If you've Googled Brian Hogan-Gary's name, one of the top results is a then 20-year-old dunking over a cop car in his hometown of Staten Island. Right before he took flight, his long-time coach said what he always does before Hogan-Gary takes the court "Brian, fly".
Since he came to Johnson & Wales University in the fall of 2017, Hogan-Gary has done nothing but soar, but there were certainly some valleys along the way.
In the mid 90's, the Mariners Harbor/Arlington projects of Staten Island, New York, were known for the birth of the Wu-Tang Clan and tough economic times. Hogan-Gary grew up with four sisters and his mother Wanda just across the street from his grandmother. Several years later, the family would move in with his grandmother in that same neighborhood.
"Back then there were a lot more kids and we were always outside," Hogan-Gary said. "I was a big sports guy so everyone knew if they wanted to play sports they knew where to come."
While basketball would ultimately become his sport of choice, Hogan-Gary tried a number of sports before turning to the hardwood. His first sport was baseball, which he played for eight years, as well as a five-year football career. He could ice skate so one of his first endeavors was to try ice hockey in the only rink on Staten Island, but it wasn't a fit. Influenced by Tiger Woods, he tried his hand at golf camp, but he said it was too boring for him so he moved on to tennis camp.
With only sisters in the house, Hogan-Gary spent a lot of time with his cousins Trent and Marcus. If one of them got into a new sport, the other two were quick to join. One sport that stuck during their teens was skateboarding. Trying to emulate Terry Kennedy or Tony Hawk, Hogan-Gary and his cousins used the city as their skate park as they would grind on railings, jump off steps and ollie over anything they could.
When they weren't outside skateboarding, Hogan-Gary and his cousins would hang out at the Cromwell Community Center. It was there that he first picked up a basketball. Hogan- Gary said he wasn't that interested in basketball, but going into his sophomore year he was encouraged by coach Charlie Donahue and peer- pressured by his friends to join the basketball team. Unfortunately, as basketball took over it meant the skateboard had to go into the closet.
"Ed Watkins was a big influence on my basketball career throughout high school and into college," Hogan-Gary noted. "He was really my father figure during that time. I spent a lot of days at camp with him and he taught me a lot and did a lot for me. Our camp was like a family."
As someone who was new to the game, Hogan-Gary wasn't much of a scorer early on – his best game in high school was 26 points compared to 37 points this year against Emmanuel – so he relied on his natural athletic ability to be a rebounder and strong defender. While he could always jump, he didn't really know how to dunk until guys on the varsity team showed him how to dunk from different areas.
Before he started playing basketball, going to college was not on Hogan-Gary's mind. He thought his future might include the Army or becoming a member of the S.W.A.T. team so his mother was surprised when he told her he wanted to go to college. A promising high school player, he was limited at the start of his senior year after breaking his hand during the summer. Even though he had a good season and several schools were interested in him, only Fulton Montgomery Community College in Johnstown, NY offered him a roster spot.
All Hogan-Gary knew growing up was Staten Island so moving to upstate New York was a culture shock. Without a strong support system around him, Hogan-Gary was like many freshmen who struggle to adapt to college life. The combination of not going to class along with not being ready for college caused him to fail or barely pass all of his classes. He also fell into the trap of enjoying his new-found freedom a little bit too much.
Despite only playing half a season because of poor grades, in the fall of 2012 Hogan-Gary returned to FMCC with a renewed focus of trying to get back on track academically. In October, Hurricane Sandy came through and devastated the East Coast, including Staten Island. Hogan-Gary withdrew from school so he could return home to help his mother.
For the next year and a half, Hogan-Gary worked multiple jobs during the day. One constant job he held was working at a camp with kids while also working at Shop Rite, fast food restaurants or other retail jobs. At night he kept his basketball dreams alive on local playgrounds and community centers.
Ten days before Hogan-Gary leaped over the police car, tensions were running high in Staten island after his friend Eric Garner died while in police custody. Hogan- Gary knew Garner was the community center as he was the son of one of the coaches. During Under the Lights – a Staten Island summer league –- basketball tournament, the tournament organizer asks the cops patrolling the area if they wanted to help out with the dunk contest.
The police officers rolled their cruiser onto the court and Hogan-Gary cleared the car with ease. The video went viral with tens of thousands of views on social media, over 57,00 views on YouTube and for a time helped reduce tensions in the neighborhood.
He made an attempt to return to school by enrolling in SUNY Broome Community College, but Hogan-Gary said the rural environment in Binghamton did not suit him. It was back to Staten Island for Hogan-Gary but he did not give up on going back to college. Hogan-Gary knew basketball would help open doors for him as he attempted to return to college. He began playing on a local showcase/all-star team called Leadership Through Sports that was focused on getting players to college.
In the fall of 2015, Hogan-Gary was set to play across the bay at Brookdale Community College in Middletown, NJ. However, basketball at BCC was halted before it began. Leadership Through Sports evolved into a prep school and even though Hogan-Gary never took classes there, the National Junior College Athletic Association determined Hogan-Gary's participation counted so it took a year of eligibility away from him. Determined to graduate from a four-year institution, Hogan-Gary continued to take classes at Brookdale even though he wasn't playing on the team.
"I regretted failing out," Hogan-Gary said. "That was the one regret I had. I wanted to fix something that I could have so if you can change something then why not?
"In the beginning I wasn't focused enough to pass the classes and do the work so I'm glad I took that time off and realized that I needed it. I messed up at something that wasn't that hard, but it wasn't my time at that moment. I was glad I was able to come back to JWU and finish."
JWU head coach Jamie Benton had known coach Danny Wilkins at Brookdale for a number of years, but it had never resulted in a student-athlete coming to Providence. During the summer of 2017 Benton reminded Wilkins of this fact, but this time he had someone in mind. When Wilkins told Benton about Hogan-Gary, Benton and his assistant Rich DiLascio were skeptical as Hogan-Gary didn't play at Brookdale.
"When guys are lingering around there's something, but his coach kept saying 'Coach, there's nothing, other coaches just won't take a chance on him,'" Benton added. "In July before we brought him in on a visit I was in Harlem of all places and wanted to talk to Brian again and I just thought he was the nicest kid. Then we brought him up and I see where he gets it because his mother is the nicest lady. As tough as I was on him, when I met his mother I said 'I'm going to get you through school.'"
"It was a one-day visit (to JWU)," Hogan-Gary said. "It was different than what I was expecting, it was different than any place I had been. It felt more like home. I was used to putting in my headphones and going, but here there were people to interact with. It was a very good fit for me."
During the visit, coach Benton made no promises of playing time, but that was fine with Hogan-Gary. His initial goal was to just be on the team and help out however he could.
"I wasn't expecting to play so much," he noted. "I just wanted to do what I had to do to be part of something, but it turned out to be something totally different."
Every year during the first week of practice, the Wildcats have to go off campus when the career fair takes over the Wildcat Center gym. During one practice at Bryant University, both point guards Donovan Maxfield and Justin Bullock went down with injuries. Benton told Hogan-Gary to start running the offense and even though he had never played point guard, Benton said he knew having the ball in Hogan-Gary's hands every time down the court would give the Wildcats' a dynamic offense that would be difficult to stop.
Once Hogan-Gary and a talented group of rookies gelled the Wildcats were tough to beat. JWU won eight of nine games going into the GNAC Tournament. The Wildcats got past Norwich and Suffolk to set up a rematch with rival Albertus Magnus, which Hogan-Gary later admitted was one of the other schools he was looking at attending. The Wildcats battled back from a second-half deficit to claim their second GNAC Championship in three years. Hogan-Gary went on to earn First-Team All-GNAC accolades.
"After the first year I called (Wilkins) and said 'This is the guy you sent me?'" Benton noted. "I couldn't believe that someone with this level of talent was just sitting around. There was a time when one of the guys was going up and Brian jumped from the other side of the lane and caught it above the rim and we were like 'What the? How did this kid end up here?'"
The following year he took his game to the next level, upping his scoring to 23.6 points per game and grabbing 11.5 rebounds per game. Hogan-Gary was named both GNAC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year. He is only the third player in conference history to earn both awards in the same season. Hogan-Gary added another First-Team All-GNAC honor as well as All-New England Region honors. Unfortunately, the Wildcats' bid to repeat was stopped in the quarterfinals by Saint Joseph's College of Maine.
Former JWU associate athletics director Evan McDermott successfully petitioned the NCAA for Hogan-Gary to get back the year of eligibility he lost at Brookdale and that allowed him to play the 2019-20 season. Given all the twists and turns, Hogan-Gary's journey reads like a fairytale, but unfortunately it did not have a Hollywood ending. The first two months of the season had many ups and downs, but it took a turn for the worst on January 29.
In the second half against Suffolk, Hogan-Gary reacted to a loose ball by the only way he knows. As he dove to the floor for a loose ball, another player landed on his leg and as Hogan-Gary tried to get up his leg twisted awkwardly and he went down in pain on the Wildcat Center court. He was diagnosed with a torn ligament in his ankle and Hogan-Gary admitted that if it wasn't his senior year that he would have stopped playing for the rest of the season. Despite many hours in the training room trying to rehab his injury, with Hogan-Gary at less than 60 percent the rest of the season the Wildcats lost four of their last six games and missed the GNAC Tournament.
Hogan-Gary averaged 20.1 ppg to earn Second-Team All-GNAC honors. He is only the third player in program history to earn three all-conference honors, joining former All-Americans Lamonte Thomas and Quarry Greenaway. Hogan-Gary finished his career fourth in school history with 1,611 points and 20.1 ppg. The all-time leader at 10.0 rebounds per game, he's second only to Greenaway with 800 rebounds. Overall, he ranks in the JWU top-10 in 12 different categories
"It's was frustrating because I didn't want it to be seen that I was just in it for the awards," Hogan-Gary added. "I wasn't going for the awards, I was just playing. My teammates were doing so much that it allowed me to be everywhere on the court."
With his collegiate basketball career complete, Hogan-Gary has his sights set on playing professionally overseas. His dream is temporarily on hold as all professional basketball leagues are shut down because of COVID-19. Normally Hogan-Gary would take part in tryouts throughout the region or during the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas. With restrictions on crowd sizes all those events have been postponed. Hogan-Gary hopes to get his shot later in the summer or fall.
He's only three classes shy of completing his criminal justice degree and after his basketball career comes to an end, Hogan-Gary still has thoughts of joining the S.W.A.T. team. Whether it's on a skateboard, the basketball court or on the police force, Brian will continue to fly.