Brandon Heyen's basketball journey began in the small town of Paxton, Illinois, where he found solace shooting hoops in his driveway. Despite setbacks during his college basketball career at Illinois Wesleyan (D3), marked by ankle injuries and surgeries, Brandon's love for the game endured.
Curiosity led him to skills coaching and he now dedicates himself to basketball training. He’s assisted in workouts with many notable NBA players including Jayson Tatum, Brad Beal, Joel Embiid, Chet Holmgren, and many others. Brandon has his own Pro/College clients and works with a multitude of players from High School to Jr. High down to Kindergarten.
Brandon's commitment to growth and learning developed during his childhood days in the driveway. The most rewarding part of his career lies in impacting players' journeys, shaped by his own challenges he faced in college basketball. In this series, Brandon shares insights into the dynamic world of skills coaching and training.
Disclaimer: This is a modified Transcript.
Interview by Olivia Cleary.
Where did your love for the game begin and how did it develop throughout your childhood and adolescence?
I’m from a small town in central Illinois called Paxton. My hoop journey started in my driveway. I remember imagining I was in NBA games, playing as all 5 players on a team against another team. I found peace in hearing the ball bounce, the swish of the net, and the sound of my feet on the concrete.
As I grew up, I just remember basketball being all I ever wanted to do. I was always the tallest in my class and felt like basketball fit me best. It was the one thing that brought me peace all the time.
What propelled you to go into the world of skills coaching and being a trainer, what prompted that career choice?
Towards the end of the summer heading into Sophomore year, I was in Nashville with my mom. While she was in business meetings during the day, I went to a YMCA and put myself through an on-court workout. As I was leaving, a group of guys said they needed 1 more to play 5v5 so I decided to play. The first time I touched the ball, I shot a 3-pointer and landed on the defender's foot. I knew immediately my ankle was messed up.
Fast forward a few weeks later, the athletic training staff at Illinois Wesleyan treated it like a normal ankle sprain, but it wasn't getting any better. After getting an MRI and bone scan, doctors found a bone chip in the back of my ankle and a few days later I had surgery to have it removed. A month later, I got MRSA, which is a difficult-to-cure staph infection, on my ankle and ultimately almost lost my foot if I hadn’t gotten into the emergency room when I did. Following the 2nd surgery, I ended up being in a boot for a stress fracture in my lower leg my junior year and then a 3rd ankle surgery at the beginning of my senior year. After everything was said and done, I felt like I never really played a meaningful minute of college basketball.
During the time recovering from those injuries, I would put myself through on-court workouts to get back in shape. The workouts I did on my own came from Pure Sweat Basketball and I fell in love with them. Once my senior season came to an end, it was time to look for a job. After countless interviews and 2nd interviews for marketing/sales jobs in Chicago, I didn't get anything. I finally had enough and after one last NO, I decided to go to a Pure Sweat Skills Clinic in St. Louis that Drew Hanlen was putting on. At that time, Pure Sweat was pretty new and just starting to expand. After the clinic, Drew gave me his contact info and told me to go start basketball skills training on my own and keep in touch through the process.
What obstacles did you face while growing your career and how did you remain positive and motivated through times of adversity?
I started doing small group and individual training in my hometown at first, but wasn't making any money and ended up getting a sales job in Chicago. After being in Chicago for 9 months, I had hit rock bottom. 3 months in, my girlfriend dumped me. I hated my job making 100+ phone calls per day, working long hours, and making base pay. I missed my family and friends who lived 2.5 hours away. After having a conversation with a close friend while being back home in Paxton, I decided to take a chance at the basketball training. I quit my job and moved back to Bloomington-Normal. With $300 to my name, I moved into a small house with 3 other people I didn't know and got to work. While I was starting my business, I drove for Uber on the weekends at night and I was a substitute teacher during the week.
I believe one of the reasons I could move forward and stay motivated was because I felt the only way I could go was up. It seems like that's how many success stories unfold. Often, individuals need to hit rock bottom before experiencing their most significant breakthrough or deciding to pursue a goal wholeheartedly, unburdened by the fear of failure. That's precisely what happened for me—I decided to make it work. I began focusing on my business, diligently growing my clientele. My first big client was Francis Okoro, whom I started working with in high school. He spent his freshman and sophomore years at Oregon, marking the beginning of my journey toward increased success.
You train some of the best athletes in the game, and doing that your basketball IQ has to be very high. How have you developed that over the years?
It’s always a growing thing, obviously. The minute you think you know everything, you stop learning and stop getting better. I definitely don't know everything, but I would say my IQ is high with this stuff. When it comes to training, it's about recognizing patterns and such. Early on, I didn't think about IQ much, but it's funny how it stems from experiences when you're younger.
I remember growing up in my driveway, shooting around, and I had a vivid imagination. I'd imagine being on an NBA team, playing five-on-five games. It may sound weird, but I'd simulate passes and plays. It might have seemed unconventional at the time, but I think it contributed to my understanding. Looking back, it's amusing to think about, but I remember doing that as early as eight or nine.
What are some of the highlights of your career or your favorite moments you’ve had while training some of the best athletes in the nation?
There’s three significant moments.
The first time I went out to Los Angeles during the summer to help Drew Hanlen with his NBA workouts. I spent a three to four weeks there, guarding NBA All-Stars. It was a surreal moment and at the time, I couldn't believe that I was actually doing that!
The second memorable moment was when I brought Drew back to Bloomington-Normal where we conducted a three-hour skills clinic together. It was incredible to have my mentor, who played a crucial role in getting me where I am alongside me. That's when I launched my Heyen Hoops branding. We almost sold out of all the t-shirts that night, with 140 kids attending the three-hour clinic and 16 coaches assisting.
The last significant moment was this past February when I got my own court. Looking at what it has become now is insane. Having my own court is a game-changer, and I can't imagine going back. I remember the struggles of finding gym space, especially during COVID when I conducted workouts at a park and in driveways.
In order to secure gym space, I would put on free clinics during the summer, referee flag football games, donate ball racks to schools, and coach jr. high teams. I’d do whatever it took to get gym time. It was about bringing more value from a time standpoint rather than just money for rent.
What is the most rewarding part of your career?
The most rewarding part, and I know I mentioned it earlier, is that because of the ankle injury I went through in college—three surgeries on the same ankle and a couple of stress fractures—I never really played a meaningful minute in college basketball.
What's truly rewarding now is that I feel like I have a role in all these players' journeys. This is probably why I'm on this journey; it's incredibly fulfilling for me. I get to be a part of each player's story. When an athlete I work with commits to a college to play and I’ve been working with them for a number of years, I feel like I’ve played a role in that journey. It makes sense to me why I'm doing what I'm doing now because I genuinely enjoy being a part of these players' careers.