Assistant coach of biggest NCAA basketball upset ever has local roots
Sometimes, it’s about being in the right place at the right time.
No one knows that better than Jake Brudish.
The 24-year-old is a first-year graduate assistant coach for the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) men’s basketball team.
Brudish was on the bench two weeks ago during the NCAA Tournament when the 16th-seeded Retrievers shocked the basketball world by upsetting No. 1 seed Virginia.
For someone looking to get his foot in the door in college basketball coaching circles, being part of what is largely considered the greatest upset in NCAA Tournament history is a great resume highlight.
It’s a resume that also includes a connection to the Times News coverage area.
Brudish has lived in Maryland since he was five years old. But before that, he lived in McAdoo. His father, Stan Brudish, is a 1983 graduate of Marian High School. His mother, Eileen (Kozel) Brudish-Fitzsimmons, is a 1986 graduate of Panther Valley High School. Jake, and his younger sister Hayley, often visit their grandparents, Florence and Ed “Chirp” Kozel, who live in Lansford.
Brudish attended both Severn and St. Mary’s High Schools in Annapolis, scoring over 1,300 points during his career. He was an All-Conference selection in his senior year at St. Mary’s.
From Annapolis, he went on to play Division 3 college basketball at the University of Rochester in New York. After one year at Rochester, he transferred to Division 1 Southern Methodist University (SMU), where he got a chance to play for legendary coach Larry Brown.
“My dream was to play for Larry Brown, and I was able to do that,” Brudish said, “I made the team as walk-on during the 2015-16 season. That year, we lost in the NCAA tournament to UCLA on a buzzer-beater.”
Although he loved playing the game, Brudish was already focusing on his next goal — to become a basketball coach. That led him to accepting an assistant varsity coaching position at St. Mark’s High School in Dallas during his senior year at SMU.
His year at St. Mark’s only increased Brudish’s desire to become a coach.
“When I returned to Annapolis after graduating from SMU, I enrolled as a graduate student at UMBC,” said Brudish. “I applied for the grad assistant position and was brought onto the staff by head coach Ryan Odom.”
At UMBC, Brudish is responsible for video breakdown, travel planning, and player development.
“Right from the start I loved it,” he said, “I got to coach right on the floor. At practices, I play against our team, working on their game skills. My season never ends. I go all day, everyday, every chance I get.”
The Retrievers’ magical 2017-18 season featured an America East Conference Tournament championship which included a victory over Vermont in the title game. It had been 10 years since either of those things had happened prior to this season.
“The Vegas odds were at eight percent that we would win that game against Vermont,” said Brudish. “We won 65-62 on a three-point buzzer-beater by Jairus Lyles.”
The victory earned UMBC an automatic bid to “The Dance” and a chance to be part of the NCAA’s March Madness. Little did anyone realize that the Retrievers would be at the heart of the madness.
UMBC was given the 16th and last seed in the South Region, where it would face the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed Virginia. The Cavaliers were 31-2 during the regular season, winning the ACC regular season and tournament championships.
“We were excited to play them,” said Brudish. “We felt that they hadn’t seen defensive pressure like we could bring to the floor.
After a confident week of practice, UMBC began the game the way they had planned, pressuring every Cavalier possession, and cutting off their passing lanes. At the half, the score was tied, 21-21.
The second half belonged to the Retrievers, who built a 10-point lead with just 10 minutes to go.
“Once we got up by 10, I really thought we would win it,” said Brudish. “Then, I think they panicked, and they tried to press us too. But we were too quick, Our 5-7 guard, KJ Maura, who was disrupting their offensive flow all day, easily beat their pressure and found the open man — and we were shooting the lights out in the second half.”
UMBC went on to stun the college basketball world with a 74-54 blowout victory, becoming the first No. 16 seed in 135 games to defeat a No. 1 seed.
Immediately after the stunning win, Brudish had to hold back his elation.
“I had to stay calm to shake hands with Virginia’s players and coaches, but then I was overwhelmed,” he recalled. “Everything went crazy with our players and our fans. It was really cool.”
The celebration finally made its way into the Retriever locker room where the media remained with the team until 1 o’clock in the morning.
“I know our exhaustion from that night was still evident in our loss to Kansas State in the next round, which was less than two full days later. We still played great defense, holding them to only 50 points, but our shooting was off.”
Brudish realizes that his coaching position with the Retrievers during their historic season will boost his reputation and enhance his resume in his ultimate quest to become a head coach.
During his blossoming coaching career, he has already learned how to prepare young athletes to excel on the court. His guidance in helping UMBC players reach heights that no one thought they could achieve is proof of that.
In addition, he has learned that basketball prepares young men for life. Helping with his father’s non-profit basketball program — Hoops International — that teaches high risk kids how to deal with adversity and cultural issues, has given him that opportunity.
“As a coach, you have to prepare the whole player,” said Brudish. “Not only do you need to prepare them to play on the court, but you need to help them build their confidence to be successful off the court, too.”
Jake Brudish is a young man blasting himself into bigger opportunities, but he remains humble and grateful, especially to his roots in northeast Pennsylvania.
“I’m proud of where my family comes from,” he said. “I’ve inherited their love for family and the work ethic of the people from the coal regions. I will never let that go no matter where my life should take me.”