By Reg Chapman

BRAINERD, Minn. (WCCO) — Central Lakes College in Brainerd has not been the same since Jim Russell came to town.

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The college’s athletic director has collected more awards in his 16 years as basketball coach than any other coach in the school’s history, and was honored this week for his 300th win.

Russell is a coach who’s accomplished so much after coming from so very far away. He is only 5 feet, 6 inches tall, but Russell is huge in the eyes of the guys he coaches. His love for the game and ability to coach has put Central Lakes College on top in the National Junior College Athletic Association.

In his 16 years, Russell has coached teams to state, regional and national championships, breaking a 60-year drought for the college.

He says he does it with heart, passion and a drive to help his young men be all they can be.

“Reaching their goals finishing up school getting their AA degree going on to play at a four year school just the impact of their life to be part of their life I think that’s the biggest reward there is,” said Russell.

Russell says his biggest accomplishment is seeing improvement in the young men who make up his basketball program.

“Let’s find the good in the kids and let’s bring it out. A lot of kids have a lot of good in them, but they don’t know who to show if they don’t know how to express it,” said Russell.

Some of Russell’s players come from rough beginnings.

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“He wanted to win and I like to win and I thought it could be a good fit for me,” said Brandon Davis.

Davis feels lucky to be a part of this basketball family, one that has given him purpose, drive and determination to finish what he’s started.

“I did lots of mistakes and didn’t really do the right things all the time so being here learning some things made me mature a lot realize what I want Coach Russell kind of gave you a second chance. I’m still living the dream, really my dream is still alive,” Davis said.

Russell never lets his guys make excuses, he knows all too well what it takes to overcome what life has dealt you.

“I was born in Vietnam,” said Russell, whose father died before he was born.

“My mother couldn’t take care of both of use so she took my brother and took care of him and she left me for a few months at the embassy with a whole bunch of Americans and they took care of me,” Russell said.

Russell’s twin brother died of malnutrition six months later. Nine years would pass before he would see his mother again. She had remarried, and his new stepfather came to get them out of the war ravaged country.

“He pulled us out in 1973, understanding that the war was going to get pretty ugly in 75 or so,” Russell said.

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Basketball helped Russell adapt to his new country.

Reg Chapman