Birmingham lands in Jaspers' Hall of Fame
By: Ronak Patel
RIVERDALE, N.Y.- Swingman Brenton Birmingham (1995) knew expectations were high for the Manhattan College men's basketball team entering the 1992-93 season. The Jaspers had a successful year previously, ending with 25 wins and a showing in the National Invitational Tournament, the program's first tournament appearance of any kind since 1975.
The goal of the '92-'93 year was to make the NCAA Tournament. With stalwarts like Keith Bullock (1989-93), Carey Edwards (89-90, 91-94), Carey Wilson (89-93), Jamal Marshall (91-95) and Chris Williams (89-93) returning, as well as the addition of new head coach Fran Fraschilla, the team was dotted with talent and experience.
Birmingham, a 6'5 transfer from Brooklyn College, was looking to fit in on the Jaspers squad and prove what type of player he could be. Manhattan played their season opener at Hofstra. As the final buzzer sounded Manhattan had won 80-56 and everyone's eye was on the sweet-shooting Bronx native. Birmingham scored a team-high 26 points and tied a then school-record for three-pointers in a game, hitting six-of-seven. He won over Jasper fans that night while also gaining the respect of his teammates.
"That was a special moment for me because as they say, you never get a second chance to make a first impression," said Birmingham. "There were many who were anxiously waiting to see the 'rookies' on the team, and how we would blend in with the veterans.
Birmingham enjoyed many more memorable moments during his two-year Jaspers' career and helped launch the program to new heights in the 1990s. Birmingham was a key figure on the '92-'93 team that won 23 games and landed back in the NCAA Tournament. The Jaspers had to earn a hard-fought 68-67 victory over Niagara in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament title game to make the NCAAs. Despite a gamed effort by Birmingham, the Jaspers lost 78-66 to Virginia in their first round matchup at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse.
"The tournament game itself was a top moment," said Birmingham. "Picture this: Manhattan vs. Virginia at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, nationally televised in front of a crowd of 16,000 plus. It gave me Goosebumps!"
What Birmingham recalls fondly of the tourney team was how the veterans, led by Bullock, a 2003 Hall of Fame inductee, made the transition rather seamless for him. He remembers being welcomed with open arms and fitting in with his teammates both on and off the court.
"It was great playing in those days; we all got along as teammates and we all worked to make each other better. Every practice was competitive and intense, which made games easy."
When a team is successful, often times, there are personalities, identities and roles that come to the forefront, which help shape the squad's persona. Birmingham knew his role on the team.
"We had a variety of personalities on the team," said Birmingham. "Bullock was the fearless leader who led by example; Edwards was the vocal veteran who told you like it was; Wilson was the high energy gambler who always seemed to make the big play; Williams was the calm under pressure point guard who glued the team together and I was known as the quiet assassin. I didn't often say much, but I usually always spoke loudly with my play on the court."
Birmingham, who came to be known as "Sweet Daddy" to his teammates, capped his Jaspers career with a solid senior year, leading the team in scoring in 12 games and eclipsing the 20-point mark eight times. He led Manhattan to 20 wins and to the NIT, finishing with 805 career points. Birmingham was a regular on the Dean's List and made the MAAC All-Academic Team.
After Manhattan, Birmingham played briefly in Finland before returning to Manhattan College as an assistant coach on the Lady Jaspers basketball staff from 1995-98, which included a berth in the 1996 NCAA Tournament. He could not, however, get the playing itch out of his system. He went to Iceland where he enjoyed a successful career. He became a dual-citizen and even played on the Iceland national team.
As the years have gone by, Birmingham is even more appreciative of what his teams accomplished. He's grateful to be part of a resurgence that started in 1992 and culminated in 1996. During the five-year stretch, the Jaspers made the postseason every year, including two NCAA appearances.
"There were a few things that appealed to me about Manhattan College," said Birmingham. "First, it was close to home, so my family could get a chance to see me play; Manhattan was also a team that was on a winning path, and the possibility of playing in the NCAA tournament was very appealing."
But winning wasn't the only thing important to Birmingham. The pride and honor of playing at Manhattan was also a factor in why being a Jasper was so rewarding.
"I think most people, no matter what school, have a sense of pride when they put on their uniform," said Birmingham. "In those days I think we all wore the Kelly Green and White very proudly. But it was more than just the colors; it was also the letters that ran across our chest. 'MANHATTAN'; that meant something. teams respected us, some feared us, and that was a good feeling."
Birmingham looks back fondly at his time at Manhattan and is pleased to be an inductee into the Athletics Hall of Fame.
"Initially, I was honored just to be nominated," said Birmingham. "The fact that someone, anyone, thought that I was deserving was enough for me."
Today, Birmingham still resides in Iceland where he works as an air traffic controller at the Keflavik International Airport. He is engaged to be married and has three kids, Rúnar, Róbert, and Patrik. Despite the distance, Birmingham still follows the Jaspers via the Internet, no doubt wearing his green and white.
To follow Manhattan Athletics on Twitter, go totwitter.com/GoJaspers or visit Manhattan'sFacebook fan page.