Brian VanderBeek

December 8, 2007

Three degrees of Brogan at MJC

In the case of the Modesto Junior College Basketball Tournament, it means seeing familiar faces in the stands -- many arriving early to set up their soft-back stadium seats in the same place they have for 20 years.

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After 70 years, a pattern has developed.

In the case of the Modesto Junior College Basketball Tournament, it means seeing familiar faces in the stands -- many arriving early to set up their soft-back stadium seats in the same place they have for 20 years.

It means three full days of basketball, with tournament organizers praying the first game doesn't go triple-overtime and blow the entire day's schedule.

The players change every year, with change being a constant.

The men leading the programs don't change. Like many community college tournaments, the MJC event seems to bring out many of the same coaching faces every year.

There's a reason for that. Tournament brackets generally are filled through the work of the host coach, and in this case Modesto's Paul Brogan has filled his field with a group of young and veteran coaches, all of whom are very familiar.

"The state is saturated with tournaments, and we're able to get these particular teams here because of the relationships we have," Brogan said. "It's more fun when you're coaching against someone you care about."

How familiar? To test the theory, here's a twist on a party game. Instead of the Seven Degrees of Kevin Bacon, in which you have to connect actors of different generations with the "Footloose" star through common co-stars, we've concocted a new game:

The Three Degrees of Paul Brogan.

The rules are simple. Connect the other seven coaches in the MJC Tournament through current and former coaching jobs to Brogan in three or fewer steps.

We'll give you a head start.

Chabot coach Denny Aye followed Bob Thomason as head coach at Columbia. Thomason went to Cal State Stanislaus, where in his final year with the Warriors he coached Brogan.

You also could connect Aye to Brogan through current Chabot athletic director Steve Da Prato, a former MJC football coach, but that would be cheating because you're leaving the basketball realm.

"That's fun, but the only problem now is that I'm starting to be the granddad of all these guys," said Aye, who already has led teams at Columbia and Fresno to MJC Tournament titles. "It's enjoyable to see all these young guys move up in the profession, and I'm proud to have 10 guys across the country who were assistants or players for me that are now head coaches."

Get the idea? Next, connect Delta's Brian Katz to Brogan. Ready?

Before taking the job in Stockton, Katz coached at Lassen, taking over one year after the departure of John Jones, who then went to Stanislaus, where he coached Brogan.

There are two easy questions in this quiz:

Billy Offill, Siskiyous: Assistant coach at MJC for Brogan.

Ben Riley, Lassen: Assistant coach at MJC for Brogan. Also a grad assistant at Pacific for Thomason, who while at Stanislaus coached Brogan. Hired at Lassen by athletic director Jones, who also coached Brogan at Stanislaus.

"When you know everybody and grow up playing with each other and coaching against each other, it's fun," Riley said. "It is a family atmosphere, and there's nobody better to beat than one of your brothers."

Here, this party game gets difficult. Consider yourself a community college basketball expert if you can come up with either of these next two connections:

Ed Madec, Fresno: He took the Fresno City College job after leaving Siskiyous, which opened the position for Offill, who had been an assistant at MJC for Brogan.

Mark Arce, West Hills: His first college job was as an assistant at Columbia for Aye, who took over for Thomason, who coached Brogan at Stanislaus.

Finally, the last question, for triple bonus points. If you get this one right, you're probably a blood relative of ...

Nate Rien, Columbia: His father played basketball at Livermore High School for Jones, who later coached Brogan at Stanislaus.

"There are all kinds of connections," Brogan said. "I played for Bob Thomason and Ben coached for him, and Billy and Ben played together at Mendocino and Albertson College of Idaho.

"The bottom line is that I've been fortunate to have great assistant coaches. The fact that Ben and Billy are both head coaches now is a tribute to them and to what they brought to our program."

And the best part about the old (and young) boys club just might be the social after all of the day's games have been played. These guys have played together, coached together, gone to conventions together and tried to beat each other's brains out on the floor.

It only serves to bring them closer together at the end of the day.

"You think you'd get tired of hanging out with the same guys all the time," Riley said. "But you never really do."

Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached or 578-2300.

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