Arizona's not-so-secret Santa
Brian Brigger (left) embraces Arizona men's basketball player Dusan Ristic (right) during warmups at the McKale Center.
For many kids growing up, the highlight of their year is going to sleep on Christmas Eve to the promise of Santa showing up during the night with their favorite gifts. The moment many of us found out Santa wasn’t real, however, is one you are never really prepared for. For some student-athletes around campus, Santa is, in fact, very real.
While he may lack the white beard and giant belly, the University of Arizona’s assistant director of equipment operations Brian Brigger provides many athletes a Christmas throughout the school year in the form of team gear.
As the equipment manager on campus, Brigger specializes in working with men’s golf, women’s soccer, men’s tennis and, most notably, the men’s basketball team. He is the man when it comes to making sure uniforms, apparel, shoes and equipment are all taken care of and ready to go, both for practices and games.
“In equipment, there really aren’t ever two of the same days,” Brigger said. “Fall is when we get a lot of the Nike stuff in, which we then have to number and pass out to the athletes. As the season progresses with practices and games, there tends to be a lot more laundry. Also, making sure players are comfortable with their equipment.”
Brigger came to Arizona during the 2012-2013 school year, after spending his previous seven seasons at the University of Pittsburgh. His connection to men’s basketball head coach Sean Miller dates back to their time at Xavier, where he was a manager for the Musketeers while pursuing an undergraduate degree. Upon coming to Arizona, Brigger noticed immediately how much the city embraces Arizona, and how all eyes are on the program.
“This is definitely a college town,” said Brigger. “The fans get behind every team. You see more of a buzz when winning streaks and special things happen than you would in other places.”
Being an equipment manager at a school like Arizona, which is one of Nike’s flagship schools to give equipment to, has many benefits due to the hands-on relationship the company has with the program.
“They forecast everything out far in advance,” said Brigger. “They’ll give us color options for each sport and we are able to have our say in terms of maybe wanting another color or different design.”
For Brigger, much of what makes the job is the relationship he has with the student-athletes. Supplying gear and equipment to different sports around campus has allowed Brigger the opportunity to befriend many of the student-athletes.
“It makes my day when they get their stuff for the first time,” says Brigger. “Everybody is very complimentary and overjoyed that they get all this new stuff.”
While Santa may only pass out presents on Christmas, for Brigger it is a year-round thing whenever a new sport season begins.
Women’s soccer senior midfielder Hailey Mazzola loves the open door policy he has whenever an athlete needs something.
“He’s awesome,” Mazzola said. “We can always go in, and if something doesn’t fit, he’ll have an extra or even just a pair of slides to wear around.”
For Mazzola, it’s also about more than just having something new to wear, it’s being able to show school pride.
“It’s finally being able to rep’ the university and show off all the hard work we’ve put in to be able to represent the school,” the senior said.
One of the most notable aspects of equipment Brigger handles is team shoes, especially for basketball. Brigger has never been into all of the different shoe styles, but seeing the many variations that come in and around the program has opened up his passion for it more and more.
“It was always a comfort thing for me,” says Brigger. “Being here, and the options we have, your eyes open up a little bit more. Getting to know the athletes, and what they like and don’t like, also makes you want to try different things.”
Brigger is often seen during men’s basketball home games on the UA bench, ready to fix any equipment that malfunctions. He’ll jump up and get excited when there’s a big dunk or a flurry of three-pointers like a member of the team. But his role at Arizona is much more important than that, and it usually happens off camera in the equipment room.
Brigger will reach into his never-ending bag of gear and make sure each Arizona student-athlete is ready for game day.
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