Cougars’ Branin making most of his opportunity to play

College of Charleston senior guard Pat Branin (10) is getting extended playing time with the recent injury to Anthon Stitt. (photo provided).

College of Charleston senior guard Pat Branin has been waiting years for this opportunity.

When starting guard Anthony Stitt went out of the lineup two weeks ago with a knee injury, Branin felt bad for his friend and teammate. As a senior, Stitt was an integral part of the Cougars’ backcourt and one of the team’s leaders.

But there was a part of Branin that realized that this was an opportunity. An opportunity to get into the lineup and play more minutes and hopefully have an impact. It’s a chance Branin has worked for since arriving on campus in 2011.

Branin has seen action in each of the last six games, playing a key backup role to Joe Chealey, Canyon Barry and Cameron Johnson. It’s the most extended playing time the Richmond, Va., native has seen during his career with the Cougars.

“I just think God moves in mysterious ways,” said Branin, who played a career-high 10 minutes Saturday against Drexel. “It’s a bad thing for Anthony and it’s a bad thing for our team overall, but I realized it was an opportunity for me to step up and help our team. I’ve had four years to try and get better and work on my game. I’m just trying to stay within myself and play the way I know how to play.”

In his three previous seasons, Branin played in a total of 32 games, mostly in mop-up duty. He has been a key contributor during practices running the scout team. But Branin knew what his role would be when he signed with the Cougars and head coach Bobby Cremins out of The Steward School.

“When I signed here, coach Cremins told me I’d have to work on my game to improve and get on the floor,” Branin said. “That’s what I’ve tried to do every year that I’ve been here. I knew being on the scout team and helping the guys prepare every game for the opponent was important, but I wanted to play. This is my chance and I’m trying to make the most of it.”

With little or no depth at the guard position, first-year coach Earl Grant has turned to Branin to help rest Chealey, Barry and Johnson. All three have been averaging more than 35 minutes a game since Stitt’s injury. Grant said Branin has improved with each game. Although Branin hasn’t scored a point in the last six games, he has three assists, just one turnover and one steal to go along with four rebounds.

“Pat has done a great job for us,” Grant said. “He gives us a nice spark off the bench and he’s not trying to do too much. You don’t want to put someone in the game that’s going hurt you, take bad shots or turn the ball over. Pat has done just the opposite. He’s come in and played great defense and run the offense. I think every game he’s been in he’s had a big rebound or taken a key charge for us. It’s been really fun to see him mature and succeed the last few games. I’m really happy for him.”

Grant said he doesn’t expect Stitt to return to the lineup until the Cougars’ next home game against William & Mary on Feb. 5. Even then, Stitt will come off the bench and play a limited role.

“I think I’ve proven I can come in and help the team,” Branin said. “I think coach Grant’s trust in me has grown and I can add some depth even when Anthony gets healthy. I still think I’ll see some playing time when he comes back.”

Grant agreed.

“He’s been very reliable and he’ll continue to get a chance to play,” Grant said.

It’s been a special season for Branin, not only because his role has increased with the Cougars, but also being able to play side by side with younger brother Tim, a freshman walk-on this year.

“It’s been great for me and Tim and my family,” Branin said. “It’s been fun to have him on the team and I think it has made us become closer.”