Former Jayhawk Walk-On Make Shot of a Lifetime

Feb. 2, 2010

It began as a high school prank. It ended with YouTube celebrity status, and perhaps more importantly to Joel Branstrom – a former KU basketball walk-on – tickets to the Final Four.

Blindfolded, standing at half-court and admittedly expecting perhaps a pie in his face, the popular Olathe Northwest women’s basketball coach calmly sank his nothing-but-net set shot, sending the gym into a frenzy and propelling Joel into almost overnight celebrity status on the airways and the Internet.

Joel later told an ESPN reporter that he thought the applause and screams following the January 22 shot were just part of the good-natured student joke. “I’ve been around long enough and done these kinds of practical jokes. I figured they were trying to punk me.”

It wasn’t until the former Jayhawk took off his blindfold that he realized what an improbable shot he had made.

Joel’s soft touch and follow-through on the shot can be attributed to a lifetime of practice and playing time starting as a schoolyard athlete and culminating in his years as a walk-on with the Jayhawks.

Originally from California, where he was a starter at Canada Junior College in Redwood City, Joel followed his brother, Craig, to KU. Craig was the Big 8 Conference Champion and earned All-American status as a decathlete in 1988.

Joel first arrived in Lawrence for the 1994-95 season and red-shirted in 1995-96. That year he worked alongside Coach Roy Williams in the basketball office. “I really wanted to be a coach and Coach Williams was gracious enough to let me be around the offices to see what goes on day-to-day and to learn from him.”

In 1996-97, as a senior forward, he played alongside Jacque Vaughn, Scot Pollard, Jerod Haase, Steve Ransom, and B.J. Williams on the Jayhawk team that set a school record by winning its first 22 games. They finished the season 34-2, won the Big 12 Conference regular-season and Tournament Championships, and reached the NCAA Regional Semifinals.

“I played in 24 of those 34 games,” Joel said, “not because I was that good, but because I was playing on a great team that scored lots of points, which gave me the opportunity to play. It was a great thrill.”

Joel has taken his experiences at KU and become an outstanding biology teacher, as well as a basketball coach, first at Lawrence High School’s boy’s program and now at Olathe Northwest High School’s girl’s program.

Coach Branstrom and his wife, Christiane (formerly Watkins, a 1997 KU grad), were married in June of 1998. They have four children, Jaiden 7, Noah 5, Emma 3, and Bryan, 2.

Joel’s 15 minutes of fame aren’t completely behind him. The NCAA has given him tickets to the NCAA Final Four on April 3-5 in Indianapolis, where he’s hoping he’ll witness another great Jayhawk team win a national championship.

To catch up on Joel, his family and team go to and click on the “Coaches” tab.