Interview with Brian Dudley, Captain of the 2010 University of California Berkeley Mens Water Polo Team

Joan Gould
Water Polo Planet

Brian Dudley

When I first met Brian Dudley in the summer of 2005, he was a 6’4” gangly 16 year old center forward with great hands, no muscle and a funny accent.  Brian was entering his senior year of prep school in South Africa and visiting his mother, Kate, in New Jersey. Kate had recently moved back to New Jersey where she was born and raised, and agreed to let Brian finish prep school in South Africa and continue his training with the South African National Team under Coach Vlad Trninic of Croatia.   

Kate saw our ad for players on Water Polo Planet and wanted Brian to be able to play some water polo while he was visiting that summer. At the time, I knew nothing about South African water polo but accepted Brian into the program (sight unseen) as I imagined that a kid that was 6’4” might be attractive to a D2 or 3 CWPA team. As a dual US and South African, he qualified for US scholarships and loans so including him might be of benefit to some school in the East. The fact that his mother Kate had graduated from Boston University (my home town) had more than a little to do with my decision.

My pre-conceptions of Brian could not have been more inaccurate.

Brian DudleyAt the end of the day, 16 year old Brian Dudley and his teammate (then) 15 year old Edgaras Asajavicius (LMU) from Lithuania both 6’4” but each weighing around 150 lbs soaking wet,  lit the lights and proved to the crowd (and coaches) at LeJeune Hall that they were the real deal.  At age 16, Brian Dudley scored 3 goals against Cal, setting the stage for what was to come.

When Loren spoke to Kirk Everist about Brian after the game at the Navy Open, his advice to Kirk was to “sign him immediately, then lock him in a weight room and don’t let him out until he can bench press 225”

Fast forward 5 years to 2010 and Senior Brian Dudley is a Cal Academic All American entering the Haas School of Business and will lead the Golden Bears as Captain in the upcoming year in which Cal has a decent shot at the NCAA Championship.

After 5 years, Kirk Everist has this to say about Brian: "It has truly been a pleasure coaching Brian for the past 4 years. He is an impressive young man. As a coach I really enjoy watching the players grow and Brian's desire to become better in every facet of his life has been great to see. He is a true student-athlete and just a great young man. We judge players by the impact they have had on the Cal Program in all facets (athletics, championships, academics, community) and I can honestly say Brian will leave Cal Water Polo better for having had him as a member." `

  1. You were raised in and finished high school in South Africa before coming to the United States to begin college at Cal.  From your retrospective position as a seasoned senior, did you find the transition from high school to college in another country a difficult one?  What were your first impressions about college life at Cal and in the US?

I did not find the transition from high school to college in the USA difficult.  I had the privilege of attending St. John’s in Johannesburg, a premier school which is known and respected world-wide for its level of academics, teachers and administrators. I was a full time boarder at St. John’s for my last four years of high school.  At St. John’s I was taught a strong work/study ethic and I carried this with me to Cal. I loved Cal the moment I stepped foot on it. The rich diversity of Berkeley coupled with Cal’s fantastic and well-renowned academic and athletic programs made it hard not to love. The culture in the US is obviously different from that back home, but I never saw it as an obstacle or challenge, rather as a new chapter to meet new people and become acclimated with a new culture that I have become very fond of. I have made some great friends and gone to places that I otherwise would never have had the chance to visit.  

  1. In 25 words or less, tell high school seniors why you would recommend Cal as the best destination for a water polo player who wants a good academic experience.

Best Coaching Staff. Awesome town. World-class professors. State of the art facilities – both athletically and academically.  A true family of teammates.

  1. You were an experienced   international player with an experienced Croatian coach coming into Cal as a freshman yet you redshirted that first year.  Do you feel that redshirt year helped you or hindered you as a varsity player? After your experience at Cal as an honor/ Deans list student and a stud player, what advice would you give to incoming freshmen, many of whom feel that redshirting is a statement of failure?

Firstly, I don’t believe that anyone should see redshirting as a sign of failure. Moreover, I absolutely feel that redshirting helped me develop as a water polo player. I had never touched or lifted a weight before coming to Cal so it allowed me build a sound strength base which is vital as water polo obviously demands a high level of physical play. Additionally, I believe a solid strength base is of huge importance to help prevent injuries that are unfortunately quite common in our game.

  1. Lots of people (myself included) talk about how there is a one year adjustment factor for international kids to the NCAA game. Do you find this to be true? If so, what do you think causes it and is there a way to get around

I think I would have to agree that the style of play at the collegiate level in the US is different from the international arena. The US game is largely predicated on tactical driving and movement which is not seen all that often in the international game. I believe this is the hardest factor for international kids to adjust to. As for getting around it, I don’t think there is. It is essential to understand how the game is played here as quickly as possible and adjust, to the benefit of you and your team.

  1. You are a dual US/South African citizen and are thus eligible to compete for either country in international events.  The USA National team has a history of more international success, better funding, a more robust program and you would likely qualify were you to try out for a position in the USA National Program.  Why have you made the decision to continuing to compete for South Africa?

I have been asked this question numerous times which is quite flattering seeing the enormous amount of talent that the US has. They have great depth in all positions and I have been fortunate enough to compete against some of them at tournaments like the Fisher Cup. But in all honesty, I have many friends from high school who have gone on to play for South Africa and it would be a moment of a life time to have the opportunity to play with them again, but this time on the international stage. Also, Vlad Trninic, who taught me water polo, is the Men’s National Team Coach in South Africa. I owe a great deal to South Africa – and one of my goals is to bridge the gap between SA and the USA.  SA has some great water polo players and the more recognition South Africans receive in the USA will benefit their programs.   

  1. Every South African player I have come across is tough as nails in the water, quite cheerfully absorbing punishment with a grin and rarely retaliating in anger.   Do you think that the South African national passion for rugby influences the way the South African game is played?

Yes I would say that is pretty accurate. Rugby is our national past time, everyone that plays rugby thoroughly enjoys its physical nature. They enjoy the heavy and significant amount of contact which consequently gets incorporated into the playing style of water polo back home. What many don’t realize is the history of water polo:  it comes from the game of rugby. Water polo originated in  mid-19th century England as an aquatic version of rugby.

  1. Last year you were accepted into the Hass School of Business and were required to attend the summer preparatory session, causing you to give up the chance to compete for South Africa in the 2009 Rome World Championships.   That is quite a conundrum for a 21 year old athlete-what was your thought process as you made that decision?

It was one of the toughest decisions I have ever had to make. Representing your country is the greatest achievement that any athlete could aspire to. What made it even harder was the chance that I would be missing out on an opportunity to play against some of the best water polo players in the world. It would have been a great opportunity for me to learn and develop my water polo at a new level.  However, I could not give up the life altering chance to attend one of the top 3 business schools in the country and the world. It’s an unfortunate fact of our wonderful game that opportunities to create an economically sustainable career are very slim.

  1. The South Africa post apartheid government requires that 20% of any team representing the country internationally be composed of black players, known in South Africa as “PDI’s” (previously disadvantaged individuals).  During the many years of apartheid, blacks had little or no access to swimming pools so there is a very large percentage of non swimmers within the black population.  This has resulted in many players and swimmers being put on the National Teams without the skill set necessary to participate at the world level, causing frustration for everyone involved.   We are faced with a similar situation here in Indianapolis- over 50% of the black population cannot swim and pools are not readily available in the predominantly black parts of town (although we have good public transit).   In a perfect world, where you were king, how would you take a large segment of a population who cannot swim and make them into competent water polo players? How long would it take and what resources would you need?

As unfortunate as the situation may appear, it is important to clarify that sport and politics in South Africa are inextricably linked and to deny that would be naïve. We have come a long way as a nation since becoming a democracy in 1994, much of it due to the sound early piloting of Nelson Mandela. In my experience with PDI’s at the national team level, I was fortunate enough to have been in a team in which the PDI’s may or may not of been there solely on merit, but I can tell you that these individuals have been some of the hardest working athletes I have ever had the privilege to work with which is the foremost characteristic that I admire in a teammate. A lot has been done, but there is still a lot to do, and I very much want to be play a significant role in making water polo a top sport in South Africa in the future.

If I were king of Indianapolis, the first step would be the construction of a world-class swimming and water polo (aquatic) facility accessible to all. Secondly, I would bring in a talented and experienced group of coaches and trainers who can create a fun, yet competitive environment that would attract a large following for kids of all ages. I would also bring together my friends and contacts from the USA and South Africa, bringing together the best of both worlds to volunteer their expertise:  those that I grew up with that play water polo and swim and my water polo and swimmer friends from overseas.    
As for resources – I believe it’s important to give back and when I visit South Africa I always take time to train younger players, both advantaged and disadvantaged.  I believe strongly it’s important to be part of something that has a positive change on communities, especially young kids.  I would encourage all athletes that had the opportunity to play, or attend college, to be part of the initiative to give both of their time and resources. It would take time, but it could be done.  I never start anything I don’t intend on finishing.

  1. It has been a couple years since Cal took home a national title. What do you have to do to win another championship? Is 2010 going to be the Year of the Golden Bear?

On a personal level, as captain for the 2010 season, I  believe that it is my duty to make sure make my team is prepared and ready to go every time we suit up. I must also encourage my teammates to challenge and compete with each other every second we are training. Whether that’s supporting my team to scrimmage a little tougher, swim a little faster or focus a little harder. Similarly, at a team level, it will be important for us to be composed and stick to the basics, and when those don’t work, try even harder at making them work.

And, yes, 2010 will be the Year of the Golden Bear!!


All of us at Water Polo Planet wish Brian, Coaches Everist and LaChance and the Golden Bears the best of luck during the upcoming season!