Poly boys basketball coach Sam Brand, who in his 10 years at the helm built a program that reached national prominence, announced via Twitter Monday that he is stepping down.
The 40-year-old Poly and Morgan State graduate will continue to teach math at the Baltimore City public school, but will now commit all his basketball time serving Baltimore City youth as the program director for Team Melo. Brand accepted the position in March and will focus on middle school-aged boys and girls and younger for the highly-regarded AAU youth program.
At Poly, Brand inherited a program that won four games and methodically built a successful program that emerged as a Baltimore City powerhouse.
The Engineers improved to 11-13 in his first season and went on to capture three Baltimore City championships, five region titles and an unprecedented three straight Class 3A state championships (2016-19) before COVID-19 prevented their bid for a fourth straight when the 2019-20 playoffs were shut down the day of the state tournament semifinals. The Engineers went into the canceled state tournament nationally ranked with a 25-2 mark.
“It was truly an honor to serve the Poly community,” Brand told The Baltimore Sun. “We are a nationally prominent high school and it felt great to give the community a nationally prominent basketball program to celebrate and I hope that everyone was made proud by our work. I look forward to meeting the next group of students I get to teach math to this upcoming school year and I’m forever an Engineer.”
From his first day at Poly, which in athletics had long been recognized as a football power, Brand’s goal was for the program to reach a national level. He and his staff, led by assistant Anthony Fitzgerald, laid out a step-by-step plan that was effectively executed.
It started in the classroom, where the Engineers improved academically with Brand putting in place study hall hours and having fundraisers to provide money for tutoring. A challenging out-of-league schedule also proved vital in helping recruit some of the area’s top players.
“And then it was living in the gym with a committed group of adults that modeled the program we wished to implement as far as commitment, togetherness and focusing on a common goal over individual success,” he said.
The Engineers’ first region title came in 2013 with their first Baltimore City title coming in 2016 before their run of state crowns.
Patterson coach Harry Martin, who has enjoyed similar success at a school previously regarded as a football power, said the Poly program has become the team to beat in Baltimore City. The Clippers were the last Baltimore City school to beat the Engineers in the 2018-19 league title game.
“If you look at the work he put in — and I saw it in terms of offseason workouts, fall and summer leagues — when you think about how much time he gave to the Poly program and the city overall, he’s definitely going to be missed because, at the end of the day, he took a football school and built the basketball program basically from scratch to the last few years where they were probably the best public school team in the state,” Martin said.
Much of Brand’s decision to step down centered on the obstacles the public schools have endured through the pandemic and some policies that he said limits opportunities for its student athletes. The Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association canceled the 2020-21 winter sports season, while the Baltimore-area private schools got in an abbreviated season that included the Baltimore Catholic League playoffs.
Additionally, the MPSSAA does not permit its student-athletes to be eligible to participate in offseason basketball summer showcases with their high school teams in front of NCAA college coaches.
Brand is grateful for all those who made the strong commitment to help build the vision he had in mind when he first took the position at Poly.
Among the Engineers who have or are playing Division I basketball include John Crosby, Chas Brown, Darrion Stokes-Graham, De’Vondre Perry, Demetrius Mims, Brandon Murray, Rahim Ali and Justin Lewis.
“If there was something I brought to the table, it was convincing great people to give what it was they were great at to the group, and we had so many people do that,” Brand said. “It brought out the greatness in our players, who were our biggest strength. We’ve had an extremely talented and committed group of players.”
With his work at Team Melo, Brand is excited to be able to reach more of Baltimore City’s youth and bring his energy and passion for basketball to make a greater impact on the community. The program currently features eight boys’ teams and eight girls’ teams from middle school ages and younger.