Persistence pays off for Central Square’s Brandon Kulakowski


BUFFALO - Brandon Kulakowski is about to embark on the Division I men’s basketball career that he always envisioned, even after graduating from Central Square-Paul V. Moore High School without a single scholarship offer.

Kulakowski has joined the NCAA Division I Canisius men’s basketball team as a walk-on and will begin his freshman season on Tuesday when the Golden Griffins open with a nonconference game at the Miami Hurricanes.

The 2020 Central Square graduate transferred to the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference team based in Buffalo following one season of prep school at Bridgton Academy in Maine.

“He’s a walk-on, and when you’re in a situation like that, it requires you to kind of earn your respect and he’s done a nice job of that,” Canisius coach Reggie Witherspoon said. “He’s a very hard worker and very serious about what he’s doing, and I think that he’s respectful of the whole process.”

Kulakowski was an all-state basketball selection as a senior for the Redhawks, averaging 15.3 points and a team-best 7.3 rebounds per game.

The 6-foot-3, 180-pound guard garnered interest from a few Division II and Division III schools in the region but ultimately took a different path upon graduation.

He made a late decision that summer after connecting with Bridgton head coach Whit Lesure through his AAU coach and a former AAU teammate.

Kulakowski opted to play there for a year to showcase his abilities against college-like competition while working with a full-time strength and conditioning staff and learning to adjust to college academics, all while preserving a year of NCAA eligibility.

“I talked to the coach and liked what I heard, and kind of just made that decision to go off to prep school and try it out,” Kulakowski said. “I’m happy I went overall because I don’t think I’d be at Canisius if I didn’t go to prep school for that year.”

Bridgton is a respected NEPSAC AAA program and has helped hundreds of players reach the highest levels of college basketball and some ultimately the NBA.

They play in a prominent postgraduate league along with programs like Brewster Academy, which was led by Zaire Wade, the son of retired NBA star, Dwyane Wade, last year before he moved on to the NBA G League.

Kulakowski opened his lone year at Bridgton as the sixth man and eventually moved into the starting lineup as a scoring guard and secondary playmaker, gaining confidence as the year progressed.

“My senior year, I didn’t know if I could do it,” Kulakowski said. “But, when I got to prep school, I realized I’m just as good as all these kids, just as skilled and have as good of an IQ, and I felt like I could go make an impact for a Division I program.”

Kulakowski was challenged to thrust himself onto the recruiting radar while playing last season amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

College coaches were restricted from recruiting in person and official on-campus visits were paused by the NCAA.

Witherspoon said he and his coaching staff utilized more film than usual to recruit Kulakowski and other incoming additions to the roster, and relied on the recommendation from Lesure, who has built trust over his 20-year coaching career at Bridgton and is reputable as a New England Basketball Hall of Fame inductee.

Witherspoon credited the persistence of Kulakowski throughout the recruiting process.

“That (persistence) said a lot because it’s quite a big challenge to have that commitment,” Witherspoon said. “You have to be completely all about the team, and he had to have enough ability to be able to earn the respect of his teammates.”

Kulakowski played eight minutes off the bench in Canisius’ 101-64 exhibition victory over Wheeling on Oct. 24, contributing two points, one rebound, one assist, and a steal.

The Brewerton native said that his primary goal as a freshman on a veteran squad is to develop and take each opportunity presented to show his coaches and teammates that he can eventually be a meaningful contributor.

“I’ll take what I can get,” Kulakowski said. “If I were to get a few minutes here or there, that would make me happy and give me a chance to prove myself to the coaching staff and other players on the team, so the main goal right now is to get a few minutes here and there to show what I can do.”

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