, and I didn't like it. I wrote a totally different essay and didn't like it. Finally, I guess the third one I liked alright... I did a service project for school, and it was about a woman I had met there that I had developed a friendship with. It was a little bit about that."
Trent Johnson delivered the news to Brandenburg, which was a watershed moment in his recruitment.
"When he told me, I was sitting down. He made me sit down. I was just really excited. I had to restrain myself from shouting," the recruit remembers. "I was really excited to come down there and see it because I didn't know if it was going to be an option. It was just great to know that I could finally think about going to Stanford."
"It might have been between Missouri and Virginia if I didn't get into Stanford," Brandenburg adds.
The Tigers instead were cut recently from his list, as his list narrowed from six schools to the final two.
"That was hard. I really liked Missouri. It was my home school. A lot of my friends would probably have been there," says the St. Louis center. "I really liked Virginia's and Stanford's academics a lot better than Missouri's."
"Wisconsin was a big player for a while, but then they committed a seven-footer from Texas," he notes. "That was all of their scholarships.
Eliminating Missouri and Wisconsin, schools which were just 100 and 300 miles from home, respectively, also eliminated much of the geographical considerations from Brandenburg's decision.
"No, there's nothing like that. There is no reason as far as distance or anything," he maintains. "You can tell, I'm pretty spread out across the country from the far West to the East with Virginia."
"I really like both schools," Brandenburg comments on the Cardinal and Cavs. "It'll definitely come down to the people and the atmosphere at the school. If I can say, I'd have fun here for four years and be glad that I came here, and if I like the teammates."
And what about the basketball details of the two programs?
"I've already done that," Brandenburg answers. "This is mostly just to get a feel for the atmosphere of the school."
"My depth charts, as far as how many centers they have and what they're doing with that - those were made long ago," he explains. "The first thing my AAU coach told me when I had my list of schools was, 'Do your research. Go online. See what centers they've got and what they have coming in. See what kind of offense they have - are they runners or a halfcourt team?' That's all been done a while ago. These schools have been carefully picked by me."
And now John Brandenburg will carefully examine Stanford and Virginia in the coming weeks before making his college commitment. Stay tuned for his news and reactions as the four-star center takes his two trips and renders his final decision.
Are you fully subscribed to The Bootleg? If not, then you are missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our website, as well as our full-length feature articles in our glossy magazine. Sign up today for the biggest and best in Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com (sign-up) and The Bootleg Magazine (sign-up)!