Bryan Bender returns for his second year as the Bears head coach. He previously had one successful season with the team as assistant coach. As an assistant, Bender was a part of the coaching staff that assembled a 17-9 record. The team qualified for the MACJC State & Region XXIII tournaments, where the Bears knocked off the nation’s 12-ranked team, Northwest Mississippi Community College, and earned a trip to the regional semifinals. The team also pulled off the largest comeback in college basketball history on January 11, 2018, when they overcame a 34-point deficit (with 14:10 remaining in the second half) to beat eventual South Division champion, Pearl River Community College. Bender has helped 16 Bears earn scholarships at four-year institutions, 11 at the NCAA Division I level. The five 2017-18 players signing with NCAA Division 1 programs was the most of any team in the MACJC. In 2018-19, the Bears continued to get things done in the classroom. They were named the NJCAA men’s basketball Academic Team of the Year for the third time in five years, and received the same honor from the MACJC for the fifth year in a row, after compiling a 3.46 team GPA. Eight members of the team received individual academic awards from the NJCAA and/or MACJC. Prior to Southwest, Bender spent three seasons as Director of Basketball Operations at Appalachian State University, a NCAA Division I school in the Sun Belt Conference. While there, he helped nine student-athletes graduate with their Bachelor’s degree, five of which signed contracts to play professionally in Europe. During the 2013-14 season, Bender spent time as an Assistant Coach at Missouri State University, West Plains where off the court, he helped the team set a school record for the highest team GPA (3.14) and witnessed eight sophomores obtain their associate’s degree. Twelve members of the 2013-2014 team signed at a NCAA Division 1 program and three players were NJCAA All-Region honorees with two listed among the Top 50 Junior College players in the country. Prior to his stint at West Plains, Bender spent eight years in various roles with the University of Minnesota. During his last three seasons, he served as the video coordinator for Hall of Fame coach, Tubby Smith, overseeing scouting, student managers and all video duties. During his time with the team, the Golden Gophers made six postseason appearances, including three trips to the NCAA Tournament and three more to the NIT. During the 2012-13 season, the team spent 14 weeks ranked in the Top 25, including three weeks in the Top 10, and capped off the year with a win over UCLA in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. Bender also gained valuable experience as part of the support staff for the 2008 USA Basketball U18 Junior National Team, which contained 9 players that played in the NBA including; Mason Plumlee, Lance Stephenson and Kemba Walker. The team was coached by legendary Davidson head coach, Bob McKillop. Bender holds two degrees from the University of Minnesota with a Bachelor’s degree in Sports Management and a Master’s in Applied Kinesiology with an emphasis in Sports Management and Coaching. A native of Cambridge, Wisconsin, Bender is married to the former Kristi Ericksen of Brainerd, Minnesota.