On a recent Sunday afternoon, the father-son combo of Carl and Brad Tinsley dropped in to Vanderbilt’s Memorial Gymnasium for a quick shoot-around. Just a few feet away sat the matriarch of the family, Kathy Tinsley, casually flipping through a magazine.
Carl, a retired girls basketball coach of more than 25 years, and Brad, a junior point guard for the Vanderbilt men’s basketball team, are right at home in the middle of the 14,168-seat arena. In reality, though, all three are far from home.
When the session wrapped up, Brad headed back to his suite on campus. Carl and Kathy made the 10-minute trip to their apartment in Bellevue. And more than 2,300 miles away, the Tinsley house in Oregon City, Ore., sat vacant, like it does most of the time during basketball season.
For the last three years, Carl and Kathy Tinsley have packed up, hit the road and ventured southeast. They’ve adopted Nashville as their second home for the six months that Brad lives out his dream of playing college basketball.
“There is nothing like sitting in the front row and watching your son play,” Kathy said. “I just can’t even imagine how nerve-wracking it would be to only get to see him and not have that personal interaction afterwards, whether it is a good game or a rocky game. Just to be able to be with him, give him a hug when he needs it and a pat on the back. That is just so special.”
Carl and Kathy have soaked in any number of special moments, such as November’s season opener, when Brad became the first player in Vanderbilt history to record a triple-double.
Three years ago, the Tinsleys couldn’t have guessed that any of them, Brad included, would be in Nashville.
Brad graduated from Oregon City High School as the fourth-ranked scorer among all classifications in Oregon prep hoops history. Several Division I schools were courting the two-time all-state selection and Oregon’s Gatorade Player of the Year.
Initially he signed a national letter of intent to play at Pepperdine in Malibu, Calif., where a good family friend, Mark Campbell, was an assistant coach for the men’s team. That January in 2008, during Brad’s senior year of high school, Pepperdine men’s basketball coach Vance Walberg abruptly resigned mid-season, leaving Campbell’s future up in the air. Later that month, Pepperdine granted Tinsley a release and the recruiting process reopened. Schools that were knocking on the door earlier — Vanderbilt among them — came back into the picture.
At first, Tinsley had mainly looked at the West Coast, places such as California, Utah, Colorado, Arizona State, Gonzaga and Washington State. After things fell through at Pepperdine, he began looking farther east at Wake Forest and Vanderbilt.
When Tinsley came east in the summer of 2008 for his first semester of classes, however, Carl said it “was a rocky first two weeks” for his son. Brad fought homesickness but it helped that another good family friend, Justin VanOrman, whom Carl taught back in Oregon City, was the director of basketball operations for the Vanderbilt women’s team.
Still, the Tinsleys wanted to be there for their son. Carl retired a few years ago from coaching and teaching. Kathy is an accountant for a friend who owns several service stations. Thus, she can do her work remotely and only needs to get back to Oregon once a month, if that often. And moving from Oregon for part of the year, they weren’t leaving anyone behind; their two other children, Cassie and David, are older than the 21-year-old Brad.
“We wanted to be far enough away from campus that we weren’t going to be a crutch for him where he could just walk over every night and spend all of his time with us,” Carl said. “We wanted him to be the college student, and mom and dad were just coming out to go to his games to be supportive.”
From there, the Tinsleys decided the migration South would be an annual affair while Brad was at Vanderbilt.
“It’s been an awesome experience, just having them here at every game and being around whenever I need them,” Brad said.
Carl has used it as an opportunity to expand on one of his specialties — running girls basketball tournaments. For years, he has put together the End of the Trail Tournament, which is based in Oregon City and caters to high school girls basketball teams across the country. Last summer, Music City Madness was held on 15 courts at three different sites in Franklin. The tournament had 192 teams and Carl, Kathy, all three of their children and even Brad’s girlfriend, who plays basketball at U.C. Santa Barbara, helped put it together.
More than anything, though, the move has been a family-oriented one and has been more than worthwhile.
“Him being the youngest, there was no reason for us that we couldn’t come out and see if we could work it out financially,” Carl said. “It has been a real blessing.”