After one basketball season away, Brandon Pickell is back in Gwinnett County.
The 33-year-old is the new head boys basketball coach at Duluth, replacing the outgoing Cabral Huff and returning to the county where he coached the previous seven years. Huff was hired earlier as head boys basketball coach at Holy Innocents’.
Pickell was an assistant coach at both Lanier and Central Gwinnett in the past, as well as the head boys coach at Summerour Middle for five years.
“Gwinnett’s just a real special place, so many great athletes, so many great players and so many great coaches,” Pickell said. “From a high school basketball perspective, every job in Gwinnett County is held in a very high regard throughout the state and even the country probably. The fact that it was Duluth is special.
"I have a lot of respect for Coach Huff. In the three years he was there, we played his teams twice at Central and Lanier, and his Duluth teams played very hard and they were very organized. To me, those are a direct correlation to coaching. The program was very strong with Coach Huff. There was literally no negative whatsoever about this Duluth job.”
Pickell, a Dacula resident, left Gwinnett for the 2018-19 season to be head coach at Johnson-Gainesville. He spent the previous two seasons working for his good friend Branden Mayweather, who he met through a 12Stone Church small group. He was a varsity assistant coach during Mayweather’s final season at Central, then the two linked up for Mayweather’s first season at Lanier.
Prior to joining Mayweather, Pickell was active in the Norcross cluster as the Summerour Middle boys coach. That role allowed him to contribute and learn from Norcross head coach Jesse McMillan and his staff.
“While I was (at Summerour), I reached out to Jesse McMillan and tried to build a relationship with him and he could not have been more accommodating, more nice,” Pickell said. “He became a friend and a mentor in coaching. When I moved to Gwinnett County for that Summerour job, I literally didn’t know anyone in Gwinnett.”
Pickell grew up on the other side of Atlanta in Cobb County, where he played basketball at North Cobb Christian. He began coaching for his former high school while he was a college student at Kennesaw State, kick-starting his career path. After college, a full-time opportunity opened up at Summerour and introduced Pickell to Gwinnett basketball.
He said he is eager to build on what Huff started, though it will be a rebuild of sorts because the Wildcats’ suffered major graduation losses. Duluth returns senior leader Trent Gordon and has the tradition of state tournament appearances in each of Huff’s three seasons.
The Wildcats went 14-16 last season and lost in the first round of state.
“We’re very young,” Pickell said. “We graduated a bunch of seniors last year. One of my first conversations with Coach Huff after I got the job, those were his words, too. The positive with that, though, is this JV group that’s coming up did win the county tournament they played in last year. … So it’s not like the cupboard is bare. We’re just young.
“The big message I was pushing with them in June is the things that make you successful in a JV game don’t always translate to a varsity game. It’s faster. It’s more intense. There are more half-court possessions where you have to grind things out defensively. Just teaching those concepts of half-court man-to-man defense, half-court motion offense, those things were huge for us this summer.”
THE PICKELL FILE
Name: Brandon Pickell
New position: Head boys basketball coach at Duluth
Former position: Head boys basketball coach at Johnson-Gainesville
Education: Graduated from North Cobb Christian School; earned degree in health and physical education from Kennesaw State; has master’s degree in physical education from Emporia State (Kans.) and specialist degree in physical education from Jacksonville State University (Ala.)
Background: Spent 2018-19 season at Johnson, but coached in Gwinnett the previous seven years; was an assistant coach at both Lanier and Central Gwinnett; coached the boys team at Summerour Middle for five years; coached five years at North Cobb Christian, during his time as a student at Kennesaw State; helped NCC to two state titles and a NACA national title
Family: Wife Sarah; son Noah, 8; daughters Charlotte, 6, and Lila Kate, 4