When Bobby Brannen came to the University of Cincinnati in 1994, the Bearcats continued a streak of landing the city's best player. Ohio's 1994 Division I Player of the Year followed John Jacobs (1991), Keith Gregor (1992) and Damon Flint (1993) and talked about his college decision fifteen years after the fact.
"UC had a great program at the time," said Brannen. "They had just made it to the Final Four and the Elite Eight, and Coach Huggins is a great talker. He's a very persuasive man and was in my ear as soon as he could. Staying home was part of it too. I come from a close family, and they all wanted to see me play. I would have missed them terribly if I had gone away."
But just like those local stars that preceded him, it took time for the 6' 7"/215 pound freshman to adjust to the college game, and he admitted there were times when he thought about leaving the Bearcat program.
"Yes. There were times when I thought about transferring. As much as I love Hugs, he wasn't an easy man to play for at first. If you made a mistake, you immediately came out of the game. Those kinds of circumstances made me pretty frustrated early on. Although I did consider leaving, I'm very happy I didn't."
After averaging only 2.6 points and 1.8 rebounds as a freshman and 1.8 points and 2.7 rebounds as a sophomore, Brannen's career started to takeoff his junior season when he averaged almost 21 minutes of playing time and doubled his average in points and rebounds. He also added some girth and was tipping the scales at 245 pounds. Brannen talked about the changes in his game.
"My junior year I got a lot of playing time, but mostly as a role player. It wasn't until my senior year that I was forced into the role of scoring again. That's when things really took off for me personally. I worked really hard developing a mid-range game, being physical and getting to the foul line. I also took a lot of pride in always defending."
As a result, the newer, improved Bobby Brannen had an excellent senior campaign, and as a team captain, he led the Bearcats in rebounding with 8.1 boards per game while being second in scoring with a 14.3 average.
The blue collar kid from Reading, Ohio may never be inducted into Cincinnati's Hall of Fame, but Bearcat fans will never forget a local product that helped UC to 100 wins in his career (tied for second). He also participated in 129 games (tied for fourth) and hit on 79+% of his career free throws placing him fourth all-time, ahead of even the legendary Oscar Robertson.
Despite these significant on-court accomplishments, Brannen may best be remembered for his long blonde hair, barbed wire tattoo and bulging biceps which earned him the nickname of "Baywatch Bobby," a name that would follow him across the world.
"That name actually ended up following me to Australia," laughed Brannen. "I guess it ended up on the internet and people saw it. I played there for five years, and after a year or two, it ended up being my name there too."
His nickname may have been a bit flashy, but Brannen's game never ventured far from his blue collar work ethic. He's always been willing to do the dirty work of rebounding, defending and banging against bigger opponents.
"All through my pro career, I tried to wear people down. I've played against a lot of bigger and some stronger guys, but I've always looked at it as they'll get sick of banging into me before I get tired of banging into them."
That type of attitude could have made Brannen into an excellent college and possibly even professional football player, but despite having great success at Moeller on the gridiron, Brannen did not play his senior season. He explained why.
"A lot of that was Coach Huggins. He was in my ear telling me I didn't want to get hurt, but even though I didn't play that senior year, I was still being recruited by almost everyone in the country. I visited Notre Dame and Michigan because they were both recruiting me for basketball but got to talk to the football coaches too while I was there."
Brannen continued. "My father wishes I had played football because the numbers are better to make the NFL, and given my body type, I wasn't going to play in the NBA at 6' 7". But a 6' 7" tight end that can run and catch has a decent shot at playing in the NFL."
Playing overseas for over a decade usually earned Brannen an annual salary in the low six figures, and at thirty-four years old, he is hoping to eek out a few more seasons before officially retiring. He has already played in Belgium, Australia, Puerto Rico, Spain, Korea and Poland, but in the event that plan doesn't work, Brannen is thinking about a couple of other careers.
"Right now, I'm waiting on a job in Europe. I've been trying to stay in shape and hoping to get a decent contract. I was expecting to be picked up already and still think I will be, but this time off has made me think about what I'll do after basketball. I still enjoy the personal training or possibly coaching. I've spent the last ten or eleven years doing nothing but this so it's kind of hard."
Brannen has one other iron already in the fire. He owns (along with one of his five sisters) a bar in Reading called The Backyard Bar. It is located on Columbia Avenue just down the hill from Mt. Notre Dame and Reading High Schools and is particularly alive on Thursday evenings when they host a weekly "cornhole" tournament. Believe it or not, Brannen says the event attracts nationally ranked participants from all over the area.
Although Baywatch Bobby is still technically single, he lives with long time girlfriend Amber Howard.
If interested in hiring a personal trainer, Bobby Brannen can be reached at Brannen.firstname.lastname@example.org.