Bryan Bender arrives at Ellsworth Community College after a successful four-year stint as the head men’s basketball coach at Southwest Mississippi Community College. He was promoted after one season as an assistant coach in the spring of 2018. Bender quickly built a value-driven culture centered around the core values of Passion, Humility & Discipline (PHD), where all members of the program are empowered to maximize their potential in the classroom, on the court, and in the community.
Academically the Bears have had tremendous success as champions in the classroom. In 2018-19 the Bear men were named the academic team of the year after obtaining the highest team GPA in the country. Over the past four seasons, they have also accumulated the highest-grade point average (3.45) out of all 425 National Junior College Athletic Association basketball programs in the United States. In the MACCC they have won four-straight academic team of the year awards for having the highest GPA every year among the 15 institutions in Mississippi. A 100% graduation rate has also been achieved by all 40 student-athletes and managers who earned their associate’s Degree at Southwest.
In Bender’s tenure at Southwest, the Bears compiled a 66-51 record (.564), made five postseason appearances and had the highest-ranked victory in school history over #2 ranked Pearl River Community College which snapped their nation-leading 33-game winning streak. This win also earned Bender national recognition as he was named the JUCO Coach of the Week by hoopdirt.com. In addition to big wins, the Bears put together the largest comeback in college basketball history erasing a 34-point second-half deficit with a win over PRCC in 2018.
Bender, known across the nation for his ability to recruit, develop and produce players for the next level has helped SMCC produce a league-leading 19 Division I players and 18 more NAIA/NCAA DII/NCAA DIII players over a four-year span. This number includes a nation-leading nine freshmen, who qualified for DI after just one freshman season at the NJCAA level. During the 2021-22 basketball season, the Bears had a total of 30 players playing basketball on scholarship at the four-year level.
In his six years at the Junior College level Bender has recruited or coached 56 players who have signed four-year scholarships, 38 to the NCAA DI level including nine top 100 ranked players.
Before taking over the program in 2018, Bender helped the 2017-2018 Bears to a 17-9 record and an MACJC State and Region XXIII Tournament appearance where they defeated the #12 ranked team in the country and earned a trip to the Regional Semi-Finals.
Prior to Southwest, Bender spent three seasons as Director of Basketball Operations at Appalachian State University, an NCAA Division I school in the Sun Belt Conference. While there; eleven players went on to continue their careers professionally, overseas. Bender was responsible for fundraising, budget management, team travel, community service, and assisted with video and scouting reports.
In 2013-14, Bender was an assistant at Missouri State University-West Plains where he helped raise the GPA to 3.14 and 12 players continued their careers at NCAA Division I programs.
Bender began his career at the University of Minnesota. He served as video coordinator under Hall of Fame coach Tubby Smith and spent his eight years overseeing scouts, student managers, and all video duties. While with the Golden Gophers he helped them to six postseason appearances including three to the NCAA Tournament and three to the NIT. In 2013; the Golden Gophers were ranked in the Top 25 and garnered a victory in the second round of the NCAA’s over UCLA.
Additionally, he has worked for USA Basketball with legendary Davidson head coach Bob McKillop. Bender holds Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the University of Minnesota in Sports Management and Applied Kinesiology with an emphasis in Sport Management and Coaching.
Bender has also found a niche on podcasts & leadership platforms. He has been the guest lecturer on the virtual coach’s clinic, coachtube.com & rising coaches. He was also selected in the fall of 2020 to participate in the inaugural JUCO TopConnect Symposium, where he was recognized as one of the top NJCAA coaches in the country. He also serves as the Executive Director of Basketball & Sponsorships for Rising Coaches Incorporated and hosts their podcast weekly.
The Cambridge, Wisconsin native is married to his wife, Kristi and they have a 1.5-year-old daughter, Livi.
“We’re extremely excited for Bryan to start in his new role as Head Men’s Basketball Coach. He brings a ton of experience along with him. The process was not easy, but Bryan rose to the top, and we’re excited for the future,” said Nate Forsyth, Athletic Director for Ellsworth Community College.