To get a job in the NBA, Matt Brase didn’t rely on his Arizona basketball lineage or a phone call from his grandfather, Lute Olson.
Brase sent a letter with a resume to every NBA owner, general manager and head coach.
Because this took place during the five-month NBA lockout of 2011, no one was hiring. After working as a graduate assistant at Grand Canyon, earning a master’s degree while helping former Arizona interim coach Russ Pennell, Brase appeared to be stalled.
Ultimately, working a network he developed at McKale Center, the “brother of a friend’s friend” told Brase about an internship with the Houston Rockets.
“I immediately called and emailed my resume,” Brase told me last week.
He talked to the assistant GM and the GM. Six weeks went by. Finally, the Rockets hired Brase as an intern in the scouting department.
It was the opportunity of a lifetime.
“I packed up everything and was on the road to Houston by Friday for my first day on Monday,” Brase remembers. “It was a job that I had never met anyone face to face within the organization.”
Six years later, Brase is coaching the Rio Grande Valley Vipers in the championship series of the NBA D League. You can’t miss him. During ESPNU telecasts, Brase folds his arms across his 6-foot 5-inch frame and stoically stalks the sideline, an uncanny resemblance to “Papa Lute.”
The Vipers will play the Raptors 905 in the best-of-three finals. Brase will be matched against Sabino High School grad Dan Tolzman, who has a dual role of GM of the Raptors 905 and director of player personnel for the Toronto Raptors. Tolzman, who graduated from Minnesota-Morris, has a story similar to Brase’s: He began as an intern in the Denver Nuggets media relations office in 2008. He worked his way through the NBA chain and has traveled the world scouting prospects for the Raptors and Nuggets.
Small world, huh?
Brase, who is only 34, graduated from Catalina Foothills High School and began his basketball odyssey at Central Arizona College.
“So basically, my break was getting my foot in the door as a minimum-wage intern and moving up within the organization by being lucky that certain positions became available when they did,” he said.
Brase began his climb up the Houston Rockets ladder when ex-Salpointe Catholic basketball player Jesse Mermuys, a former basketball operations assistant at Arizona, left Houston to become an assistant coach in Toronto.
Brase got Mermuys’ spot in Houston. Mermuys is now Luke Walton's assistant coach for the Los Angeles Lakers. One more Tucson connection: Brase’s assistant coach is ex-Wildcat Final Four center Joseph Blair.
The D League championship series will be played Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. All games will be broadcast on ESPNU.
Someone from Tucson will be cutting down the nets.