The B.Rich Project: Mentoring Through Sports by Merlisa Lawrence Corbett

The B.Rich Project: Mentoring Through Sports
By Merlisa Lawrence Corbett

Since James Naismith invented basketball in 1891, the concept remains the same: two teams, one ball and two baskets. Every dribble, steal, pass and dunk contributes to the ultimate goal of winning the game.

Brandon Richard, a former Winter Haven High School basketball standout, combined the lessons his parents taught him with the discipline he developed playing basketball to create a syllabus for life.

It’s called the B.Rich Project, a mentoring program for at-risk teen boys. Since 2009, the B.Rich Project has held a series of tournaments and events centered around basketball as an outlet to help teens succeed.

The underlying theme is that like in basketball, it’s those little things, those daily decisions and choices made everyday, that contribute to winning in life.

Richard came up with the idea for the B.Rich project in 2005 to serve as an example for his son.

He was a student at Florida State University when he found out that his college girlfriend was pregnant. Although they agreed to raise the child together, Richard says he struggled with not being able to see his son day to day

“I wanted to develop lessons I would teach him so he could be well-rounded,” Richard says.

Richard grew up in a nuclear family and had a strong relationship with his father. He wanted his son to benefit from the same.

“Developing the project was an extension of me trying to show my son how to be successful in a number of ways,” says Richard, “not just athletically or even just intellectually, but holistically as a human being.”

The B.Rich Project focuses on self-development through mentoring and community. The goal is to help young men improve themselves academically, emotionally, psychologically and physically. “It’s a holistic approach,” says Richard.

Even though the program has its roots in basketball, Richard seeks to expose kids to more than sports. In the spring he took some of the participants to Coral Springs for a basketball tournament and to the beach. Many of the kids had never traveled outside of Polk County.

“This trip was as much about the travel experience, as it was about competing on the basketball court,” says Richard. “Car rides became geography classrooms and driver’s ed prep sessions.”

Richard recently enlisted the help of  David Coicou, a non-sports mentor. Coicou is a registered nurse who lives in Lakeland. His career choice is an option few young minority males consider. Yet a career in nursing offers them better odds than the NBA.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of registered nurses is expected to grow 26 percent from 2010 to 2020. That’s faster than the average for all occupations. The median annual salary for a registered nurse was $64,690.

That may not be as eye-popping as multi-million dollar NBA salaries. However, there are more than 2.7 million registered nurses in this country. There are fewer than 500 players in the NBA.

“We have to show young people there are more options,” says Coicou. “There are many prominent examples of success. Nothing wrong with NFL or pro basketball players. Who wouldn’t want to be that guy? But there are so many other opportunities.”

Richard discovered he had other options after he failed to make the FSU basketball team as a walk on. He joined the team as a manager his freshman year. Although he never played, traveling with the squad exposed him to cities and situations he may have never experienced. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in business management. Today he is an accountant for Packaging Corporation of America in Winter Haven.

After work you can often find Richard at the Citrus Center Boys & Girls Club in Winter Haven. That’s where he helps young men with everything from their jump shot to homework.

Richard believes some kids are incorrectly labeled. People see them as lacking vision when all they are missing is focus.

Tariq Harris is one of those kids. Harris is an eighth grader at Don Woods Opportunity Center in Dundee, an alternative school for students with behavioral issues. Harris was a student at Westwood Middle School in Winter Haven before being sent to Don Woods.

“I still support him and see his potential,” says Richard.

Since joining the program Harris says he’s found new ways to deal with confrontations at school.

“Being in school is like being part of a team. My teachers are the referees,” says Harris. “If I’m having a problem with another student, I can walk it off or tell the referee.”

Richard says Harris developed that analogy on his own. That’s an example of the type of kid who is the perfect candidate for the B.Rich Project, says Richard. “He’s highly intelligent and charismatic. He just made some bad choices.”

That’s the point Richard preaches to participants: you can survive bad choices. He wants students like Harris to view setbacks as obstacles to overcome instead of barriers to success. The B.Rich project, says Richard, provides an opportunity for them to pivot from persistent problems to endless possibilities.

Brandon Richard can be reached at