Valparaiso enters the 2009-2010 season looking to bounce back from a 2008-2009 campaign which saw the Crusaders finish below .500 for just the second time in the last 16 years. Six letterwinners, including three starters, return from last year’s squad, while eight newcomers join the Crusader team to help Valpo return to its winning ways.
The longest-tenured coach in Crusader men’s basketball history, Homer Drew returns for his 21st season at the helm of the Valpo program and 33rd season overall as a head coach. Drew became the seventh current Division I head coach and 32nd Division I head coach all-time to reach the 600-win plateau, passing the milestone late last season. Drew has guided the Crusaders to eight conference titles and eight postseason appearances during his tenure, and enters the 2009-2010 campaign with 602 career wins, 333 of which have come at Valpo.
Drew’s core coaching staff returns intact for the third straight season. Bryce Drew, head coach Homer’s son and one of the greatest players in Valpo basketball history, is in his fifth season on the Crusader coaching staff and starting his fourth year as associate head coach. Luke Gore is in his eighth year as a part of the Valparaiso basketball program, while Chris Sparks, who played for the Crusaders from 1997-2000, is in his third year as an assistant coach.
Only one senior appears on the Crusader roster for the 2009-2010 season, 6’1" fifth-year guard Brandon McPherson. McPherson was granted a medical redshirt last season after attempting to return from surgery and being able to play only five games before having to shut it down for the season. McPherson, who averaged 9.2 points/game last year, has started for Valpo since his sophomore year and enters his second senior season among the top-ten in Crusader history in career 3-point percentage (40.9%). He is also just 195 points shy of reaching the 1,000 point plateau for his career.
A pair of juniors with starting experience return for their third season in the Valparaiso uniform.
6’6" guard Michael Rogers appeared in all 31 games for the Crusaders a season ago, making 26 starts. Rogers finished his sophomore year second on the team in both scoring (9.9 points/game) and rebounding (4.9 rebounds/game). Rogers led Valpo in the scoring column eight times and in rebounds on five occasions. This past summer, Rogers played for his native Jamaica at the FIBA CBC Championship, playing in all five games as the Jamaican squad earned the gold medal.
6’3" guard Howard Little also played in all 31 games last year for Valpo, starting on 28 occasions. Little ranked third on the team in scoring (9.6 points/game) and rebounding (4.7 rebounds/game), and led the team with 49 steals, ranking sixth in the Horizon League in the category. He also ranked among the league’s top players in 3-point percentage (40.6%, 5th) and offensive rebounding (2.0/game, 9th).
Three sophomores return for their second season on the Crusader squad.
5’10" guard Erik Buggs appeared in 29 games last year for Valpo, starting on 23 occasions as a rookie. Buggs started each of his first eight career games and scored in double figures in each of his first three contests. For the season, Buggs averaged 4.9 points/game and finished the year with 75 assists, second on the team.
6’9" forward Cameron Witt played in all 31 games during his rookie year for the Crusaders, making nine starts. Witt connected on 47.0% of his field goal attempts on the season, averaging 4.7 points/game. This summer, Witt was a member of the Australian team roster for the 25th World University Games and appeared in each of Australia’s first two games before suffering a minor injury which forced him out of the remainder of the tournament.
5’11" guard Nick Shelton is the final returnee with experience in a Valpo uniform. The walk-on played in 24 minutes over 14 games in his first year as a Crusader.
An eight-man incoming class has been ranked by The Sporting News as the Horizon League’s top incoming class for the 2009-10 season.
Three players with previous collegiate playing experience are eligible to play for the Crusaders for the first time this season, including redshirt junior Cory Johnson. Johnson joined the Valpo program prior to the 2008-2009 campaign, but had to sit out last season due to NCAA transfer regulations. Johnson, a 6’7" forward, came to Valpo from Iowa State, where he appeared in 55 games, including six starts. He connected on a team-best 53.2% of his field goal attempts as a freshman, and improved to a 65.1% shooter in his sophomore campaign. Out of high school, Johnson was ranked the 75th best player in the nation in his class by Hoop Scoop Online. Johnson played this past summer on an Athletes in Action squad that toured in Poland and Germany for a week.
Redshirt sophomore Brandon Wood arrives at Valpo from Highland [Ill.] C.C., where he helped the Cougars to a seventh place finish at the NJCAA Division I National Tournament last season. Wood, a 6’2" guard, played at Highland for one year after transferring from Southern Illinois, where he was granted a medical redshirt as a freshman after suffering a season-ending injury six games into the season. Wood, who is projected as the top incoming point guard in the Horizon League this year by Rivals.com, joined Johnson on the AIA squad that toured Poland and Germany this past summer.
Sophomore Milos Milosevic comes to Valpo from Yuba College in California, where he averaged 9.5 points/game and 7 rebounds/game as a freshman while helping the 49ers to their third straight conference championship. Milosevic, a 6’7" forward and a native of Montenegro, played his high school basketball at Oakmont [Calif.] H.S., averaging 20 points/game and 12 rebounds/game as a senior.
The Crusader roster for the 2009-2010 campaign also contains five true freshmen.
Ryan Broekhoff, a 6’6" guard out of Frankston, Victoria, Australia, started every game for the Australian squad at the FIBA U19 World Championships this summer, averaging 7.0 points/game and a team-best 7.1 rebounds/game. Chris Halvorsen, a 6’8" forward from St. Paul, Minn., was a three-time All-Conference honoree at Henry Sibley H.S. and was named Metro Defensive Player of the Year as a senior.
Matt Kenney, a 6’3" guard from Mooresville, Ind., was named conference Player of the Year as a senior. Kenney also was named to the Indiana All-Star squad and scored 19 points over the two-game series against the Kentucky All-Stars. Tommy Kurth, a 6’1" guard from Osceola, Ind., was a three-time All-Conference and two-time All-Area honoree, while Hrvoje Vucic, a 7’1" center from Split, Croatia, played for Cibona Zagreb in the Nike International Junior Tournament each of the last two years.
Five games against preseason consensus top-15 teams nationally, including contests against both reigning national champion North Carolina and national runner-up Michigan State, highlight the Valparaiso men’s basketball 2009-2010 schedule.
The regular season kicks off Nov. 13 when the Crusaders play at in-state rival Ball State. Two days later, Valpo ventures to Chapel Hill to take on the defending national champion Tar Heels, the third year in a row that the Crusaders have faced off against North Carolina. Each of the previous two years, the Tar Heels have been the top-ranked team in the nation at the time of the game.
The home opener is next on the slate, as Valpo hosts IU-South Bend Nov. 19. From there, the Crusaders travel to East Lansing to face Michigan State Nov. 22, which has been tabbed as the nation's #2 team in the preseason in both the Associated Press and USA Today/Coaches Polls. If the Spartans can rise to #1 at game time, it will mark the sixth straight season the Crusaders have played the nation’s top team, following Illinois, Duke, Ohio State and North Carolina twice.
Thanksgiving weekend will be spent playing in the Legends Classic, as the Crusaders will take on Georgia Southern, Troy, and Arkansas-Fort Smith in Statesboro, Ga. That tournament is followed by the Horizon League opener, as Valpo will face off with Butler in Indianapolis on Dec. 5. The Bulldogs were ranked #10 in the preseason in the USA Today/Coaches poll and were #11 in the AP polling.
Another preseason top-ten team looms just four days later, as for the second straight year Valpo will make the 90-minute trip to West Lafayette to play Big Ten foe Purdue. The Crusaders return home for a brief two-game homestand against Toledo (Dec. 12) and Concordia (Wis.) (Dec. 19) before wrapping up the early-season slate in contests at IPFW (Dec. 22) and Akron (Dec. 27).
The Horizon League, which has ranked among the mid-major leagues in the nation in terms of RPI over Valpo’s two seasons in the league, schedule starts up in earnest on New Year’s Eve as the Crusaders host Milwaukee. As in the past, the Crusaders will play an 18-game league slate, with home and home series against each of the other nine teams.
For the sixth straight year, Valparaiso is in the pool of teams for the BracketBusters event, to be contested on the next-to-last weekend of the regular season. The Crusaders are designated as a road team this year in the event. The regular season wraps up at the ARC against Butler on Feb. 26. The Horizon League Championship kicks off March 2 and runs through March 9, with the tournament champion receiving an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.