Assistants of the sport's preeminent programs appear near the top of 247Sports' list of the top recruiters for the college basketball class of 2020.
Coaches from Duke, Kentucky and North Carolina all predictably fall within the top four spots.
Then, at No. 6, is Alabama's Bryan Hodgson. He is listed as the primary recruiter for all five members of Alabama's incoming class, which is ranked No. 12 in the country by 247Sports and No. 9 by Rivals.
The 33-year old followed head coach Nate Oats from Buffalo to Tuscaloosa last year, making another step forward in a career that has seen him rise in only five years from being an assistant on the junior college level.
None of it, Hodgson believes, would have been possible had he not been placed into foster care as a toddler and later adopted by a new family.
He was born to a 14-year old mother in Olean, New York, a small rural city along the Pennsylvania border about 70 miles south of Buffalo. The isolated, hilly region on the northern fringe of Appalachia is picturesque but has been largely economically depressed as manufacturing jobs have left and population has been lost.
Hodgson's biological father was not in the picture but his mother was able to bring her infant son to high school while she finished her diploma. When Hodgson was a year old, a fever kept him at home with his mother's boyfriend, who Hodgson said dealt drugs and was abusive toward her.
With the young Hodgson crying uncontrollably because of his illness, the boyfriend inexplicably placed the child -- wearing only a diaper -- on the top of a hot wood-burning stove in the mobile home.
The mother returned home to find Hodgson suffering from third-degree burns up the back of his legs. He was taken to the hospital and placed into foster care by child protective services.
"It's kind of molded me, man. Because I think, even in recruiting and coaching our guys, I've seen a lot. I've been through a lot," he told AL.com last week. "I've been in poverty. I've never met my father. I've been in the foster care system. I've seen a few things and I think it helps me relate to some of the guys who have experienced similar stuff."
Bryan's new lease on life was granted by Larry and Rebecca Hodgson of nearby Bolivar, New York. The couple served as foster parents for 112 children over 13 years. They adopted three of them: Bryan and two sisters, who joined the family's four biological children.
"He came to our house wrapped in a blanket, burned and in slippers," Rebecca told The Post-Journal in 2018. "That's all he had."
The Hodgsons, in some ways, beat the odds to even be in position to adopt Bryan. Rebecca was orphaned by age 13, having lost her mother in a car accident and her father to a heart attack. Larry's father lied about his age in order to fight in World War II as a top turret gunner. On his first volunteer mission after his required service was finished, a 20-year old John Hodgson was shot down over a Nazi air base. He spent 362 days in a prison camp and weighed 87 pounds on his 21st birthday before being liberated.
John Hodgson was later awarded a purple heart. His widow, Bryan's grandmother, continues to live on their namesake Hodgson Road in Darlington, Penn. -- the same Hodgson Road called home by the aunt and uncle of Alabama legend Joe Namath, who hails from nearby Beaver Falls.
Bryan, after joining his new family, listened to his grandfather's stories and was inspired to become a history major in college -- an opportunity that might not had been available had he never been placed in foster care and signed over for adoption at two years old by his biological mother.
"To take in children that you didn't birth and raise them, and give them everything you gave your biological children, I think that takes a special person," he said. "They both had regular jobs. They didn't do it for money. There's no real financial benefit to it. ... I think she had a place in her heart for that and helping kids who were in similar situations [as she was]."
Hodgson credited his biological mother's unselfishness and Larry and Rebecca's "best recruiting job" for the adoption.
"I don't know if I ever would have went to high school, let alone college," he said. "There was times that I sat back and thought, man, what if I would have never been taken from that home and been there until I was six or seven or eight. What would have happened to me? Where would I have been?"
Alabama head coach Nate Oats and assistant coach Bryan Hodgson during a Jan. 18, 2020 basketball game against Missouri.
(Robert Sutton/Alabama Athletics)Crimson Tide Photos / UA Athletics
The Hodgson family had a basketball hoop in the driveway and Bryan's love for the game grew when his brother took him to watch a Division I basketball game at the Reilly Center on the nearby campus of St. Bonaventure University of the Atlantic 10 Conference.
The family moved west to Jamestown, New York -- a small city between Buffalo and Cleveland, Ohio -- and Hodgson played two years of basketball at Jamestown Community College. He then spent his final two years of college at SUNY Fredonia, serving as a volunteer student assistant coach for the school's Division III basketball team.
For a $3,000-per-year stipend, Hodgson returned to Jamestown Community College in 2010 and spent three years there as an assistant coach. The entire recruiting budget allowed for two weekend trips annually to New York City. Hodgson would make the 400-mile drive across the state in rental car, stay in a budget motel far outside Manhattan and spend 12-hour days in the city trying to get prospects to play at JCC.
To move up a level, Hodgson had to take a pay cut. For no salary, he packed up and moved to Midland College in western Texas. His service as an assistant basketball coach was rewarded with a dorm room and a meal plan.
"One thing you learn at those levels is how important building a relationship is," Hodgson said. "I can't fly all over the country and evaluate kids. You learn how to evaluate, you learn how to communicate and build relationships with guys."
One of the relationships Hodgson built was with Oats, then an assistant for Bobby Hurley at Buffalo. The Bulls coaches had made recruiting trips to Midland and Hodgson worked camps back home in Buffalo. When Hurley left for Arizona State in April 2015, Oats was elevated to head coach and placed a call to Hodgson.
"I needed a recruiter," Oats explained to AL.com last week. "I knew him. I thought he could go get some guys right away. We had five scholarships open that spring. ... I thought he could do it. He did."
In his second season as an assistant at Buffalo, Hodgson recruited one of his former Midland players, guard Dontay Caruthers, to play his final three years for Oats. Caruthers was named the Mid-American Conference defensive player of the year in his first season in Buffalo.
Building on the progress Hurley made with the Bulls, Oats led Buffalo to three MAC championships in his four seasons and earned as high as a No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
When Alabama hired Oats last year, Hodgson soon joined him. It was a rapid ascent for both: Oats was only six years removed from coaching high school basketball outside Detroit, while Hodgson had been a junior college assistant only four years earlier.
"Definitely have to pinch myself sometimes. I'm in the SEC now," Hodgson said. "Even when I was in Buffalo, we played at Duke my first year [in 2015]. I helped schedule that game. I worked Duke camps for six years. It was like, surreal.
"Now there's times that I'm on the phone with kids and I'm recruiting him and he tells me, 'Coach K called me yesterday.' It's crazy. It's crazy to think about. I try not to get caught up in that stuff. Got to keep my head down and continue to work."
The saying goes, in college sports circles, that recruiting is like shaving: miss one day and you'll start to look shabby. The constant phone calls with prospects, parents, coaches and others is a time commitment that drives some coaches away, but Hodgson savors it.
"I've always been a relationship guy, man, so recruiting is not work," he said. "I hear guys, other people in the business that complain about recruiting. To me, that's one of the best parts of the job, evaluating young players, building relationships and telling them how great the University of Alabama is. If that's hard, man, I'm good where I'm at."
This work ethic has been helpful in this cycle as Alabama has moved to secure five committed recruits in addition to a graduate transfer in former Yale center Jordan Bruner.
"We thought we were going to have a one-man class, initially, with just Beetle Bolden as the only senior," Oats said. "Then it turned into Kira [Lewis] having a pretty good year [and declaring for the NBA draft]. Kind of figured he might be gone. Next thing you know, we got a class of six coming in and [Hodgson] did the bulk of the recruiting on those six."
With Lewis and Bolden gone, and guard John Petty still yet to announce whether he will enter the delayed NBA draft, the Tide shored up their backcourt with four-star Canadian guard Josh Primo and three-star guard Keon Ellis, a JUCO transfer from Florida. They also added wing depth with four-star Ohio product Keon Ambrose-Hylton and three-star Florida prospect Darius Miles.
The latest, and likely last, addition came last week in Alex Tchikou, a 6-foot-11 four-star prospect originally from France.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, only two of the Alabama's six newcomers -- Primo and Ambrose-Hylton -- set foot on campus before committing. That required trust in Alabama's coaches, including Oats, whom Hodgson will give a weekly list of dozens of phone calls to make and virtual meetings to hold.
"[Hodgson] does a good job getting me in front of the right people, then he does a really good job figuring out who the main people are in the recruitment," Oats explained.
Oats had a similar path to Hodgson into the business, having caught the attention of Hurley, then a Rhode Island assistant, during a recruiting visit to the high school team Oats coached for 11 seasons. The experience on the other side of recruiting dialogue has played a part in Alabama's success this cycle, Oats believes.
"I think my background, I came into this job a lot different than most other high-major head coaches," Oats said. "I think the way I got here, I wouldn't trade it for anything. I think it's abnormal the way I did, but I think it was helpful.
"I think I got a perspective that most guys on this level in my position don't have. Maybe they came up as a [graduate assistant], a player, whatever it may be. But to help guys for 11 years sort through the recruiting process, listen to different guys, I think that information is a pretty invaluable experience that I've had once Bryan kind of gets me in front of the right people."
In addition to touting Hodgson's ability to build relationships with high school, AAU and junior college coaches across the country, Oats praised his assistant's record in continuing to develop players once they arrive on campus.
"There's some coaches that are good salesmen and then when they get here they can't coach, they can't follow through with anything," Oats said. "Those guys fizzle out really quick because people find out they're fake. I think Bryan does a good job continuing to build it once they get here."
"A lot of kids want to go to the NBA," Oats said. "The NBA is all about pace and space right now. Nobody is doing pace and space. If you look at every high-major team in the country, we play faster and take more threes than all of them.
"We got a system that guys want to play in. When you got a product you can sell and a system that's gonna help develop them and get to the next level, a coaching staff that is going to work with them and put it in the work on top of that, I think we can make stuff happen. I think we just proved we can make stuff happen.
"We're right where we want to be. It's one thing to sign a good class. It's another to produce one on the floor. Now we got to go out and have a great year. Hopefully we have a year to play."
Alabama assistant coach Bryan Hodgson speaks to players during basketball practice Sept. 24, 2019.
(Robert Sutton/Alabama Athletics)Crimson Tide Photos / UA Athletics
When Hodgson was making $3,000 per year coaching at Jamestown Community College, he made ends meet by serving as a teaching assistant for history at the city's Gustavus Adolphus Learning Center for at-risk youth. Some of the students had run away from home; others were sent by courts to the facility. Knowing how much foster care and adoption changed the trajectory of his life, Hodgson tried to impact other lives as much as he could.
"If you can get 1 out of 10, or 1 out of 20 kids, and change their outlook on life, I think that's the most rewarding thing you can do," he said. "That's an impact that lasts forever, for generations. That's the cool thing about the job. The stressful side is to see some of the situations that the kids would come in there from. It was horrible, mind-blowing."
Hodgson was a big brother for the Big Brothers Big Sisters of America in Buffalo, and said he is in the process of participating in Alabama, encouraging others to do the same.
"Even just down here in Tuscaloosa, Birmingham and the state of Alabama, there's a million kids that need a mentor, need a big brother, big sister. Need some guidance, and they want it. Everybody nowadays talks about this generation. 'These kids these days.' Stop saying it and do something about it. Help a kid. There's not a single kid in my opinion that is born into this world and when they have the brain function to make a decision decides they're going to be a bad kid.
"I think hopefully stories like these can encourage people to find avenues to help. From youth camps, to Boys & Girls Clubs, YMCA, Big Brothers program -- there's a million different ways for people to impact the youth and I think we need people to hop on board."
If possible, Hodgson also wants families to consider being foster parents or adopting.
"I was so thankful to be placed in a foster home with loving parents," he said. "I think there's a lot of people that don't understand the foster care system and if they did and were able to participate, it's a huge impact. It's not for everybody. I'm not naïve to that. But it's an unbelievable thing that can not only change the kid's life but the parents. Just genuinely helping someone who's that much in need, is a rewarding experience.
"I understand that everybody is not suited to be a foster parent or to adopt. If you are, I think it's great. I think if people heard the success stories, it will encourage them even more."
Because of the intervention of child protective services and his adopted family more than 30 years ago, Hodgson was put in a position to pursue his goal of one day becoming a head coach.
But Hodgson, who said he has turned down assistant coaching jobs elsewhere, believes it will be hard to top his current situation working alongside Oats.
"This wasn't an easy route," he said. "Nobody handed me these jobs. Nobody gave me the blueprint to becoming a Division I assistant. I had a family that was supportive and wanted me to follow my dream.
"My dream was to coach college basketball. I never thought that it would be at this level, I'll be honest with you. I dreamed that it would be. I would be lying if I told you that I saw this happen. Nate gave me an opportunity at Buffalo and now I ended up here."
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