By Roman Veytsman
JACOB KONST/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Senior Matt Brase hoists his framed jersey over his head after the Senior Day celebrations following Arizona's win over Oregon State last week. Brase's contributions to the team might go unnoticed by fans but his spirit for the game has been an asset over the last two years.
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, March 1, 2005
You may not notice Matt Brase on the basketball court. He doesn't have freakish athleticism, lightning-quick speed or a lights-out jumper. His teammates notice him though, and so do the coaches. What Brase does have are a heart and a passion for the game of basketball.
The 6-foot-6 Brase started his college basketball career at Central Arizona College in Coolidge, where he played plenty of minutes and averaged 14.6 points per game as a sophomore.
Brase wanted something more, something that he was involved with his entire life.
That something was Arizona basketball, the pride of Tucson, where Brase grew up. For Brase, it meant even more to be a part of the program because the face of Arizona basketball was none other than his grandfather, head coach Lute Olson.
"We've always been a real close family," Brase said. "When I was growing up, every Sunday we'd be up at the house eating dinner with him. I think this experience has brought us even closer together, being able to be with him every single day on the court."
It wasn't Olson who ultimately convinced him to attend Arizona, but rather Hassan Adams.
While playing pickup games the summer after his sophomore year, Adams suggested that Brase ask Olson for a chance to walk on.
At first, Brase was skeptical, but after talking with a few other Arizona players, his decision became a lot clearer.
"You're good enough to be on the team," Adams told Brase.
He was still unsure, not wanting to be on the team just because he was part of Arizona basketball's first family.
"I thought one guy was the exception," Brase said of Adams. "I didn't want to be on the team because I'm the coach's grandson."
With the help of other players, including senior guard Salim Stoudamire, Brase learned that he was wanted, and he decided to ask Olson about joining the squad. Olson responded by saying that he would love to have Brase but that his role on the team would obviously be different than at a smaller school.
The role was not an issue, as Brase was happy to take on the responsibility that comes with being a bench player for the Wildcats.
"Every day I come to practice and just work hard," Brase said. "Being on the scout team, you have to help the guys prepare and know all the plays for the other team. It's just my mindset every day to go on the court and go hard the whole time at practice and make everyone else better."
It's that mindset that has earned the respect of those who urged him to join the team.
"I'm proud of Brase," Stoudamire said.
It has also made him a crowd favorite in those times that he does get a chance to step on the court on which he played as a kid.
"I've been coming to games since I was little, so a lot of people have seen me grow up through the years, just at McKale. They might not know me off the court, but they've seen me at McKale growing up all the years, so it's real neat to be here," Brase said. "All the people (say) 'I'm glad you did this' and 'you did a great job.'"
With his playing days coming to an end, Brase must face another big decision, a decision he is once again undecided on.
Graduating with a degree in business management, Brase will have the chance to explore the business world, but what he wants to do more than anything is coach basketball.
Olson joked that he has done everything to discourage Brase from coaching, but privately he told Brase to do whatever he wants to do.
"Being in the business school, I like it, but being involved with the basketball team is a lot more fun. I look at our coaching staff here and how much fun they have together and it's really something unique to be involved with," Brase said.
With his future still very much up in the air, Brase has taken solace in his last games as a Wildcat.
Nothing could have been a better present to end his career than his performance in his last-ever game in McKale.
Brase played seven strong minutes and tallied career highs of four points and four rebounds.
More than his playing time or the points he scored, he enjoyed the reaction from the fans and the camaraderie from his teammates.
"I'm a teammate just like everyone else, we joke about everything," Brase said.
Brase made a tough decision two years ago, and now, after playing his final game in McKale Center, he is grateful for making that decision.
"I couldn't have asked for more," he said. "I really appreciate everything that's happened."