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A fire within: The Brian Dux Story

The local legend is back with the game he loves
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Posted at 10:41 PM, Feb 27, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-27 22:44:59-05

"I'll never forget the day his mother called to tell me what had happened," Mike MacDonald said.

November 10, 2007.

It started as just another innocuous early morning in Surrey, England. By the time dawn broke, the hearts of Buffalo and Guildford began to beat as one.

Around 4:40 a.m., Brian Dux's vehicle veered off the road and collided with a tree. The reason why he was on the road at that time of day, and what caused him to go off the road, will never be known.

Nor will the explanation that was given by authorities about a lack of urgency in responding to the crash be good enough to those that love Dux. They chalked it up to a communications failure. They vowed to investigate.

Nothing will change the fact that for over two hours, Dux laid there in his mangled vehicle without any medical assistance.

Courtesy: BBC

His parents were alerted and they rushed to England as quickly as they could to be with their son.

Scans of Dux's brain showed "severe bleeding." He was in a coma. There was worry that he might never wake up, let alone walk again.

In early December, Dux was transported back home to Buffalo and was admitted to Erie County Medical Center, a mere two miles away from Canisius' Koessler Athletic Center where he became a local legend.

"He probably weighed about 90 pounds. He looked like he was barely alive..." - Daemen head coach Mike MacDonald

MacDonald, who at that time was the head coach at Medaille College, made it a routine to go in and see Brian every chance he could. MacDonald and Dux were more than just coach and player.

"He's like a member of our family," he said. "You drive down the Kensington, get off, go to ECMC and see him for a couple of minutes, not even knowing if he knew you were there."

"He probably weighed about 90 pounds. He looked like he was barely alive... couldn't talk, was just laying there in the bed, and at that point in time -- and this was not too long after the accident -- you're saying, 'Man, let's just hope he lives.'"

WNY Basketball's Folk Hero

You won't find much better of a tale that encapsulates the underdog spirit of Buffalo.

Following a successful four-year basketball career at Orchard Park High School, Dux was well thought of in the area -- but not well recognized.

While he was prolific in the eyes of his adoring Quakers, Dux was still overlooked even in comparison to his Western New York basketball peers. His senior season, Dux was only named to the All-WNY second team, playing, at best, sixth-fiddle as far as the basketball community was concerned.

"He had a lot of problems," said Daemen head coach basketball Mike MacDonald. "He was skinny, people thought he was too short, he couldn't jump, and all these other knocks that people had on him. But he could play."

Brian Dux at Canisius College -- Courtesy: GoGriffs.com

Dux, with a ferocious appetite for the game, went under-recruited -- mainly due to all the genetic obstacles. Only three schools were serious contenders: Boston University, Rider, and hometown Canisius, who was then coached by MacDonald.

After one chance interaction in Las Vegas, MacDonald knew he had to have Dux on his team.

He went to the Sin City to recruit at an AAU Tournament with his assistant Terry Zeh, who is now the head coach of the Canisius women's basketball team. It started off as a torturous trip for the duo.

"We were shut out of our hotel," MacDonald said. They picked up shop and found another place to stay -- a bonafide "flea trap," as the coach put it. That hotel also happened to be where Dux and his AAU team were staying.

MacDonald and Zeh spent the night and vowed to find a new hotel first thing in the morning. They went through with their plans before heading to the gym for a full day of basketball.

Except, Zeh realized he left his running shoes back at the flea trap.

"As we turn into the parking lot, Brian Dux has two basketballs and he's doing dribbling drills in the parking lot of the hotel at 7:30 in the morning, when it's still pretty hot -- it's about 90-degrees in July."

"We walk out of there, Terry gets his shoes and we get back in the car. And I say at the time, 'Listen, I'm not sure how good he is. I think he's really good, but I just hope he's great.'"

From that day forward, MacDonald made him a priority, and said in the past he hasn't wanted to coach anyone more than Brian Dux.

Fast-forward four years at Canisius from 1999 to 2003, and Dux became the cornerstone of the Golden Griffins' program at the turn of the century.

He was only the second Canisius men's player ever to reach 1,000 points and 500 assists in a career. To this day, he's still the 17th-leading scorer in school history.

A career so successful, he was inducted into the school's athletic Hall of Fame.

From the 7 ABC archives, Brian Dux highlights from his days at Canisius College

Just as it did in that watershed moment in Vegas, the yearning for basketball only continued after school.

Dux tried his hand at one professional leagues overseas but didn't stick. He even came back to Western New York and tried out teaching.

He knew in his heart his story with basketball wasn't done. He was right.

Dux finally found a permanent home in England -- namely, with the Guildford Heat of the British Basketball League.

Just as he had captured the hearts of Western New York, not surprisingly, Dux did the same in Surrey.

"He really became a cult hero and superstar over there," said MacDonald.

At that time, Steve Nash rose to prominence in the NBA and the United States with his floppy dark brown hair, diminutive stature, and a highlight-reel game. Nash won the Most Valuable Player award in back-to-back seasons: 2005 and 2006.

Brian Dux with the Guildford Heat

The same year of Nash's first MVP award was Dux's first season in Guildford. Bedecked in the same floppy dark brown hair and with most others towering over him, he had the type of talent that made their fans feel like they had a Steve Nash of their own.

He was named to the All-Star team in his rookie season, and in 2007, Dux and his teammates reached the top of the mountain. On January 7, Guildford won the league title -- and fittingly, Dux was named MVP.

One adoring fan told BBC not too long ago, "The Heat is Brian Dux."

Brian Dux is back with the game he loves, watch the full feature from 7 ABC here:

The story of Brian Dux as told by 7 ABC's Joe Buscaglia

The Pied Piper

"He was the best guard I've ever seen. The best player I've ever seen" said Bishop Timon High School athletic director Charlie Comerford. He was also a teammate with Brian Dux at the AAU-level when they were teens.

Along with his immense skill on the basketball court during his heyday, Dux was as magnetic as a person as you'd find.

Kids growing up playing basketball in the area idolized him. He became a local icon in their eyes.

Courtesy: GoGriffs.com

Dux coached MacDonald's oldest son, Matt, one summer at a basketball camp. By the end of the camp, the "Dux Effect" had taken hold.

"Brian always had a habit of wearing his shorts kind of low... his boxers would kind of hang out," MacDonald recalled. "Matt's maybe 8 years old, he comes down for breakfast one morning after camp with his shorts hanging down and his boxers hanging out."

"?No, no, no. No, you're not doing that. Pull your shorts up.'"

That was the type of influence Dux had on many that knew him.

Before becoming the head coach at Canisius, MacDonald was first an assistant there to John Beilein, the now famed head coach at the University of Michigan. Beilein's son, Patrick -- now the head coach at Le Moyne -- was also a Dux disciple.

Before heading off to college at West Virginia, Patrick enlisted the help of his father, and the Beilein's called anyone they could to find out where Dux found the old-school, blue-and-gold striped socks he wore during games.

The socks were one-of-a-kind, just like Dux.

As a teammate, he was a leader both on and off the court while at Canisius College. He'd demand the most out of his teammates, and serve as the liaison to keep everyone at the top of their games during the offseason.

"He knows everyone and everyone knows him so it was easy. I would bring my guys from UB and Dux did the rest." - Former UB guard Turner Battle

Dux was the one to organize pickup games with not just his teammates from Canisius. He'd recruit guys to play that were from Buffalo but went off to out-of-the-area schools for college.

He even reached out to those from the men's team at the University at Buffalo, which included Turner Battle, one of the best to ever don a Bulls uniform.

"Dux and myself would organize pick up games in the summer at UB and Canisus, the best players in Western New York would come and play. We had some really good runs," said Battle, now the assistant head coach at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. "He knows everyone and everyone knows him so it was easy. I would bring my guys from UB and Dux did the rest."

"Guys would follow him," MacDonald added. "And to this day, I always tell seniors who are getting ready to go into their senior year, I say, ?Hey, you've got to be the pied piper. You've got to be the guy like Brian Dux.'"

Beating the Odds

In typical Brian Dux fashion, eventually, he started to pull through. The star point guard woke up and began an arduous rehab process.

No one knew how much he'd eventually be able to do, but upon seeing him walk along the parallel bars at ECMC, hope began to permeate.

"That's when it hit me, he's going to make it," MacDonald said. "He's tough. He's tough-minded, strong-willed, and he's stubborn. He wasn't going to give in."

"I knew he'd attack his accident with that same vigor, and he'd do the same -- he'd overcome it like he did everything else he's done." - Bishop Timon A.D. Charlie Comerford

When Dux was cleared to go home with his family, it was a milestone in his progress. The area rallied around him, and had a big party for him around the time of the 2008 NCAA Tournament Final Four in April.

Even though Dux couldn't be there for that long, he made an unforgettable appearance.

People all over Western New York started wearing a navy-blue bracelet to show their support of him. On one side, written in gold, it reads "All heart #6." On the other, "Dux #12."

Six was his jersey number in England, 12 from his days at Canisius. MacDonald stills wears his Dux band to this day.

Mike MacDonald wears his Brian Dux band everywhere he goes

"I've always known Brian as this larger than life figure. He always overcame everything. He was always the best at everything," said Comerford.

"I knew he'd attack his accident with that same vigor, and he'd do the same -- he'd overcome it like he did everything else he's done."

It took a long time, but eventually, Dux began walking under his own power, and most impressive, standing up without any assistance.

Though he may never get back to the way he was before the accident, the progress Dux has made is nothing short of remarkable.

"And that's why, anybody that ever says, 'Geez, he talks slow or he doesn't move as fast or he can't run,'" said MacDonald. "I don't look at what he can't do, you look at what he can do. And what he can do, and where he's come is miles... miles from where he was."

Brian Dux, The Coach

"It was a shock," Bishop Timon High School sophomore and junior varsity basketball player Nyan Chiagi said. "I had no idea."

While the tales of the Brian Dux's legacy are so warm to those in the area that lived through the triumphs and heartbreak, the members of the Tigers basketball program were blind to it all. Mainly because, well, they were too young to fully grasp it ? if they were even born at all.

They had no clue as to who Dux was when he stepped through the door at Timon, nor how iconic of a player he once was in Buffalo. They were only told by JV coach Kyle Perla and varsity coach Des Randall about the legend they had coaching them every single day.

Luckily for them, there's Google.

They all crowded around at the beginning of a study hall one day, and their jaws hit the floor. Any hesitation they may have had with him as a coach was vanquished in that moment.

"I looked at his highlights. He's amazing," sophomore John Shields said.

Earlier that winter, Dux accepted Perla's offer to be his assistant coach of Timon's JV squad.

Brian Dux leans in during a timeout with his Bishop Timon Tigers playing Canisius

"I told Brian, if you want to come and coach with me, there's a spot for you," said Perla, who then ran it by Randall.

"It was a no-brainer as soon as he said it. He's like, ?Dux wants to coach,' and I was like, ?Sign him up.'

Joined by Timon graduate and now A.D. Charlie Comerford, Perla (Orchard Park High School) and Randall (West Seneca West High School) were also known for their basketball abilities in the area. They knew full well what ? and who ? they were getting by bringing Dux on board.

"Well basketball is my whole life, man," Dux said, with his players practicing just behind him. "It's given me everything. I'm just trying to enjoy it and give back to the kids like other people gave back to me."

Why does basketball have such a hold on Dux? What about it keeps drawing him back? 

"No matter how much you think you know, you really don't know anything. It's a constant process of getting better and learning," he said. "You can learn so much about somebody just from ball. If they're tough or soft, selfish or unselfish? I just that part about it. And there's so many intricacies that you can never stop learning until the day you die."

Every single time the Timon JV team stepped foot on the basketball court, no matter if it was practice or a game, Dux was there. No one expected him to be there as much as he has been, but that just goes in line with the driven person back from his playing days. 

He knows no other way.

Given his condition, he isn't able to perform the tasks that the players are supposed to do on the basketball court anymore. While he can still stand up and walk all on his own, the after-effects of the accident still take hold. 

"I don't look at what he can't do, you look at what he can do. And what he can do, and where he's come is miles... miles from where he was." - Mike MacDonald

It's a laboring process for him every time he stands up and takes a step, and though he'll likely never do the things that made him into such a local legend, it's also a step-by-step showing that instills hope, optimism, and maybe even a few welled-up eyes for how far he's come.

During practice, he stands on the sidelines and speaks up when he finds it necessary. During games, Dux sits on the bench ? right next to Perla ? and doesn't move until a timeout is called. During halftime, if the walk to the locker room area is too far, given the small amount of time teams have, he'll instead sit on the bench and wait.

Dux doesn't talk much about the accident and the past these days, he instead tries to focus on the future. He and Perla spend a lot of time together even outside of practice, and Dux has only confided in his friend and fellow coach a couple of times about the accident.

Dux isn't one to dwell on the past.

"Not really," he said. "Just kind of the moment? just trying to do the best that I can."

Though it may take him a while to walk from Point A to Point B, his mind is as sharp as ever. Even though his speech is slower than it used to be, when you talk with him -- even for a moment?. that's when you know it's the same Brian Dux everyone knew in the early 2000s. That same fire, passion, and magnetism emits from every word he gives, and it draws you in.

The team runs offensive sets that Dux concocted. The same goes for the defensive side, and even some out-of-bounds plays, too. Attention to detail -- a staple of one of his biggest coaching influences: Mike MacDonald.

"No matter how much you think you know, you really don't know anything. It's a constant process of getting better and learning." - Brian Dux

"He's not just here for inspiration, he's here because he's capable. He's a great coach," Perla said. "He's made these guys a lot better. My team from last year and the team from this year? this year's team is a little bit better because of Brian."

Last year, Perla's Tigers went 8-11 on the season. This year? 11-11. The Dux difference.

But above all, the most rewarding aspect of coaching isn't about any game or practice.

"The most beneficial thing is just the personal relationships that we've built," Dux remarked.

And you can see it, the kids love him. They listen to him. They respect him.

If you go to any average high school basketball practice, it's fairly difficult to keep the full attention span of every kid on the court while giving instruction. Some might dribble the ball, others will just avoid any eye contact, but no such problem exists when Dux speaks up.

"Oh yeah. No one's talking when he's talking," Shields said.

That, along with shaking the hands of the coaching staff both before and after practice are staples of Brian Dux, the coach ? who preaches showing respect above all else.

Brian Dux calls over player John Shields at halftime against Canisius to get him ready for the second half

And while he's teaching them both about basketball and life, Dux, a noted jokester, still keeps the same competitive fire that made Buffalo fall in love with him in the early 2000s.

"He still thinks he can beat me in some shooting contests and stuff," Randall said with a beaming smile on his face.

"Yeah, but that's not a joke," Dux retorted with a wry smile of his own. "However they want it, I'll give it to ?em."

The Inspiration

"He's literally a walking inspiration," Perla said. "Every single step is hard for him. It's unbelievable, watching him walk into the gyms, watching him walk into practice, even walking on to the bus and getting off the bus."

Not only has Dux had a profound effect on the kids that he worked with every day this past season, he leaves anyone he meets with a lasting impression. And he does it all with a smile on his face.

Brian Dux walks on to the court ahead of Timon's game against Canisius

"It's a rare combination of toughness and kindness," Perla said. "For him to get through it, want to help out other people, and want to continue to make an influence and not make any excuses? it's one in a million. It really is."

"He seems so genuine when it comes to just being able to appreciate life," Randall said.

"Not even just for the kids, but for myself and other adults in the building, he's really a role model for everyone out here," Comerford added. "You hope the kids are in tune enough to know that a pretty great thing is happening over here."

"I just try and be tough and be strong in all situations," Dux said. "If I'm going to ask the kids to be tough and not complain, so I definitely can't complain, you know?"

No one will ever truly know just how Brian Dux does it, but that's just part of what makes him the remarkable, magnetizing, and galvanizing person he is today ? and the same person the area fell in love with during his playing years.

Life dealt Dux a blow and tried to take the game away from him, but he wouldn't let that happen.

It's only fitting that the man that helped define local basketball at the turn of the century is now back on the court, right where he belongs.

Back at practice, a hush comes over the South Buffalo gymnasium. The court, that was full of sneaker squeaks, the bounce of a ball, and the battle cries of instruction have subsided momentarily.

The court at Bishop Timon High School is a mix of old and new.  The floor was a recent renovation and is lit up like a spit-shined stage. Overlooking it from the shadows are rows and rows of auditorium seating, built into the rich history of the school.

The walls, oozing with the ghosts of past triumphs and failures both, now see a group of high school freshmen and sophomores crowd around and stand over a chair on the bench -- listening intently to every word.

This is Brian Dux's new home on the basketball court. Like the very gym that surrounds him, Dux is a sterling example of everything to love about basketball in Western New York.

Brian Dux is back with the game he loves, watch the full feature from 7 ABC here:

The story of Brian Dux as told by 7 ABC's Joe Buscaglia

Joe Buscaglia is the Sports Director at 7 ABC. You can follow him on Twitter @JoeBuscaglia