LINCOLN PARK — Talk to enough people about Western Michigan University basketball player Tim Brennan and some version of the term "hard worker" almost always comes up.
"He's a very hard worker," said Parker, who led camps that Brennan attended. "Tim has the will, and he has the skills."
For Brennan, a 6-foot-4 junior guard, the work has paid off, as he and the 14th-seeded Broncos (23-9) will face third-seeded Syracuse (27-5) on Thursday in Buffalo, N.Y., in the NCAA tourney's second round.
Although he's played in only eight of Western's 32 games, averaging just more than one point per contest, Brennan been a key contributor in practice.
"His work has made our team better," said Western Michigan assistant coach Larry Farmer, a former head coach at Loyola University Chicago.
Brennan also was on the floor for a few minutes at the conclusion of the Broncos' 98-77 victory over Toledo in the Mid-American Conference Tournament finals that clinched Western's first NCAA tourney appearance since 2004.
"It was surreal hearing the buzzer go off," Brennan said. "Sometimes it's a tough process sitting at the end of the bench, but just realizing I'm part of something much, much bigger than myself is amazing."
Brennan's path to Division I basketball started in fourth grade, when he participated in the first of countless skills camps led by Sonny Parker, a Farragut Academy alumnus who played several years with the Golden State Warriors.
The sessions took place throughout Chicago — including Garfield Park, Hyde Park, Washington Park, Columbus Park, Nichols Park and Homan Square. Brennan spent endless weekends with Parker, from fourth grade until he left for Western Michigan.
"He went to pretty much all of them," Sonny Parker said. "Looking back on all the programs that I've had, he's probably been to more than any of our student-athletes."
Brennan's prep coach, Brian Murphy, said his dedication to hoops continued throughout his time at Lincoln Park High School, where he averaged 8.8 points per game.
"He was a hard-nosed kid, too, and an excellent defender," said Murphy, now the school's director of athletics. "Tim had plenty of offensive skill and was an excellent teammate. We had other guys that really score. Tim was fine with that."
Brennan said he's always liked to see "other people succeed" on and off the basketball court. It's an attribute that should serve him well in the workforce, where his role model is Grover.
Brennan has desired to train world-class athletes since spending the summers following his junior and senior high school years as an intern at Grover's Attack Athletics in East Garfield Park. In that capacity, Brennan rebounded practice shots for NBA stars like Wade, Gilbert Arenas and Will Bynum and also ran other athletes through basic warmup drills.
"He understands the physiology of the body, and he's got a great basketball background," Grover said. "I could definitely see him pursuing this as a career."
To find the right collegiate fit, Brennan's father R.J. said he sent video highlight tapes to 70 schools around the country before his son's senior year at Lincoln Park. The family chose Western Michigan because of the Division I attraction but also because it had a solid exercise science program.
Brennan is double majoring in that and business as he prepares for the next stage of life. After he receives his bachelor's degrees, Brennan said he'll likely reach out to Grover for potential positions, attend business graduate school or become a graduate assistant in an athletics program.
"I still want to work with athletes and be in the game somehow," Brennan said.
For now, he's focused on the upcoming NCAAs and the chance to win the Broncos' first tournament tilt since 1998.
"The campus is buzzing," Brennan said. "And we're going dancing."