It's a good thing Michelle Chevalier isn't still issuing Skittles to Cal forward Gennifer Brandon. She'd be forced to make frequent runs to Target or Costco to maintain her supply.
Chevalier, Brandon's adopted mother, used to give the small candies to Brandon based on how many rebounds she would pull down in a club or high school game. Considering she set Cal's single-season rebounding record with 346 last year, Brandon would probably be brushing her teeth a few extra times at night if Chevalier's reward system were still in place.
Brandon's dominance of the boards has continued into this season. She leads No. 7 Cal into Friday night's game against No. 20 Colorado at Haas Pavilion ranked ninth in the country with an average of 11.4 rebounds per game. And she tied a Cal record by hauling in a staggering 26 rebounds during an overtime win over USC last week.
"All my coaches have always said to box out," said Brandon, a junior. "I'm just like, 'Get the ball. Get the ball.'"
She's been getting the ball a lot lately. A quick and explosive jumper with a nose for rebounding, it's hard for anyone else on the floor to grab a board when Brandon is in the paint.
"She was putting up Dwight Howard numbers," USC coach Michael Cooper said after his team's loss to the Bears.
Brandon said she's always had a rebounding mentality, from the moment she started playing basketball at age 12. She started by playing one-on-one at the park with her older sister, Kimberly.
"She would always win," Brandon said. "We didn't like playing against each other. She would always complain to my mom when I backed her down that I would double-dribble every time."
One of Kimberly's friends invited both Brandons to try out for her club team in Southern California, BBG (Blessed By God). Basketball then became a serious thing. Kimberly went on to play at Arizona State and Gennifer earned her scholarship to Cal.
Chevalier and her husband, Andre, were the club coaches. After a couple of years, the sisters grew close to the coaches. The Chevaliers ended up offering to adopt the Brandon girls, partly to alleviate the hardships experienced by their biological mother, Valencia Brandon. Valencia was struggling to raise five children on her own after her husband and the kids' father, Gregory, died in 1997.
Gennifer and Kimberly moved in with the Chevaliers. That's when "everything blew up" with basketball, according to Gennifer.
"My mom was struggling," Gennifer said. "We didn't have a home. We were living out of motels and stuff like that. They saw the potential that my sister and I had, so they thought it was best since they were coaches."
Gennifer may have gotten much of her leaping ability and basketball acumen from her father, who played at Creighton and was drafted by the Seattle SuperSonics. She wears No. 25 to honor her father, who wore the same number in college.
Brandon is still close to Valencia, talking often with her as well as her adopted parents. She talked to all of them after her record-setting performance against USC.
Brandon had 11 rebounds at halftime against the Trojans, but was disappointed with her play. She said she sometimes "gets into her own head," wondering why she isn't playing better and if she is helping the team enough. When that happens, she's charged teammate Mikayla Lyles to snap her out of it.
"I asked Mikayla to remind me when she sees that I'm not myself," Brandon said. "You can tell from people's expressions or body language. I told her to please remind me to get out of my head. I'm just thinking too much about what I'm doing wrong. How can I help the team more? Am I bringing enough energy? I get so caught up in my own thoughts that I don't feel like I'm in reality. I'm focused on what had happened, rather than what I should be doing to help make it better."
Lyles spoke to Brandon before the start of the second half against USC, and Gennifer dominated the floor. Along with her 26 rebounds, she finished with 23 points, 17 in the second half and overtime.
Brandon shows no ill-effects of the stress fracture in her shin that forced her to sit out the 2010-11 season. Like many athletes, Brandon said watching from the sideline improved her game once she returned to the court.
"I tried to look at it from a different perspective," Brandon said. "What can I get out of it? Everything happens for a reason. I feel more educated about the game, seeing it from a different perspective - just watching rather than being a part of it. I've been a lot more focused in trying to grasp what the coaches are saying."