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Force native Jim Brunelli has been involved with basketball since his childhood days on the playground. Throughout his high school and college years, he never lost his connection with the sport, and now helps others develop their own skills and love of the game as head women's basketball coach at Anderson University in Anderson, S.C.
"I love basketball. I love college athletics. There is nothing more pure than college sports," Jim said.
Anderson University, or AU, is a NCAA Division II school in the South Atlantic Conference. The Trojans recently finished their third season under Jim as head coach. They are 49-40 in that time span. He has led the team to two Conference Carolinas Tournament Championships and two NCAA appearances.
"The tournament championships and NCAA appearances are very special to me because in this profession, you are not guaranteed anything, and to be
able have experienced those things in my first two seasons as head coach is very special," Jim said.
For Jim, however, being a coach is more than winning games.
"Personal rewards come from being able to recruit talented young ladies and see them excel in the classroom and on the court, getting to know their families and making them part of my extended family. Being part of their lives for four years -- and beyond -- and watching them grow into young adults and earn a degree," he noted.
Jim and his wife, St. Marys native Stacey (Wendel), live in Anderson, S.C. They have two daughters, Baylee, 8, and Jaylynn, 5. He is the son of Vincent and Maryann Brunelli of Force and has three siblings: Maryann Pyne of Weedville, Joe of Advance, N.C. and Leo of Oxford, N.C.
Now a coach and mentor himself, Jim has not forgotten those who helped mentor him.
"My mentors growing up, and to this day, are my parents. They got me involved with sports at an early age and always encouraged me to do my best and follow my dreams," Jim said.
In addition to his parents, other mentors also had a positive influence on his life.
"One of my local heroes in coaching growing up was Ron DeCarli, former St. Marys Area High School girls' basketball coach and former Division I head menâ€™s basketball coach at St. Bonaventure University," Jim said. "In high school, I attended his camp and then had the amazing opportunity to work his camps in New York for eight years.
Working his camps is where I was able to learn the game and how to teach it. Getting special moments at night to sit and talk with Coach DeCarli about his experiences is when I knew this (college coaching) is what I wanted to do as a career. The stories and advice he shared with me then I still carry with me today."
He also described the opportunity to work camps for Coach Margaret â€śGieâ€ť Parsons at Clarion University as an "amazing experience."
"There, I was able to learn as well as fine-tune my coaching skills. From those days, I was able to show Coach Parsons that this profession is what I wanted and it eventually landed me my first coaching job as graduate assistant for her."
A 1991 graduate of St. Marys Area High School, Jim attended Penn State DuBois for his first year of college, playing both basketball and baseball. The remainder of his undergraduate years were spent at Clarion University, when from 1993-1994, he was a walk-on and played for the men's basketball team. He graduated from Clarion with a degree in Secondary Education with a focus on Social Studies. After a year of teaching and coaching in North Carolina, he returned to Clarion as a graduate assistant womenâ€™s basketball coach and earned a Masters in Communication Education and Mass Media.
Jim began his career at Clarion University as an assistant coach under Parsons in 1998. From there, he moved to the University of Albany, a NCAA Division I school that plays in the America East Conference. While at UAlbany from 2000 to 2006, he climbed the coaching ladder from assistant coach to recruiting coordinator. He then moved to the University of Akron, and from 2006 to 2008 worked under Head Coach Jodi Kest and was her recruiting coordinator.
"As an assistant coach, one of my main responsibilities at every school was recruiting. Recruiting is the lifeblood of college athletics. It is a never-ending process," Jim said.
"Recruiting is basically bringing in student-athletes to your school. In this process, you search out young ladies who not only have outstanding basketball skills, but also academic skills as well. Recruiting has taken me all over the United States and Canada. This summer, it will take me to Italy."
While the prospect of traveling to Europe is exciting, Jim said he and the family also like to travel northward when they can to visit "home."
"It is always nice to get back to where you grew up," Jim said. "Force was a great place to grow up and I wouldnâ€™t change a thing about it. Getting to see family and friends always brings back good memories. Sometimes Iâ€™m able to catch a game at the high school or see one of my coaching friends play. That always brings back good memories."
When not coaching, Jim likes to spend time swimming and riding bikes with his family. He also enjoys playing golf.