From purple and gold to state golds

Former Panther coaches basketball team to record third-straight state title


Photo courtesy of Brandon Kandolin

Left, Coach Brandon Kandolin today. Above, The coach with his 2016 state champion team.

Brandon Kandolin, 43, a 1991 graduate of Saratoga High School (SHS) and former Panther basketball player, has made waves in South Dakota where he coached the St. Thomas More's girls' basketball team to a record third state championship in a row, and their fourth in five years.

The private Roman Catholic school's girls' team-the Cavaliers-defeated Winner High School 49-32 in the state championship in the Watertown Civic Arena in Watertown, N.D. to take their third straight title.

Brandon Kandolin is a 1991 graduate of SHS and himself is no stranger to winning at basketball, according to his father, Ken Kandolin, who is still a resident of Saratoga.

"He was an all-state basketball player here and he also played on the all-star team," Ken Kandolin said. "He was very athletic."

Valley youth

As a kid growing up in Saratoga, Brandon said he played baseball, raced BMX bikes and played golf in the summer. And he's very competitive. "I enjoy competing," he said. "With competing, if it's something I really like, I put a lot of time into it to be the best I could."

That attitude carried over to academic pursuits, too.

After graduating from Saratoga High School, he attended The South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City, S.D. where he majored in civil engineering, specifically structural engineering.

"My brother was a civil engineer so I think he was intrigued with civil engineering, so he got his degree in civil engineering," his father said.

He also played basketball at in college, and after he graduated engineering school, it provided a bit of an entrée for him back into sports, he said.

"There wasn't a lot of structural engineering going on in South Dakota," he said. "I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do."

A friend Brandon played basketball with in college had a job as a basketball coach at a local parochial high school and Brandon was brought in as an assistant coach. Working as an assistant coach at a high school, he began to love working with kids, he said.

He decided to go back to college, this time to Black Hills State University in Spearfish, where he earned a teaching certificate with an emphasis on math.

He earned his teaching certificate while he coached basketball, Brandon said, and was lucky that the school he was coaching for had an opening for a math teacher. He was also promoted to head coach of the basketball team after his friend left to coach college.

Cultivating talent on and off the court

His background in math and engineering has helped him become a better math teacher.

"One of the questions kids like to ask about math is, 'what is this used for?'" Brandon said. "I felt with my engineering background, I would be able to draw off my knowledge of where and why math is used."

By teaching math with practical examples, he is able to show his students the importance of math, he said, adding that he has kept in touch with former students that have gone on to be math teachers or engineers.

On the court, he helped foster talent as well. Not only has he cultivated a girls' basketball team that has won three state championships in a row and four in the last five years, but many of the players have gone on to become outstanding athletes at the college level.

Three players have gone on to play basketball at Division I teams, and two more have gone on to play at Division II schools.

But he's quite humble about taking too much credit, noting that the students themselves deserve most of the credit.

"Working with the kids and students at this school, the kids are very driven here. Very task-oriented," he said. "It amazed me as sophomores and juniors, they knew what they wanted to do in life.

"They're very talented and smart kids."

His father is not surprised by his success as a teacher. "He's a people person and he gets along with everybody, Ken said. "He must be able to convey things very well to kids because you watch him coach and he'll get those kids in a time out, he'll analyze the game, he'll draw up a play for them that they've never seen before, and they'll go out and perform it."

But according to Brandon, he learned many of his tricks right here in Saratoga.

Coaching at home

Brandon has been married to his wife, Jonna, for almost 20 years, and they have three children: Their oldest daughter Alex, who is 15 and a freshman; Emily, 13, who is in seventh grade; and their son Cade, who is 12 and in sixth grade.

Alex, his 15-year-old daughter, now plays basketball on the team coached by her father. When asked if coaching his own children in competitive sports caused any strife in the parent-child relationship or other issues, Brandon said no.

"Growing up, my dad coached for twenty-some years at the high school level," he said, adding that before he reached high school, his father had switched to only coaching girls' basketball. "So I watched him coaching my sister and some of the battles with the parent-child relationship with coaching.

"I was able to take a lot of that in," he said, saying he and his daughter have a strong bond on and off the court. And he loves seeing his children take on the same competitive fervor and love of athletics he had as a kid growing up in Saratoga.

Helping kids-his own or not-develop their talents may likely be the apogee of Brandon's competitive personality. Whether teaching math or coaching basketball, he says he strives to be the best, and to help everyone develop their talents into something special.

He may have been a great engineer, but his father feels that Brandon has found an excellent niche for himself, and is not surprised at all that his son grew up to be a basketball coach.

"Athletics-he just couldn't get away from them," he said.


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