March 9, 2005 - Every major college basketball program has them - a collection of players whose sole job during a game is to seemingly rally the troops. Relegated to the end of the bench, these players are visible every game waving towels or jumping to the sky every time a teammate nails a jumper from somewhere north of the 3-point arc.
Matt Brase is one of those players for the University of Arizona men's basketball team. But the senior and his kind, whether playing for the Wildcats or the Central Michigan Chippewas, are as much essential parts of their programs as they are fans with the best seats in the house.
What separates the Catalina Foothills graduate from the rest of the pack, however, is a bloodline in basketball history like no other. Brase's grandfather is Tucson's No. 1 saint and citizen, Lute Olson, the hall-of-fame head coach of the UA men's team. The distinction makes Olson and Brase the only grandfather-grandson combo in the NCAA.
After two seasons with the Wildcats, Brase's collegiate career will come to an end with the Wildcats' foray into the Pac-10 and NCAA tournaments. The senior business management major will graduate in May.
"I always dreamed about it when I was a kid," said Brase of being part of one of the most successful college basketball programs of the past two decades, "but realistically I didn't think it was ever going to happen."
The fact that it did happen was not the doing of Brase's legendary grandfather, however.
One night in the summer of 2003, after working out with some players at McKale Center, Brase was approached by Wildcat forward Hassan Adams, who asked what his plans were for the next season.
"He used to play with us at night in the summer time," Adams said. "I was thinking, with the loss of all our seniors, like Luke (Walton), we could use some help."
Several small schools had their eyes on the 6-foot, 6-inch senior, including Texas A&M and Indiana State. But the allure of playing even a minor role at home for the Wildcats was too much for him to pass up, he said.
Brase said he would like nothing better than to close out his collegiate career with a national championship. The Falcons at Catalina Foothills failed to even make the state playoffs in any of the four years he played for the Class 4A school.
The closest the Falcons ever got to even making the playoffs came in 2000-01, his senior season. That year, the two-time team captain led Foothills with 18.5 points per game and 9.4 rebounds, but the Falcons fell short of a state playoff birth by one game.
Assuming a position as a role player with limited playing time for the Wildcats wasn't a concern for Brase.
"I had my glory days in junior college," he said. "I got to play all the time."
Glory days indeed.
At Central Arizona College, Brase averaged 14.6 points per game, six rebounds and 3.3 assists in his sophomore year. The year before, Brase was a member of a Vaqueros team that went 23-10 and won the National Junior College Athletic Association Region 1 Championship, upsetting nationally ranked (No. 5) Arizona Western along the way.
At UA, Brase has appeared in 23 games, during which time he has tallied 17 points and 10 rebounds in a little more than 62 minutes.
His final home game in McKale was his best as a Wildcat. Against Oregon State, Brase grabbed four boards and put in four points in seven minutes on the court named after his grandfather and grandmother.
Brase knows what it means to be a Wildcat. Barely a year old when Olson took over at Arizona, Brase was raised around the program. Some of his fondest memories growing up are with players such as Khalid Reeves and Steve Kerr who would allow the youngster to tag along, even though he would wear the same plastic half-basketball hat to every game.
"It's been great," said Olson of having his grandson on his team, "because I know how much of a Wildcat he is."
As for preferential treatment, Olson says there is none.
"He can tell you right now, I don't treat him any differently."