ST. BONAVENTURE — His is a fascinating basketball tale that began in earnest on a concrete driveway in Allegany County.
Bryan Hodgson was born in Olean, adopted by his foster family at just 2 years old and lived in Bolivar until he was in seventh grade, when his father took a new job and moved the family to Jamestown.
“My (adoptive) mother lost both of her parents at a very young age and was an orphan,” said Hodgson, now an assistant coach and the recruiting coordinator for the Buffalo men’s basketball program, St. Bonaventure’s nationally ranked opponent this weekend, “so it was kind of her way of giving back. She’s got a big heart.”
Like many other kids, Hodgson grew up shooting baskets in the driveway. Along the way, his family took in another foster child, former Archbishop Walsh star Josh Dean. The two would often play outside together, and with Dean being seven years older, “he taught me quite a bit,” Hodgson said.
Hodgson graduated from Jamestown High School in 2005, played for two years at Jamestown Community College and received his first coaching job as a student assistant to Kevin Moore, brother of current Walsh coach Andy Moore, at Fredonia.
His passion for the sport, however, has roots in the Reilly Center.
Hodgson’s older brother Garrett attended Bona on a full academic scholarship and was a student during the program’s renaissance in the late 90s and early 2000s. From a young age, Bryan got to tag along to see those teams in action.
“It’s a little bit of a rivalry now (with UB), but I’m not afraid to say … my love for basketball started with that,” he said. “I used to shoot in the driveway and stuff, but he would take me to games. He was at Bonaventure when Tim Winn was there, Caswell Cyrus, Shandue McNeill …
“I used to pretend I was Tim Winn in the driveway. Most kids that grow up in a city, they’re pretending they’re (Michael) Jordan. I used to pretend I was Tim Winn. I thought he was the greatest player ever.”
Hodgson spent three years at both Fredonia and JCC-Jamestown before packing his bags for Texas, where he took an assistant position at Midland College, a junior college powerhouse located in one of the premier juco hotbeds in the country.
It was at Midland that he caught the eye of then-UB coach Bobby Hurley and assistant Nate Oats.
The UB staff was down to recruit a couple of players on the Midland roster, and was impressed at the caliber of team that Hodgson helped put together. That eye for talent, and the ability to attract it, is what allowed Hodgson to elevate from an assistant juco coach to a 26-year-old aide for a Division I program on the rise.
“Through that process, I got to know them very well,” he said. “Nate (eventually took the job at UB) and called me and told me what kind of responsibilities I would have as far as recruitment goes, and offered me a job. It was a no-brainer.
“It’s tough enough to get in at this level, but to get in in what is essentially your hometown is nearly impossible. So I’m fortunate.”
In three-plus years under Oats, Buffalo’s rise as a program — which includes NCAA Tournament berths in 2016 and last season and this year’s 8-0 start and No. 17 national ranking — has, not surprisingly, coincided with an upsurge in its recruiting.
Hodgson has been at the center of that impressive haul.
The Olean native lured much of the Bulls’ current star-studded roster, including local standout Dontay Caruthers, who played for Hodgson at Midland, three-star recruits Davonta Jordan and Brock Bertram and Ohio state Division II Player of the Year Jayvon Graves. Last year, he nabbed a pair of four-star recruits in Jeenathan Williams, a top 100 player from Rochester, and Ronaldo Segu, an impressive accomplishment for a program at the Mid-American level.
An extension of his ties to the area, he also helped secure a walk-on spot for Patrick Moore, Kevin’s son and Andy’s nephew.
“I owe the world to Kevin,” Hodgson said. “He gave me my first job, and it’s funny how things come full circle. A. (Patrick) deserves it on his own; he’s a great kid, he works his butt off. And B., (it was) out of loyalty to the family. It’s a great basketball family.”
Four years into the job at UB, Hodgson has earned a reputation for his ability to bring in talented players. A story from last year on ubbullrun.com referred to him as Buffalo’s “recruiting ace.”
Part of that success stems from his relationship with Oats. After the Bulls made the NCAA Tournament in their first year together in 2015-16, Buffalo’s head man gave Hodgson all the freedom he required.
“From then on, he knew he could trust me,” Hodgson said. “It took a little while to gain that trust. Once you have a boss that trusts you and allows you to go out and offer what you need to offer and recruit however you need to recruit to get things done, that changes the game completely.”
Before then, however, he needed to make his biggest sell to date.
“(Then-UB athletic director) was skeptical,” Hodgson remembered. “He’s asking Nate, why do you want to hire a 26-year-old kid coming from a junior college? And Nate was new, so he told me I’d need to interview with Danny too.
“The first thing he asks me is, ‘all these guys tell me you’re a great recruiter, what makes you think you’re going to get high-level talent to UB? This is an honest answer: the difference between me and someone else is that I’m from here, so when I’m speaking with passion about Western New York and the city of Buffalo and this program, it’s genuine. I think the kids that we’re dealing with that can tell that.”
Hodgson made his initial return to the RC in 2016, a thrilling 90-84 Bona victory, but he’s excited to be back again in a game of this magnitude.
His family remains in the area, having long since returned to Bolivar. His father, having been diagnosed with dementia, doesn’t get to Buffalo much, but will have an opportunity to see his son on Saturday. Hodgson has about 18 friends and family on his pass list, though he jokingly said he might make his brother Garrett pay for a ticket.
For him, the RC will always feel like home.
“I remember being 8, 9 years old and going to games and I thought it was the biggest deal in the world,” he said, “and now to coach there is cool.”
He then added: “We told our guys, (Bona’s) record is not indicative of who they are. Obviously, they’re just now getting healthy, they got their best player back. We could be 10-0 and they could be 0-10, and it’s going to be one hell of a game.
“It’s sold out. We’re 17th in the country, so we’re going to get their best shot, as we always do. It’s going to be an unbelievable atmosphere. This is what Big 4 basketball should be like.”
(J.P. Butler, Bradford Publishing Company group sports editor, can be reached at email@example.com)