Rockets D-League Team, The Vipers, Names a Wildcat as Their New Head Coach!

Matt Brase is thrilled with his new job! Just listening to his post news conference interview you can sense how excited he is to take on this new challenge and the next logical step in his professional coaching career.

Announced today at a press conference by the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) Vipers President Bert Garcia, former Arizona Wildcat Basketball player Matt Brase is the sixth Head Coach of the Houston Rockets D-League Team. The Rio Grande Valley residents and leadership completely embrace the Vipers and sees them as an integral part of the community. And the Vipers and Houston Rockets have completely embraced Brase.

This is the Vipers eighth season. They will play in a new 85,000 square foot facility in the Rio Grande Valley which will also be used for volleyball, boxing, dancing and other events. The Rio Grande Valley is located in the southern most tip of Texas next door to Mexico and is divided into four counties. The Bert Ogden Arena is in the town of Edinburg in Hildalgo County.

Rockets Vice President of Player Personnel and Vipers GM Gianluca Pascucci said the organization looked for the person who best fit the job, someone who is versatile, someone who embraces the community and a is great communicator, “hopefully.” He also added, “It’s a compliment to Matt’s ability to get this job and gives another idea of how good he can be.”

Matt also runs the Junior Vipers Camp at the Vipers Practice Facility in Edinburg. On top of that, according to 956sports.com, Matt has successfully developed seven Vipers players who have had NBA call-ups. After he interned for the Rockets for a year,  was offered the Assistant Coach job for the Vipers under Head Coach Nick Nurse who Brase feels is “was awesome and he taught me a lot about the league and professional basketball as well.”

“Can’t be more excited to be back down here as the head coach..we are going to be playing an exciting brand of basketball,” said Brase after being introduced in a community meeting prior to the ribbon cutting on the new facility.

To catch you up if you are a new Wildcats fan, Matt Brase, now 33, played for the University of Arizona under his grandfather Hall of Fame Head Coach Lute Olson from 2003-2005. He earned an undergrad and a masters degree in Business Administration with a focus on Leadership and Management. Brase has also enjoyed teaching business classes at the University of Arizona as a Professor and he earned a 4.8 out of five rating from his students on RateMyProfessors.com!

Matt started off his career spending two seasons as the Wildcats’ administrative assistant and video coordinator. In 2008 he was promoted to Assistant Coach for Arizona where he helped the team to a winning 21-13 season.

His next move was to move north, but not that far, he moved on to be the Assistant Coach for Grand Canyon University for a while before moving to Houston.

His path next took him to the Houston Rockets where he has been the Houston Rockets Director of Player Development, and has worked before with the Vipers in different roles including as Assistant Coach in the 2012-13 season winning NBA D-League Championship in 2013. His Houston Rockets job entailed maintaining the vets and getting the young players ready during the season to play or keep them in shape keeping them, according to Brase, “game ready physically and mentally ready so when coach McHale calls for them to enter the line-up, they are ready to go.”

Sep 7, 2014; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Phoenix Mercury assistant coach Julie Hairgrove (left) and head coach Sandy Brondello react on the bench against the Chicago Sky during game one of the WNBA Finals at US Airways Center. The Mercury defeated the Sky 83-62. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Matt’s sister Julie Hairgrove is also a professional basketball coach. Julie is the Assistant Coach for the WNBA team the Phoenix Mercury and has coached some of the best WNBA players in the league in the last 10 years like DianaTaurasi, and current stars Brittney Griner and DeWanna Bonner.

She has helped lead three different teams under three different head coaches to national championships and is going to be visiting the White House in a week or so for the fourth time (went once with Lute) for the Mercury’s 2014 Championship celebration.  She may be on her way to another championship this year as well, so Matt has some really great resources at his ready for advice “if” he needs any.

956Sports.com interviewed Matt and asked him what it was like playing for his grandfather as a Wildcat:

“The experience was incredible. We played in the NCAA Tournament two years while I was there which is one of those thrilling experiences in life. One year we got bounced in the first round and the next year we ended up in the Elite Eight with a chance to advance to the Final Four.

I had some great teammates and one of my best friends, which just happens to be Channing Frye, is still playing in the NBA. Also, Salim Stoudamire was a great player in college and we were seniors together. During my junior year, we had a great crew and Andre Iguodala was one of my teammates and he is still playing in the NBA Finals. It’s kind of cool to how that world has evolved and the fact that we are still friends and have done well in the sport of basketball.”

Matt Brase and Trevor Ariza at the Palazzo for the Chris Paul Celebrity Charity Ping Pong tournament

I bumped into Matt in Vegas at a Chris Paul hosted third annual TopSpin Celebrity Charity Ping Pong Tournament at Lagasse Stadium in The Palazzo in Las Vegas during the NBA Summer League in July (yes, you read that correctly.) Matt had just finished assistant coaching the Houston Rockets Summer League team.

Matt was at the event with his girlfriend Jennifer Puffer. Jennifer is a former Bruin athlete and Principal in the Landmark Sports Agency. She represents fellow Bruins Trevor Ariza andShabbaz Muhammed.

Most importantly Jennifer also represents Wildcats Derrick Williams, Andre Iguodala  and Channing Frye. The Pac-12 couple cheer on each other’s teams unless UCLA plays Arizona. They seem to be a match made in heaven.

Vipers Coach Matt Brase and Landmark Principal Jennifer Puffer at the UCLA vs. Arizona football game. Photo taken by Jody Brase 9/26/15

Honestly, Matt is the most humble and sweetest person you’d ever meet.  It was fun catching up with him as he was out with his girlfriend who represents former UCLA Bruin and current Houston Rockets Small-Forward Trevor Ariza.

These last couple of seasons in Houston Matt was able to have a hand in developing former Arizona Wildcat Nick Johnson. Brase is always approachable, supportive and has a great head on his shoulders, so it’s natural that the players are going to gravitate towards and enjoy playing for him.

Bear Down Matt! We couldn’t be happier for you or prouder of you. Cheers to your first season as Head Coach of the Vipers!

Post Conference Interview: