Growing up, Bryan and Brendan Mullins lived and breathed basketball. They played for the Illinois Wolves, a travel basketball team founded by their father, Mike, which has developed players such as Charlotte Hornets center Frank Kaminsky and 2010 No. 2 overall NBA Draft pick Evan Turner.
Now, the two coach against each other in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC).
Brendan, 32, is an assistant coach at Illinois State University. He played Division II basketball at Saint Michael’s College in Vermont and broke into coaching as a graduate assistant at Mercyhurst University in Pennsylvania. After five seasons as an assistant at Wright State University, Brendan took the same position at University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) in 2015 before Illinois State hired him prior to the 2017-18 season.
Bryan, 31, is an assistant coach at Loyola and has been with the program for five seasons. After a successful career at Southern Illinois University from 2005-09, he played four seasons of professional basketball in France before breaking into coaching as Loyola men’s basketball director of operations in 2013.
Bryan said he kept in close contact with Brendan while playing at Southern Illinois and in France, and Brendan played a pivotal role in his transition to coaching.
“In terms of me developing as a coach, he’s been probably the biggest influence on me,” Bryan said. “He was in the business while I was playing overseas, so when I first started here, I was clueless about recruiting [and] about all this stuff. Every day I was asking him ‘How do I do this?’ and ‘How do I do that?’ … I’m lucky to have someone that close in the same profession as me.”
As a father, Mike said Bryan and Brendan are also very close with his third son, Michael, and he enjoys watching his sons succeed while also supporting each other along the way.
“They hate to lose to each other [and] they love to compete against each other, but at the end of the day they have each other’s backs no matter the situation,” Mike said. “[We’re] very blessed, as parents, to have all three of them be such good men and good friends with each other because that was our goal as parents was not just to be brothers but to be touchstones and friends and someone who’d be there for each other for a long, long time.”
Coaching against each other is nothing new for the Mullins brothers. The duo coached against each other during the last two seasons and again this year when Loyola beat the Redbirds 69-61 Jan. 10 at Redbird Arena. Brendan said, while there wasn’t much trash-talking prior to the game, he was able to briefly reunite with his brother ahead of time.
“He came over the night before and checked out my place for the first time since I’d moved,” Brendan said. “We just hung out and watched the NBA like we typically do.”
Bryan said he doesn’t like when he has to coach against his brother because it means one of them has to lose. He said despite not liking to lose, losing to his brother wouldn’t be the worst outcome in the world.
“I know how hard we both work,” Bryan said. “I want him to have as much success as anyone, so those games aren’t fun … because I know one of us is going to lose. But I think we both make each other better because we both know we’re preparing for each other.”
Any team could make a run at the MVC championship game this season. Brendan said he was hoping there would be more at stake when Loyola and Illinois State meet again Feb. 24. Although Illinois State has fallen victim to injuries as of late, he’s still going to try and get a victory even though Loyola already locked up a share of the conference title with Southern Illinois Feb. 18.
“My dream situation was [Loyola was] going to be up a game on us … and we could go to their place, beat them and share co-champions of the Missouri Valley,” Brendan said. “But it’s not looking like it’s going to turn out that way right now, and I wish nothing more than they win [the MVC].”
When Loyola clinched at least a share of the MVC title Feb. 18, Brendan tweeted congratulations to his brother shortly after the game ended.
Bryan and Brendan said they’ve thought about coaching against each other in the Arch Madness championship game, and Brendan said he’s excited about that possibility.
“With the way the [MVC] is this year, it’s going to be a crazy Arch Madness,” Brendan said. “We were talking, [and] this could be the year a team that plays on Thursday night is playing on Sunday. You just don’t know how things are going to go. I’d love nothing more than the opportunity to be able to play against him on Sunday.”
Because of how deep the MVC field is this year, one of the bottom seeded teams that play on Thursday night of Arch Madness could make the championship game on Sunday.
Because of his career as coach of the Illinois Wolves, Mike said he hasn’t watched a basketball game as a fan in “decades” because he wants to learn from other coaches. When Bryan and Brendan compete against each other, Mike said he continues to stay neutral to not only avoid cheering against one of his sons, but to learn from them.
The Mullins brothers are set to square off one more time this season when Illinois State travels to Gentile Arena Feb. 24 for the final game of the regular season.