Brandon Paul returned home from school to tell his mother a story from the day. What exactly he wanted to share, he doesn't remember anymore. It was quickly overshadowed by the sadness he saw on her face when he entered her bedroom.
"She was sitting on the couch and had the TV on," Paul recalled. "I could see she had tears in her eyes. I didn't really know what was happening. She basically told me we were at war. It was so surreal."
Paul was 10 years old in 2001. He was about to experience six months he had never expected.
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Paul's father, police officer Cliff Paul Sr., was deployed to a base in Spain as part of a law enforcement security group. He already had been deployed in the past with the Navy, including to the Persian Gulf. This time, it meant leaving three sons at home.
"You're young," said Paul, a Sixers roster hopeful. "You can only register so much. I just remember crying. At school, I was acting different. My friends were like, 'Why is Brandon acting all different?' A teacher got involved and I started yelling at kids. They said, 'Why are you acting like this?' and I kind of broke down in class. That was the first time I ever showed that type of emotion."
Paul stepped up despite being the middle child. He would look out for older brother Cliff Jr. and younger sibling Darius, he assured his father.
"Brandon said just as we departed, 'Don't worry dad, I'll take care of the family,'" Cliff Sr. said in a telephone interview. "It was very comforting. He'd always been kind of the unsung leader of those three in their shenanigans (laughs). It seemed like he was more mature than the other two, and he just kind of assumed that role."
Over the months, the family was able to communicate via Skype. His mother, Lynda, helped Paul get through the period by making sure he knew his father was not going to be fighting in the war. Paul kept his word to watch over his brothers, which often included spending time at their outdoor basketball hoop.
"That's kind of when I became the man of the house, so to say," Paul said. "I kind of took it upon myself to keep the family together. ... That was a challenging thing that helped me mature faster than most of my friends."
The 6-foot-4 guard has used that early maturity to persevere throughout his basketball career. In college at Illinois, he suffered a broken jaw during a collision on the court. His jaw was wired shut for six weeks.
After going undrafted in 2013, Paul signed a deal with Nizhny Novgorod in Russia. He came back to the United States in 2014 to play for the Canton Charge in the D-League. Just a few games in, he tore the labrum in his left shoulder.
Paul fought to return in 3½ months, only to tear his right shoulder during a summer league scrimmage with the Bulls. He missed another four months recovering from surgery.
In 2015, Paul was once again playing for the Charge. He was a few weeks away from the NBA playoffs when he dislocated his left shoulder a second time.
"After the first one I was like, 'I can't believe this is happening,'" Paul said. "After the second one I thought, 'I can't believe this is happening again. I'm about to play for my hometown team.' ... The third one, that was the one that took a real big mental toll on me. I had already gone through two and I was playing well enough and had a bunch of teams ready to call me up. It was the worst timing."
Paul went overseas again to make an impact. Last season, he led FIATC Joventut of Spain in scoring (13.2 points per game). Paul played for both the Hornets (Orlando) and Sixers (Las Vegas) summer league teams in July. Following a strong showing, the Sixers signed him to a non-guaranteed deal.
Paul entered his first training camp at 25 years old. He jumped instantly when he saw an opportunity to make an impact. Paul scored 15 points (6 for 10 from the field) with four rebounds in 13 minutes against the Celtics in the preseason opener. He has appeared in four games, averaging 7.3 points and 2.3 rebounds while shooting 50 percent from the field and 36.4 percent from three.
The Sixers have until 5 p.m. Monday to make their final cuts and bring their regular-season roster to 15. It currently stands at 19. Paul, Cat Barber, Shawn Long and James Webb III are the most likely Sixers to be waived and spend time with the D-League affiliate, the Delaware 87ers.
If that happens, Paul will continue to fight to land in the NBA, as he has been doing for years.
"A-plus human being," Brett Brown said. "He's high class. He really is a polished person. I think there is a toughness in him. He's physical. He is a two-way player — he can make a shot and he can guard. I think he's got a real bounce, he's hungry. He's been great to have around. I believe he's an NBA player."