Family influence was one of the main reasons Pat Brannigan attended Central Catholic High School.
“My dad went there. My uncles and cousins went there,” Brannigan said. “My grandfather even went there. I loved Central Catholic.”
Family influence also played a role in Brannigan’s decision to leave the school.
A little over a year ago, Brannigan learned that his mom, Marlene, had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
The news hit him hard.
“I’m an only child, and me and my mom are real close,” he said. “A lot of my relatives have had cancer, but I never expected my mom to get it.”
Marlene underwent surgery, began chemotherapy treatments and lost her hair. Her only son, who maintained a full schedule playing football, basketball and baseball at Central, wanted to stay closer to the family’s Fox Chapel home to provide support.
Marlene was doing better by the end of last summer, but Pat already had made up his mind. Just before the start of school in August, he transferred to Fox Chapel Area High School.
“I wanted to be closer to my mom,” Brannigan said. “It was a tough decision to leave Central. I still have a lot of friends there.”
Brannigan is quickly making new friends at Fox Chapel.
The new addition to Fox Chapel’s basketball team was averaging 14.2 points per game through Fox Chapel’s first 13 games, second on the team to Bryan Teschke’s 16.1 scoring average.
With the graduation of Matt Brunck from last year’s WPIAL playoff team, Brannigan has been a welcome addition to coach Harry Jenkins’ squad.
“We were hoping to find somebody to step up and take Matt’s place,” Jenkins said. “I had seen (Brannigan) at Central Catholic, but he didn’t play a lot last year. He had played on teams with some of our other players, so the kids knew him before I did.”
Brannigan and Teschke had been grade school classmates at Sacred Heart Elementary School in Shadyside. The two were reunited as teammates two summers ago on the Pittsburgh JOTS, an AAU travel team.
Now, Teschke and Brannigan find themselves together again.
“We click a lot,” Brannigan said. “It helped me a lot coming in here because I actually knew somebody on the team.”
One or the other has led the Foxes in scoring every game this season.
“Bryan and Pat are a strong one-two punch for us,” Jenkins said.
Brannigan began the season coming off the bench.
“I didn’t want to start him right away,” Jenkins said. “I figured it would take awhile for him to get used to our system.”
Brannigan simply wanted to fit in and become part of the team.
“I didn’t want to be the outsider from Central Catholic,” he said. “The transition was pretty hard, but I’m starting to feel comfortable with my teammates on and off the court.”
A recent team trip to Florida for a tournament helped.
“I didn’t know how Pat would fit in, but it’s worked out quite well,” Jenkins said.
At 6-foot-2 and 200 pounds, Brannigan has good size and strength. The junior sharpshooter gives the Foxes another option on offense to complement Teschke, a 6-4 senior.
“Pat is a good stand-up shooter,” Jenkins said. “He worked hard in the off-season on penetrating, and he’s been better at taking the ball to the basket off the dribble, but his strength is standing and shooting.”
Teschke leads the Foxes with 18 3-pointers, but Brannigan isn’t far behind with 14 in 13 games.
Brannigan developed his shooting touch through hours of practice. He also works on his game at the many basketball camps he attends in the off-season.
Brannigan began going to camps when he was a fifth-grader and estimates he’s attended 20 to 25 since then, some of them out-of-state in places as far at Kentucky.
“It helps to see what other people can do and measure yourself against players from other places,” Brannigan said. “I learn a lot about what I need to do to improve myself.”
The Foxes were 8-5 at the start of this week and in the hunt for a second straight WPIAL playoff berth.
“We have a lot of good athletes on our team,” Brannigan said. “I feel like we can play with anybody out there.”
Penn Hills and Plum are the favorites in Section 4-AAAA, and Fox Chapel already has lost to both. The section’s third and final playoff berth may come down to a battle between the Foxes and Central Catholic.
Fox Chapel hosted the Vikings Tuesday and still has to play at Central Catholic in its final section game of the season Feb. 4.
“When I played for Central, Fox Chapel was one of our top rivalries,” Brannigan said. “We wanted to beat them more than most teams we faced.”
Now, it’s the other way around for Brannigan.
“I want to play against my old team,” he said. “I can’t wait.”