Brase becomes first RGV Vipers coach to return for third season

EDINBURG — Rio Grande Valley Vipers coach Matt Brase said he had no idea what was next for him after the team wrapped up the 2016-17 season with a loss in the D-League finals.

EDINBURG — Rio Grande Valley Vipers coach Matt Brase said he had no idea what was next for him after the team wrapped up the 2016-17 season with a loss in the D-League finals.

Brase has been in the Houston Rockets organization in different capacities since 2012, but he said he’s never been given an outline of how his career is expected to progress from season to season. So, Brase said he simply takes things one year at a time.

During the summer, Brase learned he would be coming back to the Vipers for a third season, making him the first coach in the team’s 11-year history to stay longer than two campaigns. RGV opens the new season at 7 p.m. Friday with a road game against the Oklahoma City Blue.

“I’ve loved it down here,” Brase said. “It’s a great place to be, and I’m fortunate the Rockets trust me to run the organization down here. So I’m happy to be here for another year.”

After coaching as an assistant at the University of Arizona in 2008-09 and Grand Canyon University from 2009-11, Brase joined RGV as an assistant for the 2012-13 season. He worked in the Rockets’ system from 2013-15, including a stint as the director of player development, before taking the head job with the Vipers in 2015.

“It’s a testament to Matt as a big part of our staff with both the Rockets and the Vipers,” RGV general manager Jim Paulis said of the decision to retain Brase. “We believe he has a very bright future ahead of him. When we had the opportunity to bring him back for the third year, it was a very easy decision.”

Paulis, who has been involved with the Rockets since 2007 and the Vipers since 2011, said Brase has greatly expanded his coaching acumen in two years on the job. Paulis pointed to Brase’s open-minded approach, creativity and ability to make adjustments as some of his biggest strengths.

“He’s grown leaps and bounds,” Paulis said. “He came in as a young coach who hung his hat on player development, and he’s grown tremendously in the X’s and O’s portion of the game.”

Still, Brase hasn’t lost touch with the player-development side of the job. With only two assistant coaches on his staff, Brase said he does plenty of hands-on skills work during training camp.

Forward Chris Walker, who has been with the Vipers since 2015, said he was looking forward to playing under Brase again. The Vipers went 29-21 and lost in the first round of the playoffs in 2015-16 before last season posting a 32-18 record and advancing to the D-League finals. Walker said he is hungry to do even better this season, adding that Brase was keeping tabs on him during the summer to help him prepare.

“He’ll call me all the time and just make sure I’m working out and working hard on myself,” Walker said. “This guy is one of the best coaches I ever played for, and I played for (Oklahoma City Thunder coach) Billy Donovan, so that’s saying a lot.”

Paulis said the Rockets organization uses RGV as an outlet to test coaches and staffers to see if they have a future with the parent club.

Chris Finch, who coached the Vipers from 2009-11 before signing a contract to become an assistant with the Rockets, said he initially inked a two-year deal with RGV.

“I didn’t really know what would happen after two years, because they really didn’t make any promises to me,” said Finch, who stayed with Houston until 2016 and currently serves as an assistant coach for the New Orleans Pelicans. “… In Matty’s (Brase) case, he was with us as an intern and player development coach, and they believed he had the DNA to be a really good head coach, so they sent him down there. I know they value him very highly. I don’t think the Rockets see anyone to be long term in the G League, because that isn’t really the idea.”

Paulis said Brase’s next move is very hard to project, contingent on what opportunities open up within the organization. For now, Brase still lives and works in Houston during the offseason, helping the team through summer league and preseason workouts.

Brase had a busy few months following the 2016-17 D-League season. He ran the Derrick Rose Global Elite camp in Lithuania and spent a week in Haiti as part of his effort to revitalize the island’s national team. Brase said he and former Vipers assistant coaches Cody Toppert and Nick Friedman have been engaged in fundraising and promotional efforts in Haiti to try to generate a groundswell of support for the sport. Brase is helping build a roster to participate in next year’s Caribbean Cup, which will snap Haiti’s 26-year streak of not taking part in international competition.

Back with the Vipers for another year, Brase has learned that the future can be difficult to predict.

“It’s just, keep doing what you have to do,” Brase said. “The basketball world is a crazy world. You never know where it’s going to take you. Just do what you can do every day just to the best of your ability, and it’ll all work out.”

Monitor freelance writer Scott Harrison contributed to this report.