A Deeper Look @ Valparaiso (Part One)
Special to ValleyHoopsInsider
By: Paul Oren – Northwest Indiana Times
(Valparaiso, IN) – Greetings from the Vale of Paradise! I’m Paul Oren and I’ve covered Valparaiso University athletics dating back to when I was a student journalist in the late 20th century. Ok, it was only 1999, but I’ve been around long enough and seen plenty of Valparaiso basketball over the last 18 years.
I currently cover the school for The Northwest Indiana Times and I run a podcast entitled “Union Street Hoops” that takes a look at Valparaiso men’s basketball and (currently) the Horizon League. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to have Valley Hoops Insider’s Harry Schroeder on Episode No. 26 last week to discuss the Valley’s plans to move forward after Wichita State left the conference. In return I’m happy to offer up my thoughts to Valley Hoops Insider as to whether or not Valparaiso and the Valley would make a good partnership.
First: A History Lesson
There are two big names that have been associated with the Valparaiso basketball program in recently memory. The first name is Drew. Homer Drew is the patriarch of one of the most successful families in college basketball history. Homer took over the Crusaders in 1988 and immediately shocked the world (or maybe just Northwest Indiana) by knocking off previously undefeated Notre Dame in an overtime thriller. It was a game that lives on in Valparaiso lore and has even been encapsulated in poem.
Homer’s two sons have also become successful college basketball coaches. The Crusaders first found success when Scott Drew joined the staff and he began recruiting internationally in the mid-90’s. Long before the internet as we know it today, players from Europe knew of the NCAA, but knew very little in the difference between Duke and Valparaiso. Scott picked up on this and that helped pave the way for a caravan of European big men that helped put Valparaiso on the map.
Valparaiso’s biggest recruit didn’t come from Europe. Instead, he came from the room just down the hallway. Bryce Drew, son of Homer and brother of Scott, passed on offers from bigger schools such as Notre Dame and Syracuse to play at the Athletics-Recreation Center. Two brothers and a father combined to take the Mid-Continent Conference by storm, making three straight trips to the NCAA tournament, culminating in 1998 when Bryce hit “The Shot.”
Bryce moved on to the NBA and the rest of the country thought Valparaiso would fade back into obscurity. Homer and Scott went back on the recruiting trail and were able to replace the best class in program history with another group of talented individuals, led by Lubos Barton, Milo Stovall and Greg Tonagel. That class made three more trips to the NCAA tournament and won a then-school-record 25 games in 2001-02, with the first being a dominating 16-point win over Indiana State.
Homer made the decision to step down following the 2001-02 season, giving way to Scott. The Crusaders lost in the Mid-Con tournament final the following season, but Scott did enough to help garner Valparaiso its first at-large berth to a postseason tournament as the Crusaders played Iowa in the 2003 NIT. Scott appeared set for sustained success at Valparaiso with another strong recruiting class coming to campus, but he felt a call to go to Baylor and help resurrect the program after the murder of Patrick Dennehy. Scott’s departure, just weeks before the season began, led to Homer coming back and guiding the Crusaders to yet another NCAA tournament appearance.
Bryce joined the staff as an assistant coach following a six-year NBA career and the Crusaders moved from the Mid-Con to the Horizon League prior to the start of the 2007-08 season. It took Valparaiso several years to find its footing in the league after a strong initial showing. By the time Homer retired for good in 2011, Bryce was ready to take over and he led the Crusaders to four conference titles and two NCAA tournament appearances over the next five years before departing for Vanderbilt at the conclusion of the 2015-16 season.
The second name that has been recently associated with the Valparaiso basketball program is Alec Peters. The Washington, Ill. native arrived on campus in the fall of 2013, choosing the Crusaders from a reported 24 Division I scholarship offers. Peters was in the starting lineup from the beginning of his career and helped lead Valparaiso to the NCAA tournament as a sophomore in 2015. Peters graduated in three years and declared for the NBA Draft as a junior, becoming the last player in the country to take his name out of the draft. The prevailing thought was that Peters would transfer to a high-major program for his final season. Perhaps to Vanderbilt to follow Bryce Drew or to Illinois to play for his home state program. Peters received overtures from some of the biggest programs in the country and instead chose to remain at Valparaiso and play under first-year coach Matt Lottich.
The 2016-17 season was a trying one for Valparaiso. The Crusaders lost two starters before the season even began as Keith Carter had his final year taken away from him by the NCAA (and to a lesser, yet perhaps much larger degree, St. Louis) and David Skara transferred to Clemson. The hits kept on coming for Valparaiso as senior big man Jubril Adekoya was lost for the season due to an academic matter that involved Valparaiso once again vigorously appealing to the NCAA, only for the appeal to fall on deaf ears. Before Adekoya was lost, the Crusaders were 7-2 with wins over Rhode Island, BYU and Alabama and losses to Kentucky (Elite Eight) and Oregon (Final Four). The night that Adekoya was suspended, the Crusaders knocked off Missouri State as Peters was fouled on a 3-point attempt by former AAU teammate Obediah Church on the final play of the game. Peters hit all three free throws to win 84-81. The Crusaders returned home the next week and beat Indiana State 89-71.
The season ended unceremoniously for Valparaiso as Peters suffered a broken foot midway through conference season and was shutdown with two games remaining in the regular season. The Crusaders fell flat in the Horizon League tournament and then lost in the NIT to Illinois after receiving an at-large berth for the second time in program history.
The question surrounding Valparaiso now is whether or not the Crusaders can sustain the success they’ve had for a quarter-century without the names Drew and Peters in the program. Lottich is eager for that challenge and the former Stanford and New Trier High School (Winnetka, Ill.) standout has hit the ground running in recruiting.
Replacing stars has become a thing of regularity at Valparaiso. Most wrote the Crusaders off when Bryce Drew graduated in 1998, only for Lubos Barton to take the reins. St. Louis native Dan Oppland followed in 2002 before giving way to a new brand of stars such as Brandon Wood (Southern Illinois transfer), Ryan Broekhoff, Kevin Van Wijk, and finally, Alec Peters.
Editor: Part Two: “How Would Valpo Fit in the Valley” comes tomorrow!