After one successful season as an assistant coach for the Southwest men’s basketball team, Bryan Bender has been named the Bears next head coach.
“It is an incredible honor to be named the head coach here at Southwest and I want to thank the President, Dr. Steve Bishop, our Athletics Director, Coach Bill Wallace and the Board of Trustees for believing in me and trusting me to lead this outstanding program. The great leadership that this school has, as well as their ability to work together as a team and as a family, is one of the many reasons that make Southwest such a special place.”
In his one year as an assistant at Southwest, Bender was a part of the coaching staff that assembled a 17-9 record and qualified for the MACJC state tournament as well as the NJCAA Region XXIII tournament. In the regional tournament, the Bears knocked off the nation’s 12-ranked team, Northwest Mississippi Community College, to earn a trip to the semifinals. The Bears also pulled off the largest comeback in college basketball history on January 11, 2018, when they overcame a 34 point deficit with 14:10 remaining in the second half to beat South Division champion, Pearl River Community College.
Also at Southwest, Bender helped four players earn NCAA Division I scholarships to continue their academic and basketball careers (Roydell Brown, Jeremy Harrell, Antonio Cowart and John Knight III) and helped guide all four sophomores to graduate with their associates degree this spring. The Bears lead the MACJC with the most players to sign Division I scholarships for 2017-18, more than double the amount of the other schools in the league.
“This past season was an incredible learning experience,” Bender said. “I learned the lay of the land here at Southwest and how to navigate the recruiting trails of this incredibly competitive league. As a staff, we were fortunate this year to sign one of the top recruiting classes in the state of Mississippi and I can’t want to hit the floor with these guys next season. While winning is important, developing our student-athletes to be valued members of society, professionals, spouses and parents one day is my ultimate goal. As a leader of young men, we will set high goals and hold our team accountable both on and off the floor as we continue to compete at the state, region and national level.”
Prior to Southwest, Bender spent three seasons as Director of Basketball Operations at Appalachian State University, a NCAA Division I school in the Sun Belt Conference. While there, he helped nine student-athletes graduate with their Bachelor’s degree, three of which signed contracts to play professionally in Europe. Bender was also a part of the staff that coached and recruited, Ronshad Shabazz, who just declared for the 2018 NBA Draft.
During the 2013-14 season, Bender spent time as an Assistant Coach at Missouri State University, West Plains where
, they experienced an 18-win season. Off the court, he helped the team set a school record for the highest team GPA (3.14) and witnessed eight sophomores obtain their associate’s degree. Twelve members of the 2013-2014 team signed at a NCAA Division 1 program and three players were NJCAA All-Region honorees with two listed among the Top 50 Junior College players in the country.
Prior to his stint at West Plains, Bender spent eight years in various roles with the University of Minnesota. During his last three seasons, he served as the video coordinator for Hall of Fame coach, Tubby Smith, overseeing scouting, student managers and all video duties.
During his time with the team, the Golden Gophers made six postseason appearances, including three trips to the NCAA Tournament and three more to the NIT. During the 2012-13 season, the team spent 14 weeks ranked in the Top 25, including three weeks in the Top 10, and capped off the year with a win over UCLA in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
Bender also gained valuable experience as part of the support staff for the 2008 USA Basketball U18 Junior National Team, which contained 9 players that played in the NBA including Mason Plumlee, Lance Stephenson and Kemba Walker. The team was coached by legendary Davidson head coach, Bob McKillop.
Bender holds two degrees from the University of Minnesota with a Bachelor’s degree in Sports Management and a Master’s in Applied Kinesiology with an emphasis in Sports Management and Coaching.
A native of Cambridge, Wisconsin, Bender is married to the former Kristi Ericksen of Brainerd, Minnesota.
Bender takes the top spot with the program following the departure of Thomas Gray, who left to accept a role with another program.
“I am excited to have the opportunity to lead my own program and continue the success that was built here by Coach Gray,” Bender said. “Thomas is a phenomenal coach, but an even better person. What he did for this program and the culture here at Southwest is remarkable.”