JHS Graduate Hodgson Enjoying Ride With UB
Late Monday afternoon, Jamestown native Bryan Hodgson posted the following to his Facebook page: “Wheels up on the private jet to the NCAA Tourney in Boise!”
Attached was a video of him walking across the tarmac at Prior Aviation Flight Training in Buffalo and ascending the stairs into the plane. A cross-country flight was about to begin for him and the rest of the University at Buffalo men’s basketball team as they begin their journey in the NCAA Tournament.
The Bulls, the No. 13 seed and the Mid-American Conference Tournament champions for the third time in four years, will meet No. 4 Arizona on Thursday in a first-round game in the capital city of Idaho. Hodgson, an assistant coach and their No. 1 recruiter, will be seated on the bench as UB attempts to pull off the upset.
“I’m living out my dream,” Hodgson told me hours earlier.
What a dream it’s been.
There was a time in his life when Hodgson was content to work at the Gustavus Adolphus Home on Jamestown’s east side and then make the short drive to Jamestown Community College where he was an assistant coach on the men’s basketball team.
His plan was to eventually land a teaching job, so temporarily living “paycheck to paycheck” in his hometown was OK at that stage of his life. Heck, he was only in his mid-20s
And then his life changed quicker than a numbered fastbreak.
“A job came up in Texas,” Hodgson said.
But it wasn’t in the classroom.
Instead, it was on the court at Midland Community College, a remote outpost that featured one of the best junior college hoops programs in the country.
Distance from Jamestown?
“It was tough to leave my family, but I knew I had to make the move,” Hodgson said. “Sometimes you just have to leave, take that opportunity and get outside your comfort zone.”
So he did.
But not without some trepidation.
“I left my bags packed, because I was calling my parents and telling them I wasn’t staying,” Hodgson said.
Despite his initial regrets, his parents told him to stick it out. They obviously knew what was best.
Fast-forward to today.
As the Bulls’ primary recruiter in his third year, Hodgson has been responsible for procuring the talent that has led the Bulls to a 26-8 record, a regular-season conference championship as well as the MAC Tournament crown last weekend.
“I’m pumped up,” said Hodgson, 30. “It’s unbelievable. You know what? I kept telling people all summer that this is the best team we’ve had at UB probably ever.”
Juniors CJ Massinburg and Nick Perkins were both named to the All-MAC First Team, while Jeremy Harris earned second-team All-League honors, Wes Clark was named to the All-MAC Third Team, and sophomore Davonta Jordan was chosen to the league’s All-Defensive Team.
Whether that will be enough to advance past Thursday remains to be seen. After all, 15th-ranked Arizona (27-7) has arguably the best player in the country in 7-foot-1 forward DeAndre Ayton.
“I’ll be honest with you,” Hodgson said. “We got a raw deal, in my opinion. Not necessarily with the opponent, but the seed.”
The Bulls’ resume would seem to bear that out. Owners of the seventh-toughest non-conference schedule in the country, an RPI of 26 and five non-conference losses to NCAA Tournament teams, including St. Bonaventure, Coach Nate Oats, who signed a five-year contract extension last week, has the program operating at the highest of levels.
Right alongside him is Hodgson, who appeared on Oats’ radar a few years ago after the men made a connection during the former’s tenure at Midland CC.
“(Former UB coach Bobby Hurley), Nate and Levi Watkins (a Hurley assistant) were recruiting two of my players at Midland,” Hodgson recalled. “When Bobby left (UB), Nate said, “I just need a guy who can come in here and work his butt off’.”
Hodgson, the guy who paid his dues by working basketball camps up and down the east coast, was finally rewarded with a Division 1 opportunity.
“To be a Division I assistant in the grand scheme of things is virtually impossible,” Hodgson said. “My dad didn’t play college basketball and he wasn’t a coach. We’re a middle-class family from Jamestown. I had no real connection to this level.”
But he had the right connections and role models in Ben Drake, Ken Ricker and Marty Stockwell, Jamestown High School coaches, who “eat, breath and sleep basketball.” He also leaned on guys like Mike Cordovano and George Sisson at JCC and Kevin Moore at SUNY Fredonia.
Blended together, it worked.
And now Hodgson’s hoops dream continues.
“Our guys are fired up,” he said. “We played Cincinnati on a neutral floor, we were without our starting point guard and we were down four with a minute and a half to go. … We’re deeper as a team than Arizona. We play more guys more minutes, so we’re going to go out there and make them run with us. We’ll give it a go and see what we can do.”
How do you know you’ve made an impact on a college program? One way is to look in the stands during a sporting event to see whose likeness is plastered on a “fathead,” which is an oversized cutout of an athlete or coach.
Guess whose cutout appeared at Alumni Arena during a game this season? Hodgson’s. The image of him dated to his senior year at JHS when he was sporting a Red Raider uniform. It was originally posted to Facebook, Hodgson said, by JHS teacher Eric Sohl and it’s taken on a life of its own from there.
Hodgson’s career has taken on a life of its own, too.
“I couldn’t be happier,” he said.
Neither can UB.