From challenges to a championship: Brandeis men’s basketball

Yvette Cho '19 spoke with basketball players Latye Workman '18, Eric D’Aguanno '20 and head coach Jean Bain about the Judges championship season.

Jean Bain draws up a play during a team huddle.Photo/Craig Chase

Head coach Jean Bain speaks with players in a huddle during the ECAC championship.

Everyone loves a good comeback story.

Maybe it’s because we enjoy living vicariously through the glory of triumph. Maybe, through shared human experience, we can relate to the feeling of rising from our own ashes. I think we can all agree that overcoming the odds in the face of adversity is a story that speaks to us all.

This past weekend, the Brandeis men’s basketball team served up just such an adversity-busting narrative.

Following a controversial head coaching turnover and a subsequent program overhaul last year, the returning players remained dedicated to their sport, committed to one another, and hopeful for the future, cementing bonds that paid off in a championship on March 3 as the Judges defeated Rutgers-Newark 72-60 to win the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) crown.

For the Judges, winning the ECAC championship capped a 2018/19 season in which they surpassed the program’s highest single-season win total since 2013 with an 18-11 record. This is also the program’s fourth all-time ECAC title.

As a fellow student athlete who has followed this team’s journey over the past four years, it has been an impressive sight to see.

On game days, the stands have been packed full of enthusiastic Brandeis students sitting on the edge of their seats, loudly cheering on their favorite players – a more fervent display of fandom than has been seen in recent years. The media, from Boston to national Division III sports blogs, have focused on the team’s rejuvenation on the court, especially focusing on new head coach Jean Bain.

But Bain knows that the players built their own foundation for their recent success even before his arrival. “This is the most selfless and resilient group of kids I have ever been around,” he said. “They stayed together all year long and put together a great season. I am very proud of this group and will remember this season for the rest of my life.”

Bain, who spent the previous two seasons as associate head coach at Columbia University, brought experience, commitment and drive to a team that had just eight returning student-athletes. His efforts helped serve as a catalyst for a Judges team that is safely inside a new era.

A key player in this story of triumph is graduate student Latye Workman '18, who ended his final year of eligibility on a high note by helping his team capture the ECAC championship. Workman, a forward, graduated last May and now studies Project and Program Management through the Brandeis Graduate and Professional Studies program.

Latye Workman shoots a floater.
Photo/Brandeis Athletics

Latye Workman

“I’ve been through a lot in life in general, but what I’ve always been told is to get up and never stay down,” Latye said. “My dad tells me to not harp on the past and let it affect you too much because you need to continue with your day and with your life.”

This resilience helped guide his team to double their number of wins compared to last season, with Latye being a formidable starter and even earning All University Athletic Association honorable mention honors at the end of last season.

While his accolades are impressive, his path to basketball success was not without its challenges.

Raised in Brooklyn, New York in a close-knit family, basketball has always played an integral part in Latye’s life, though he never played on a structured team until he transferred high schools in tenth grade. With time, he found his place on that team, which he eventually led as captain.

An injury sidelined Latye from what would have been his first year playing at Brandeis, but his perseverance and drive has led him to who he is on the court today: a standout player and team captain.

“I told my team that if we all just came together and bought in, no matter the coach, we would be successful,” he explained. “When times get tough, that’s when we work together. [Before Bain’s arrival] we had no coach, but we still planned pickup [games] on our own, scheduled lifts, and did what we needed to do. I think that’s where the success stemmed from: our togetherness and comradery.”

Alongside Latye, another integral part of the men’s team this season is Eric D’Aguanno '20.

Eric D’Aguanno taking a jump shot.
Photo/Brandeis Athletics

Eric D’Aguanno

Originally from Saunderstown, Rhode Island, Eric’s love for the game began in his parents’ living room with a two-foot tall Little Tykes basketball hoop. With the encouragement of his family (who haven’t missed a game in 10 years!), he played in competitive leagues that helped him develop the physical and mental skills to play at the collegiate level.

His passion for the game led him to Brandeis, where he just completed his third season on the team. Eric, most impressively, ranks second in the conference in 3-point percentage (43 percent) and also ranks third on the Judges in scoring with 11.8 points per game.

“My mentality has been to keep a positive attitude about everything,” Eric told me. “Whether it’s a tough season or just a tough loss, just knowing that we’re going to get back on track is the way I approach basketball. What I can control is how hard I work today.”

His energy and commitment to his team has contributed to the Judges becoming a top 30 defensive program in the country, which has been key to the success they have seen on the court.

Off the court, Eric credits a great season to the chemistry he and his teammates worked hard to build throughout the year.

“From the new freshmen to our eight returners, it all starts from the bottom up. Even if it’s just hanging out in someone’s dorm room on a weekend, all of that chemistry we’ve fostered has translated onto the court. We have this trust in each other because of that,” Eric explained.

With another exciting year left as a member of the men’s basketball team, Eric sees the potential for more progress for this reinvigorated program.

“I look forward to building the program and seeing what it becomes. I want to be a leader on the team, whether that’s being a better player on the court or just keeping spirits high in the locker room. Whatever coach asks of me, I’ll get there,” he said.

Speaking as both a member of the Brandeis community and fellow student-athlete, proud is an understatement when it comes to witnessing the progress that our men’s basketball team has accomplished in this short period of time.

The Brandeis Judges basketball team, 2019 ECAC Division III champions with championship banner
Photo/Craig Chase

The team posed for a photo after capturing the ECAC championship.

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