ROCHESTER, N.Y. – On a hot and steamy evening in July 2019, Brendan Broderick pulled up to East High School to play a summer league game with some Nazareth College teammates.
“I hate playing here,” Broderick muttered as he walked from the parking lot and into the East High School gym.
When Brendan was a senior at McQuaid Jesuit High School three years earlier, his team faced the East High Eagles in the 2016 Sectional Quarterfinals.
Led by future Detroit Piston Isaiah Stewart, the McQuaid Knights were heavily favored to win this game.
Broderick started at point guard, and he had a terrific senior season. He now wanted to win an elusive Section V Championship.
East High had other ideas.
After facing a 17-to-3 deficit after the first quarter, East roared back to cut the McQuaid lead to one at halftime.
The gym was packed as the old East High bleachers could barely contain the standing-room-only crowd.
Both teams scored 14 points apiece in the third period, and then the lead changed ten times in the fourth quarter.
With ten seconds left in regulation, East had possession, down by a point.
After a missed jump shot from the left wing, East’s Theodore Buckner grabbed the offensive rebound and scored an easy layup from the right block to put his team up 59-to-58.
Nobody covered him.
He was wide open.
Unbeknownst to everyone at the game, East had accidentally put six players on the floor instead of the allotted five. A miscommunication must have occurred within the East huddle on who was supposed to be in the game just moments before the play.
Broderick and his fellow Knights had everyone else covered defensively and positioned themselves in a good rebounding position.
Five players cannot cover six, however.
When the final horn sounded, Broderick’s high school career was history. Not until hours after the game — until a video of the final minutes surfaced — did it became evident that East had an extra player on the floor.
“I will never get over that game,” Broderick said years later. “Still pains me to this day.”
So when he walked back into the East High gym on that humid evening in July 2019, the summer before his senior year at Nazareth, he had a sour taste in his mouth.
He frustratingly laced up his sneakers and then hit the floor for warmups.
Once the scrimmage started, the bad memories of 2016 escaped his train of thought. He focused his mindset on his summer league team.
Just minutes into this scrimmage, Broderick went up for a layup on the right block — that exact spot where Buckner ended McQuaid’s 2016 season years before — and he felt something pop.
He landed awkwardly.
He could still walk.
He could still run.
But he could not move from side to side.
“It was a pain that I never experienced before,” Broderick recalled. “It was a pain where I knew something was wrong.”
Broderick tore his ACL in his left knee.
Just like that, his senior season was over.
“Injuries are a part of the game, but in all of my 30 years of coaching, that was one of the most painful days just knowing how much effort he put into it,” said Kevin Broderick, who is not only Brendan’s father but is also the men’s basketball coach at Nazareth. “To be there in the middle of July and know that he would not get a chance to compete with his best friends as a senior was very hard on him. But that is hard on everybody.”
East High had crushed Broderick’s spirits yet again.
Brendan Broderick showed up at Nazareth College in Pittsford, New York as a freshman standing at 5-foot-8 and weighing 135 pounds.
He was the smallest player in the entire Empire 8 Conference.
“I had never taken the weight room seriously before college,” Broderick recalled. “I did not play at all my freshman year because I was not ready.”
“My dad even told me that I was not ready yet. I knew that. When your Dad is the coach, and you are sitting on the bench, not getting in the game at all, that’s a tough feeling. At the same time, I respected that because I knew I was not ready yet because I had to earn both playing time and respect from my teammates.”
Broderick played 63 minutes during his freshman year and totaled just ten points.
The year before, Broderick played every minute of every game for McQuaid. He now had to adjust to the Division III level.
“Do not worry about where you are right now,” Kevin Broderick said to his son after an early season practice. “You are not ready yet, but keep working. It is hard to play as a freshman. Focus on learning the system. Focus on your body and be in great shape. A lot of guys are not ready on day one and that is okay.”
The following summer, he hit the weight room hard.
“The biggest jump of my career was the jump I made between my freshman and my sophomore seasons,” Broderick recalled. “I went from 135 pounds as a freshman to weighing 150 pounds in August 2017.”
He lived in the weight room that summer. He put on a lot of muscle and conditioned himself so that he could provide a boost of energy off the bench.
It paid off as he became an important rotational piece for his Dad’s team.
During the 2017-18 preseason, Brendan Wind, the starting point guard for Nazareth, sprained his ankle.
Broderick was vaulted into the starting lineup because of his hard work during the previous offseason.
He started the first three games of the season: the season opener at Medaille College in Buffalo and then the two subsequent home games versus Keuka College and Buffalo State.
In Wind’s absence, Broderick helped his Nazareth Golden Flyers to a 2-1 start.
After posting a terrific 13-3 record in the Empire 8 Conference, Nazareth hosted the four-team Empire 8 Tournament.
The winner would go on to the NCAA Tournament.
In the semifinal matchup against Alfred University, Nazareth bested the Saxons by a point, 73-to-72. Broderick saw seven minutes of game action and drew a huge charge late in the second half.
“He became a really good rotational player at 5-foot-8 on an outstanding team,” said Jeff Van Gundy, a Nazareth College graduate and now an NBA broadcaster for ESPN. “He would pick the ball up full court. He would draw charges. He was just different than the other players in his area of strength. His game helped balance the team out.”
Broderick’s charge was the turning point in the game and helped Nazareth advance to the Empire 8 Championship.
In the championship game, Nazareth beat Utica College by two points, 66-to-64, thus winning the Empire 8 Title for the first time since 2010.
The Golden Flyers were awarded an NCAA Tournament berth. Unfortunately for Broderick and company, Nazareth lost to Hamilton College in the tournament’s first round.
Nazareth returned 13 players from their championship team the following year. The NCAA even ranked Nazareth in the preseason top 25.
Coach Broderick had a deep rotation for the second consecutive season, often playing ten or 11 guys in any given game.
His son was a vital contributor off the bench yet again.
“As a player, he is hard-nosed, tough, and fearless,” Van Gundy said. “The thing that I think he does well coming off the bench — and it’s not easy playing for your Dad — he absolutely sets a tone from an intensity and enthusiasm standpoint.”
Broderick continued to improve as a Junior. He was not the star player or the leading scorer, but he routinely made winning plays that helped his team’s overall success.
“He became a defensive force in our league at 5-foot-8,” Coach Broderick said. “He went from, ‘I don’t know if I can play at this level’ to where the best guards in the league did not want him defending them. I know those guards were saying, ‘Gosh. I hope this guy does not guard me tonight.’”
Despite Broderick’s improvements, his junior season at Nazareth turned out to be a disappointing one.
Coming off a championship and entering the season with such high expectations, the Golden Flyers got too complacent and failed to keep their foot on the gas.
Nazareth lost to cross-town rival St. John Fisher in the semifinals of the Empire 8 Tournament and ended the season with an 18-8 record.
Coach Broderick had four of his starters graduate. He was eager to have his son continue to improve in the upcoming offseason and be an even bigger contributor during his senior season.
Hence why Broderick played in so many summer league games and lifted countless weights. He worked so hard to improve his game, and he had to work harder than anybody because he was the smallest player out there.
“Nazareth had just graduated an extremely successful class of guys that had been there for a while and played a ton of minutes,” Broderick said. “Nobody was going to expect much from us this year and I was so excited to prove everyone wrong.”
Instead of playing for his Dad during his senior year, Broderick was relegated to the sidelines.
He red-shirted his senior season because of the injury. He focused on rehabbing his leg so he could return as a fifth-year senior the following season.
“He was a tough guy before, but that situation made him mentally tougher,” his father remarked. “He was at every practice and at every game that year.”
Broderick took after his father and was a de-facto coach on the sidelines. He beamed with positivity and constantly offered insight to each of his teammates.
He defined the meaning of what it meant to be a true team player.
Despite Broderick’s injury and losing so much production from the year before, the 2019-20 Nazareth Golden Flyers exceeded expectations.
Nazareth proved everyone wrong and finished the regular season with a 20-5 record.
The Golden Flyers finished first in the Empire 8 Conference and thus were awarded home-court advantage for the Empire 8 Tournament.
After defeating Sage College of Albany in the semifinals, Nazareth hosted St. John Fisher in the championship.
The Golden Flyers roared out of the gate and led St. John Fisher 26-to-8 eight minutes into the first half.
From that point on, Nazareth struggled.
St. John Fisher outscored the Golden Flyers 64-to-38 over the final 30 minutes of the game and won the Empire 8 Championship by eight points.
The team was devastated.
Broderick desperately wanted his classmates to graduate with a championship even though he could only watch from the bench.
Two weeks after this heartbreaking loss, COVID-19 shut down the entire country while Nazareth students were enjoying their spring breaks.
Most of them never returned to campus.
As for Broderick, the University of Rochester Medical Center paused his ACL rehabilitation process due to the pandemic. He sat at home for a couple of months and did light workouts in his basement.
“It took me 13 months before I was cleared to play,” Broderick recalled. “I am honestly glad things played out like they did. It allowed me to take my time with my rehab. I did not need to rush back. I felt ready to go when I started playing again in August 2020.”
Yet, when Broderick made his triumphant return, he and his father did not know if they would have a season.
“During the peak of COVID, Brendan kept reminiscing about how he missed all last year,” Coach Broderick said. “Now he is thinking that he may miss this year too.”
That Fall, the NCAA decided to grant an extra year of eligibility for Division I and Division II student-athletes due to the pandemic. Division III student-athletes, however, did not have that luxury.
If a Division III team played more than ten games, then the NCAA would count that season as a year of eligibility.
“If we made the playoffs, then none of our guys would get a year back,” Coach Broderick said. “Guys were sitting there thinking, ‘should I play this year?’ or ‘should I sit this year?’ It was just an awful situation. Trevor Lawrence could play 12 football games for Clemson and get a year back, but Brendan Broderick could not get a year back if he played 12 basketball games for Nazareth.”
“So we fought it. Both the Empire 8 and Nazareth College led the charge.”
In addition to being the men’s basketball coach at Nazareth, Broderick is an NCAA compliance officer. He felt very strongly about this slight.
His son felt that way too. He wrote a letter to the NCAA compliance office arguing against their decision to favor Division I and Division II athletes. A student on the swim team wrote a letter as well.
Their efforts worked as the NCAA then granted all Division III athletes an extra year of eligibility.
Nazareth played just 12 games that season due to the pandemic. Thankfully the NCAA changed its stance, or that would have been Broderick’s last season as a Golden Flyer.
The team finished the 2021 season with a record of 8-4 and lost in the Empire 8 Championship to Utica.
“I don’t know if people realize how tough it was,” Coach Broderick said when asked about the COVID year. “They had to sacrifice so much to practice. It was challenging because kids did not get to have a normal college experience.”
Entering his sixth season at Nazareth, Broderick felt optimistic about how his final season would play out.
“I lived with three other guys, and the four of us sat down, and we all agreed to run it back one more year,” Broderick said. “We felt confident that we could win another championship. We lost to Fisher in 2020; then, we lost to Utica in the COVID year. We were hungry for a title.”
By that point in his career, Broderick knew his role on the team. He was not the leading scorer, but he may have had the most heart. He was a leader on and off the court too.
Because of that, before his final year at Nazareth, the College awarded Broderick the Jeff Van Gundy Award.
According to the school’s website, this award is “named for former Nazareth basketball standout and Basketball Hall of Famer Jeff Van Gundy, who was renowned for his work ethic and passion for his team and school. The award recognizes those characteristics and a commitment to Nazareth Athletics in and out of season.”
“The thing that I admire about the whole Broderick family is that the three boys, and two cousins, went to Nazareth when they could have gone to all these other places,” Van Gundy said. “I think that speaks volumes about how they feel about their parents, wanting to stay close to home and play for their Dad, but it also speaks volumes about what Nazareth means and how easily you can get drawn to the school, the campus, and the people.”
Winning this award meant a lot for Broderick and his family, but he knew work still had to get done.
Broderick continued to lift weights in the gym and work on his three-point shot. The southpaw wanted to win another championship.
Following an early season loss to Rensealeer, Broderick’s Golden Flyers rattled off 17-straight victories.
The winning streak began against the University of Rochester, a crosstown rival and a perennial Division III championship contender.
“When we beat U of R in the Crosstown Challenge, I knew we had something special,” Broderick said. “I could feel it.”
Nazareth’s next loss came to St. John Fisher on Feb. 8.
They lost again to Utica in the next game.
This late-season stumble allowed Utica to clinch the number one seed in the Empire 8 Tournament, which meant having home-court advantage.
Nazareth would have to win a championship on the road.
Before heading to Utica, however, Van Gundy had a zoom call with the Nazareth team.
“I will never forget that call,” Broderick recalled. “It was easy to think, ‘holy cow; this could be my last college basketball game ever.’ Instead, Van Gundy told us to not play in fear.”
Van Gundy, who had coached the New York Knicks and Houston Rockets before his broadcasting career, zoomed with the team for more than an hour.
“If you play in fear and worry about the result while you are on the court, then there is no way you can play your best when your best is needed,” Van Gundy said to the team via zoom. “Do not worry about the result. Play the game as hard as you can without fear. Play like you know how to do together: hard-core fundamental basketball.”
His message fired the team up.
In the semifinal matchup against St. John Fisher, Stephen Gabel scored 25 points to lead the Golden Flyers to an 80-to-71 victory.
“We all did our job and dialed in,” Broderick recalled. “Gabel was incredible. That was the last time we seniors were going to play our rival Fisher, and we wanted to have the last laugh.”
Next up: a battle against Utica in the championship game with an NCAA Tournament berth on the line.
It was a classic.
The gym was rocking.
Both teams played so hard defensively, and points were at a premium: the definition of a defensive slugfest.
With a minute left, Nazareth’s Kevin Underwood scored a layup to put Nazareth up one.
From there, Broderick’s team clamped down defensively and got the stops they needed.
“It was big boy ball, man,” Broderick joked. “Those Utica guys were built like football players. Just monsters. But we did it. We played as hard as we ever did to win in that final minute by a point.”
When the final buzzer sounded, the scoreboard read: Nazareth 54, Utica 53.
With the victory over Utica, Nazareth headed to the NCAA Tournament.
For the first time since 1983, the Golden Flyers hosted an NCAA Tournament game. Van Gundy started at point guard for that 1983 Nazareth team.
“Nobody knew we were going to host,” Coach Broderick said. “We were one of the last teams to be called — and it rolls across the screen just like in Division I — and next thing we know, we are hosting the first two games.”
“Our guys just went completely nuts. It was amazing and unbelievable. We are in the NCAA Tournament and get to have this in our gym. It was as much fun as you should be allowed to have, especially with my sons and those guys that went through so much.”
Nazareth hosted Westfield State of Massachusetts in the first round. The Golden Flyers prevailed 78-to-71 in front of a sold-out crowd.
Of all of the Division III NCAA Tournament games that night, Nazareth ranked second in attendance nationally.
Both the school and alumni showed up to support their Golden Flyers in droves.
“It was such an awesome, memorable thing for our players,” Coach Broderick reminisced. “Our group was so team-oriented, so fundamental, and they did so much. We could not have scripted a better season.”
Unfortunately for Broderick, his career at Nazareth ended the following night. UMass Dartmouth defeated the Golden Flyers by ten points.
Perhaps the only positive about that loss was that UMass Dartmouth never had six players on the floor.
With that said, Broderick should look back on his collegiate career with great pride.
“He improved every year he played,” Van Gundy said. “He overcame a knee injury but kept getting better and better incrementally. There was no one big jump, but rather it was steady progress. From where he came in as a freshman to where he was when he graduated as a graduate student, it was tremendous. Just a phenomenal job.”
Broderick graduated from Nazareth last spring with a master’s in special education.
Beginning this fall, he will teach special education classes in the Brockport Central School district in Brockport, New York.
Jack Milko received his B.A. in Political Science from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. He is now working on getting his M.A. in Sports Journalism from St. Bonaventure University and also covers the Bonnies for @A10Talk. Follow him on Twitter @Jack_Milko