ARTHUR — Brady Mast attended all of the Illinois men's basketball home games at the State Farm Center last season. The reason was not only is he a big Illini fan, but he completed his first year as one of the team's managers.
It all came about for Mast, a 2017 graduate of Arthur Okaw Christian, with the help of another AOC grad, Andy Brandt, a classmate who was a manager at Kansas State under former Illinois coach Bruce Weber. Brandt did that for two seasons.
"I talked to him about it and he knew I wanted to get into the sport," said Mast, who played basketball and baseball for all five years for the Conquering Riders and one year in the only season of cross country at AOC. "Originally I was going to a small Christian school in Florida, but some things fell through financially. I knew I had to take a year off to make some money before I went to school."
In February of 2018, Mast emailed some of the people with the Illinois program.
"I got to work at a camp and got to know a couple of the managers and the graduate assistant," Mast said.
After being interviewed to be a manager, he had to wait about three weeks before he was officially hired.
"I was surreal at first," Mast said. "I had dreamed of playing college basketball, but I didn't have the skill set. I have always known basketball is my first love and I knew I wanted to get into something like this. It was a competitive field to be a manager and in between the interview and the hiring was tough. I checked with other guys that had been interviewed to see if they had heard anything yet. Being hired was more of a relief than anything."
The duties for Mast varied from day to day.
"We worked about five or six days a week," Mast said. "In the morning I was setting up things, and once a week I do the laundry. The guys come in for individual workouts and we help them stretch and set up a hotel for official visits."
Mast said there are two head managers who are in charge of more of the day-to-day stuff.
"The graduate assistant or an assistant coach tells us, 'We are going to need this, this and this,'" Mast said.
At home games, Mast was either taking stats or under the basket wiping up the sweat with a Libman round mop.
"We rebound for the players about two hours," said Mast. "It is not glamorous, but man is it a good seat."
As for the players, Mast said he's gotten to know them.
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"it is pretty surreal at first," Mast said. "Since it was my first year you don't get to know the coaches that much, but as you work your way up the more you deal with them."
Mast has been busy helping run the Illinois team basketball camps this summer with very few days off.
"Coach Underwood is a very smart guy and a good guy," Mast said. "He does a really good job with the plays and is very good at the technical strategies and X's and O's."
Mast did make one road trip with the team at Purdue.
"It was a really cool experience," Mast said. "If I have a chance, I will go back. Everyone is right on top of the court and it is packed in. The students do a really good job of being loud and obnoxious. They have a good thing going there."
Managers win national championship
Mast was not a part of the Illinois managers basketball team that won the Manager Games National Championship, beating Marquette 52-27, but did play during the regular season.
The championship was played in Minneapolis the same weekend of the Final Four.
Illinois had victories over Indiana 91-55, Purdue 117-61, Penn State 78-62, Rutges 89-70 and Minnesota 90-62.
"We play the night before the Big Ten game and sometimes it is not over until midnight," Mast said. "It was really cool to play and great to know that I was a part of it a little bit."
Mast hopes to follow Yoder's path
Dustin Yoder, a 2006 graduate of Okaw Valley, was the assistant coach from 2008-11 and the head manager in the 2010-11 season. He spent five seasons at Kansas State (2012-2017), with one year as a graduate assistant and the rest as the video coordinator. He is currently an assistant at Cal State San Bernardino.
Mast said he will be a manager for his remaining three years and is studying sports management.
"I hope to be a graduate assistant somewhere, hopefully at a high level, and kind of build my way into a basketball operations job or an assistant coach and work my way up to being a head coach," Mast said.