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The Basketball Tournament is a single-elimination tournament that began with 64 teams two weeks ago.

It’s been broadcast on ESPN.

The winner-take-all prize is a cool $1 million.

And two Jamestown natives — Jaysean Paige and Bryan Hodgson — have been in the middle of it all.

On Friday night, Paige joined his “Best Virginia” teammates in Dayton, Ohio for a quarterfinal matchup against Red Scare. Although he finished with 9 points on three made 3-pointers, Paige’s tournament stay ended following a 67-60 setback.

Meanwhile, Hodgson, who is the general manager of Blue Collar U that includes nine former University at Buffalo players, was watching from the University of Alabama where he serves as a Crimson Tide assistant coach. He was needed in Tuscaloosa because it was recruiting weekend, but Blue Collar U downed Heartfire 74-66 in his absence to advance to today’s semifinal.

As I thought about Paige and Hodgson last night, I couldn’t help but be reminded of their remarkable journeys in pursuit of their roundball dreams.

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A half-dozen years ago, I attended a West Virginia University basketball game at WVU Coliseum in Morgantown. Accompanied by friend and hoops junkie Ken Ricker, we were there to watch Paige and the rest of the Mountaineers take on Texas Christian University.

It was that afternoon that I saw first hand that Paige wasn’t only special to the fans who watched him lead Jamestown High School to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association championship game in 2011, but the WVU faithful appreciated what he brought to Coach Bob Huggins’ crew as well.

On and off the floor.

After the Mountaineers defeated TCU that day, Ricker and I met Paige courtside and together we shared an elevator ride to the arena’s concourse. When the doors opened, Paige was greeted by dozens of children, who were waiting for an autograph.

Not surprisingly, he happily signed every request.

Once we left the arena, he gave Ricker and I a tour of the team’s practice facility and then we found a place to get a bite to eat. When we walked into a Mexican restaurant near campus, the patrons, upon realizing it was Paige in their midst, gave him quite an ovation.

It was reminder of the 6-foot-2 guard’s hoops odyssey, one that has included: spending his senior year at a Kentucky high school; landing at junior colleges in Idaho and Missouri; receiving a scholarship to WVU; and securing professional opportunities in Germany, Great Britain, France, Maine and Puerto Rico. And on Dec. 31 of last year, Paige had a brief stint in the NBA when he signed with the Detroit Pistons.

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Speaking of taking the road less traveled, Hodgson (JHS Class of 2005) is certainly in that conversation, too.

Although only 35, Hodgson, now in his third year as assistant at Alabama, has made quite a name for himself in the collegiate coaching fraternity after beginning his career as an assistant at SUNY Fredonia and then Jamestown Community College. A splendid recruiter, particularly in the junior-college ranks, Hodgson later spent two years at Midland (Texas) College and four at the University at Buffalo where he helped the Bulls to three Mid-American Conference titles and three NCAA Tournament appearances.

It was at the Amherst campus where Hodgson connected with Nate Oats, then the UB head coach.

“He took a chance on me,” Hodgson told me last year. “He only knew me for two months before he hired me. … He looked at my work ethic and my character. He gave me a chance, which was very important.”

Hodgson has seized the opportunity with a vengeance and is now recognized as one of the top recruiters in the nation.

Check out these paragraphs from his bio on the Alabama men’s basketball website:

“Hodgson has established himself as one of the top recruiters in the nation across his 11 seasons as a collegiate coach. Most recently, he was ranked by 247Sports.com No. 6 in its basketball recruiting rankings and has been instrumental in the Crimson Tide garnering back-to-back top-10 signing classes in both 2020 (No. 9 Rivals/No. 12 247Sports) and 2021 (No. 9 by 247sports/No. 10 by Rivals.com).

“In fact, of the eight signed freshmen who were members of the Tide’s recruiting classes across his two seasons in Tuscaloosa, all have been four stars or better, including four five-star prospects and three McDonald’s All-Americans.”

But Hodgson’s backstory is even more compelling.

Born in 1987, he was entered into the foster-care system as an infant and was ultimately adopted by Larry and Rebecca Hodgson. Decades later, foster care remains among Bryan’s biggest passions. He has even established a nonprofit foundation — Coaching Love — to assist at-risk youth and foster children to attend sports camps and clinics.

“My childhood and my situation — being a foster child, being raised by an orphan mother and a son of a World War II prisoner-of-war — developed me to be a relationship person,” Bryan told me in 2018. “I think that’s the biggest thing in recruiting. It’s nothing else. It’s about being able to tell people you genuinely care about them.”

By the way, Blue Collar U’s game tonight against Red Scare is on ESPN. Opening tip is at 6 p.m.



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