If Brayden Carr was still alive today physically, he would be a five-year-old in kindergarten. He probably would be full of energy, keeping his wonderful parents Jim and Natalie busy with kid activities like soccer and Cub Scouts.
Brayden would probably be tagging along with his father, a basketball lifer who was once an assistant coach at Rutgers and now is at the University of Rhode Island, as part of the coaching staff headed by Jersey City’s Danny Hurley.
But unfortunately, Brayden Carr is no longer with us. He passed away almost three years ago, after battling a series of epileptic seizures and brain issues. He was only two-and-a-half, his entire lifetime still ahead of him.
However, Jim and Natalie Carr did something to forever remember their late son. In May of 2011, they formed “In Brayden’s Eyes, the Brayden Carr Foundation,” which is a nonprofit charitable organization that was set up to provide athletic, social, rehabilitative and academic opportunities for children who suffer from seizure conditions. The foundation is also providing support for the children’s physical needs, as well as help and relief support for their parents.
One of the biggest fundraisers that the Brayden Carr Foundation runs is a basketball coaches’ clinic, where some big-name professional and college coaches provide tips for local high school and college coaches.
The third annual Brayden Carr Foundation Coaches Clinic was held last week at the Rothman Center on the campus of Fairleigh Dickinson University, where a fine collection of approximately 500 coaches were in attendance.
There was a solid contingent from Hudson County there, including Nick Mariniello of Hudson Catholic, Todd Decker of St. Peter’s Prep, Carlos Cueto of Secaucus, Kevin Bianco of North Bergen, Mickell Taylor of Bayonne and Sean Drennan of Dickinson.
From the college ranks, there were North Bergen natives Greg Herenda, the new head coach at FDU, and Chuck McBreen, the long-time coach at Ramapo.
Sure, they were all on hand to listen to the likes of Marquette head coach Buzz Williams (who wore a shirt he made especially to honor Brayden, with Brayden’s picture on it), former New Jersey Nets and Detroit Pistons head coach and now a Brooklyn Nets assistant Lawrence Frank, new Charlotte Bobcats head coach Steve Clifford, Arizona head coach Sean Miller and coaching and playing legend John Lucas.
But the real reason why the local coaches were in attendance was to support Jim and Natalie Carr and their incredible foundation.
“I know a lot of us are here to support Jimmy and his family,” said McBreen, who was once the head coach at Union Hill before moving on to Ramapo more than a decade ago. “You get different things to pick up here, some of the drills to use. But it’s a great day and this is for Jim and Natalie.”
Drennan said that the clinic helped him to start thinking about the coming basketball season.
“It gets the engines going again and gets you in a basketball mode,” Drennan said. “I always pick up something to use at the clinic. You get top college coaches like Buzz Williams or Steve Clifford of the Bobcats and that’s awesome. He was teaching about what to do with post players and maybe I can use that someday if I get post players over 6-feet tall.”
Bianco knows what it’s like to battle through illness, having waged war with leukemia on two separate occasions.
“It’s just really a great message to bring across, that you can’t take anything for granted,” said Bianco, who has been cancer-free for two years now. “Everyone here is trying to do the same thing, help a great cause. Anytime you can do something like this to help, it becomes a great day. It’s a good experience for me as a coach, because I get a chance to learn a few more things.”
Cueto was recruited by Carr when Cueto was a player at St. Anthony, so he has enjoyed a long, lasting relationship with Carr.
“I’ve known Jim for about 15 years,” said Cueto, who played at the University of Richmond and also was once the head coach at Union Hill. “So this is a way of me giving back to Jim. I make sure to be here. It’s an awesome day. For a couple hours, we all get together and talk basketball. And if you can get one or two drills from this and incorporate that into your practices to improve your players, then it’s worth it.”
Cueto added that he’s fortunate to have a healthy daughter and son.
“As a parent, I can’t imagine what that is like,” Cueto said. “It helps me give thanks.”
Mariniello likes the camaraderie between the coaches during the day.
“It’s a great opportunity for me to see guys I haven’t seen for a long time,” Mariniello said. “We’re all coaching in the county together, but we don’t get a chance to see each other. Also, you have a clinician like Steve Clifford, who was a high school coach and is now the head coach of the Bobcats. That gives high school coaches hope that you can move on and be successful. But it’s great to see people and other coaches when you’re not under stressful conditions. The conversations are different.
Added Mariniello, “I’ve known Jimmy for a long time and I’m very happy to help this cause. The time and effort that Jimmy and Natalie put into it is tremendous. It’s says a lot about the basketball community rallying around this cause.”
Herenda was glad to hold the event in his new headquarters.
“It’s tremendous,” said Herenda, who was hired in May to take over at FDU. “Having Jimmy come back here and we’re able to help this tremendous cause. To have these guys in this gym four months after I get the job is unbelievable.”
Herenda has had a long standing friendship with Clifford.
“We go back to our first coaching days, when I was an assistant at Merrimack and he was an assistant at St. Anselm’s,” Herenda said. “We both followed our dreams. He’s in the NBA and I’m here. He’s still the same guy, a good friend. I met my friends through basketball and I don’t know where I’d be without it. To experience an event like this in our gym is really great. I’d love to have it here every year if Jimmy wants it.”
Herenda had his players on hand at the clinic at 7 a.m., before the stream of coaches started flowing in.
“We presented Jimmy with an FDU shirt,” Herenda said. “We want to keep our players connected, because a lot of it is about live and experience. I couldn’t fathom what it’s like to lose a child. I have an 11-year-old son [Trey] and he’s healthy. I have to give Jimmy credit for turning a tragedy into something so positive.”
Carr was overjoyed with the turnout.
“It’s our third year and you see some of the same faces coming back,” Carr said. “But we had new faces this year. We’re able to raise $100,000 in Brayden’s name for kids who need help. For Brayden’s name to be associated with this makes it a feel good day for all of us.”
There is good news to report. Jim and Natalie just welcomed a baby girl, Julia, born earlier this year.
“We’re already working on speakers for next year,” Carr said.
With that, Brayden Carr’s memory certainly lives on.
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com You can also read Jim’s blog at www.jimhaguesports.blogspot.com.