In the moment when those around him were counting down the final seconds toward winning a national championship, John Redman found himself counting his blessings. The Dalton State (Georgia) assistant basketball coach, who had experienced the greatest loss of his life only months before, was on the verge of his greatest professional victory — all at the age of 25, all in the span of just less than a year.
And as is often the case, he was thinking of Brittany.
“We know we’re going to win and there’s probably 30 seconds left,” Redman explained, recalling the final moments of the recent NAIA Division I men’s basketball national championship game in Kansas City, which Dalton State won. “I’m sitting there and my brain is saying, ‘What just happened? What’s happening?’ Right there, right then. It was almost like a release, like a big burden and big relief had taken place, and the tide was turning and things were getting better.”
Getting better is not something Redman takes lightly, not after all he has gone through — all he has won and lost — in what seems to him a fast-forward video of the past year of his life. Tuesday marked the one-year anniversary of the day he and his fiancee’, Brittany Huber, were involved in a one-car accident as the couple drove from Dalton to Mobile for their scheduled wedding. A tire on Redman’s car blew out as they drove on Interstate 85 in Newnan, just south of Atlanta. The car hydroplaned and slammed into a concrete support for an overpass.
Huber, just 24 years old, died instantly. Redman suffered major head trauma (including 21 skull fractures), five broken ribs and numerous other injuries. It wasn’t known whether he would survive.
Yet just a month ago there he was, climbing a ladder underneath the goal in Kansas City to cut down the nets in celebration of the team’s championship.
“It feels like yesterday that I was in the hospital; it seems like yesterday that I got back here (to Dalton). It seems like yesterday that we were leaving for our wedding. It’s been a long year, but it’s going to get better. It can’t get any worse, so it’s going to be better,” Redman said, reflecting on the year since losing Brittany.
“This year has been one of the best years of my life and one of the worst years combined. It’s been a great year professionally … The basketball couldn’t go much better. On the other side, it couldn’t have been any worse. I lost Brittany — my future wife, the love of my life, my best friend — and I lost my grandmother [who passed away in March], so that’s definitely been the worst … Obviously, this whole year has been a whirlwind … It’s something that will affect me the rest of my life. I can’t even put it into words.”
Basketball was the backdrop in John’s and Brittany’s lives. It brought them together — he coached her brother Michael’s AAU basketball team and the first time he saw her was at a game she attended — and it took them to Dalton State, where John was hired right after graduation from Spring Hill College. After the accident, with Brittany gone, basketball was a daily life raft for Redman, who immersed himself in his job to keep from dealing with her absence, to keep from hearing the same question echo in his thoughts: Why?
Basketball saved Redman in many ways, providing him enough of a distraction to allow him to grieve at a pace that wouldn’t overwhelm him. The winning helped too; he had experienced enough loss.
“Basketball and this season has been the greatest thing ever,” he said. “In the morning, I get up, I have coffee and get ready and go to the office, and I don’t go back home until I’m ready to go to bed. I try to stay away the whole day. I don’t want to go home. I don’t want to be alone at home where nothing has really changed. Basketball has been the main thing that has kept me going. I get excited again about some things. My friends in basketball have been unbelievable.”
Still, the house in Dalton is a place he couldn’t force himself to leave either.
“I thought it was going to be the hardest thing,” he said of returning there after his recovery. “At first, I didn’t think I was going to be able to live there. I talked to a couple of other places about moving in. But as the days and weeks went by, I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else, I really wouldn’t. I love our little house — she decorated the whole thing. Her clothes are still hanging up in the closet … I’ll go in there sometimes and just sit. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing for the grieving process, but I like it. There’s no how-to book on the grieving process; everybody has to go through it their own way. There are a lot of memories in there,” said Redman, who today wears what would have been his wedding ring on his right hand. “There are constant reminders of her, but the memories I have now are all happy memories.”
Redman had to get past some guilt to reach that point though.
“The grieving process, I was starting from ground zero,” he said. “I was the only person with her. What could I have done? What could I have done differently? You have to try to throw the what-if questions away: Why me? Or why this? Once you can do that, it starts getting a little better … I had a big guilt trip. She left Mobile for me and my job. She had no job (when they first moved to Dalton). She was in school at that time (when he was hired) looking to get her master’s and she said she would finish it later. We really had no plan except follow me and we’re going to make this work. That guilt hit me really hard. But the Hubers (Mike and Lori, Brittany’s parents) have been great and have helped me so much. They’re my family. They have told me things that I not only need to hear but that I want to hear. We loved each other so much and they knew that, everybody knew that.”
The Hubers and Redman talk often each week. The Hubers attended some Dalton State games and Redman visited them in Mobile, including on the occasion of what would have been Brittany’s 25th birthday on Oct. 31.
“We are proud of him and proud that he survived,” Mike Huber said. “We think of John as our own son; we were just a few days short of him being our son, but he had pretty much already been incorporated into the family as far as we are concerned.”
Immediately after the accident Redman was taken to Grady Memorial Hospital where he remained for almost a month. He was later transferred to the Shepherd Center, a facility in Atlanta that specializes in the treatment of spinal cord and brain injuries. It was there he began showing great improvement. And it was there he learned Brittany had died.
Doctors at the Shepherd Center told family members and others not to mention Brittany’s death to Redman until it was believed he would be best prepared to handle the news. When the time came, Mike Huber, a physician himself, asked to be allowed to be the one to tell Redman.
“The only thing I remember about the day of the accident is what friends have told me because we were messaging them and telling them what we were doing,” Redman said. “We stopped at the mall supposedly and she bought a couple of dresses from her favorite store and we stopped at Starbucks to get her a coffee and then, boom, that’s all I remember … I remember waking up in the hospital one day and I was like, ‘What am I doing here?’ Then later I remember Mr. Mike telling me what happened, that she didn’t make it. That’s really the first day I remember.”
Huber will never forget that night.
“It was very difficult,” he said. “[Redman had] started improving and asking repeatedly of his brother (Ben), who was there with him, where Brittany was and what was going on. His brother had been instructed not to say anything … As he progressed they said they thought it would be OK. The psychologist met with us and said I could tell him.
“ … That night the whole basketball team had come to see him, three or four at a time, and we were the last ones to visit with him. I asked if I could be the one to tell him because I thought it would be appropriate … It was important to me because Brittany had made a point for him to ask me if he could marry her, and he did; he said he wanted to meet, that he had something he wanted to ask me and I knew what he had planned. He told me what his plans were and why and I appreciated that he had made a point of asking me. I thought it was only appropriate that I be the one to tell him (Brittany had died). We were around and his family was around and he was still very ill but he was aware of his surroundings. He still remembers exactly what I said. We all just cried with him. That’s all that we could do.”
Redman said he talks to the Hubers at least twice a week. Tuesday, he was in Mobile to be with them and other family members as they gathered at Brittany’s grave on the anniversary of her death.
“They are a real close-knit family and I’m blessed to be a part of it,” Redman said. “I feel like I’m one of their sons. Mr. Mike and Mrs. Lori, they’re so special. When I’m with them, I think of Brittany and I remember how Brittany was. Maybe they get the same thing from me. I hope they do. I plan on having them with me the rest of my life.”
Evolution to coach
Robert Thompson liked John Redman right away. The former Spring Hill College basketball coach recruited Redman during his senior season at Spanish Fort High and was drawn to the player, not as much by his basketball abilities as by his presence.
“What I saw was, he wasn’t the fastest guy, but his motor was always running, he was talking and he was leading,” Thompson recalled. “He was a good person and you could see that he was a great teammate. I wanted him for my team.”
A foot injury after one season at Spring Hill led Redman to make a decision — he asked Thompson if he could be the team’s manager. He told Thompson he wanted to be a coach and that the change would allow him to gain knowledge toward that aim.
Thompson agreed and Redman took on the task and made it much more. The first year he took over the team’s weight-training program, earning a weight-training certificate on his own and applying the knowledge to the team’s training. The following year he asked Thompson if he could help with the team’s academics. Redman called several Division I head coaches, asked how they handled that aspect of their jobs, then used that information to create his own plan.
“It was brilliant,” Thompson says today. The following year, he asked if he could accompany Thompson on recruiting trips to learn first-hand how to deal with recruits.
Thompson was fired as Spring Hill’s coach after Redman’s senior year and the two men attended the Final Four together. Dalton State head coach Tony Ingle approached Thompson and said he had an opening for an assistant coach on his staff. Thompson said he wasn’t the right person for the job, but he knew someone Ingle should talk to — John Redman.
“[Ingle] said he was looking for somebody older but he would talk to him,” Thompson recalled. “He invited him over for an interview the next day and when John got back, he said, ‘Coach, I may not get that job, but I put it all out there.’ Coach Ingle called about a week later and said, ‘He’s everything you said he was and more. I want that young man.’”
Thompson wasn’t surprised. After all, he saw the qualities in Redman needed to make it through such an ordeal back when Redman was in high school.
“I’ve said since way back he’s a fighter and I wouldn’t bet against John Redman in anything,” Thompson said.
University of Mobile head coach Joe Niland, who has known Redman for several years, has another word for the young man’s recovery.
“I got to the (Shepherd) Center, right after he was released from the hospital, and talked to Tony, his head coach,” Niland recalled. “I knew it was pretty bad and when (Mobile assistant coach) Shaddrick (Jenkins) and I went up to see him at the center — you can never be prepared for something like that, but we saw him propped up in a bed and he didn’t look good. He couldn’t really communicate and you thought, ‘wow.’ Now to see him today and see him move around and coach and go through life, it’s a miracle, that’s all you can say.”
Full of promise
With the basketball season over, Redman now turns his attention to recruiting players for next year’s Roadrunners team and the task of attempting to successfully defend the national championship. Redman, too, will be taking steps toward the next phase of his life.
“I really do feel good,” he said with conviction. “I’m in a better place now than I was a month ago and I’m in a better place today than I was yesterday …The doctors say, ‘You’re a miracle,’ and when a doctor says you’re a miracle, you really are … It’s not supposed to happen. I’m amazed too, but I’m a mentally strong person. I had dreams and goals and I want to see them come true. That’s what pushes me the most. I love my job.”
He’s also celebrating his own graduation — from the Shepherd Center.
“At the time I felt like I was a toddler,” Redman said of having to learn simple tasks all over again. “It’s almost like being a toddler as a 25-year-old, and I did it overnight it seemed. I went from 5 to 8, from 10 to 12, from 13 to 18. I could see the results and I was getting better, I wanted to get better. Whatever they wanted me to do, I wanted to double it. I was in a rush to get better. I worked so hard. I knew what I had to do and I knew I had to work. I was willing to do anything I had to do to get better.”
He flipped through his cell phone showing photos of the therapists and doctors and family members at his “graduation” and the smile he wears is genuine, one that seems more comfortable and easily called on these days.
“It was graduating from life and I was able to move on to the next chapter.”
John Redman moves to the next chapter of his life with a greater respect for that life, a greater recognition of the power of love and family and friendships and the desire to share those things with those he meets. He said he will make those next steps, wherever they lead, with the strength of memories that will remain with him forever.
“I have a huge appreciation for people; I learned that from Brittany,” Redman said. “I learned so much from Brittany and I’m just now realizing what all she taught me. I’ll keep learning that for a while and will continue learning from her. She treated people so well. She treated everybody with kindness and respect and love — she loved everybody …That’s the greatest thing she taught me — just be kind to people without expecting anything back and help people whenever you can. I want to tell my story if for no other reason than to help somebody else.”