The pieces are in place for the Valparaiso men’s basketball team to make a move up the Horizon League standings in 2010-2011. After finishing in a tie for fourth place and averaging a league-best 73.2 points per game in 2009-2010, the Crusaders return 10 letterwinners from that squad, a dectet that accounted for 82.8% of the squad’s offense.
Meanwhile, Valpo also brings in a trio of talented newcomers to mesh with the 10 returning players. The 13 players got a chance to get a jump-start on this season over the summer, coming together for 10 days of official practice before taking a preseason foreign tour to Cancun, where the Crusaders won all four of their games.
The longest-tenured coach in Crusader men’s basketball history and the seventh-longest tenured coach currently in Division I, Homer Drew returns for his 22nd season at the helm of the Valpo program and 34th season overall as a head coach. Drew, who will have the new court at the Athletics-Recreation Center dedicated in his honor prior to the preseason opener, is one of just 32 Division I head coaches all-time to reach the 600-win plateau. He has guided the Crusaders to eight conference titles and eight postseason appearances during his tenure, and enters the 2010-2011 campaign with 617 career wins, seventh-most among active D-I head coaches and 348 of which have come at Valpo.
Drew’s core coaching staff returns intact for the fourth straight season. Bryce Drew, head coach Homer’s son and one of the greatest players in Valpo basketball history, is in his sixth season on the Crusader coaching staff and starting his fifth year as associate head coach. Luke Gore is in his ninth year as a part of the Valparaiso basketball program, while Chris Sparks, who played for the Crusaders from 1997-2000, is in his fourth year as an assistant coach.
A trio of final-year players with starting experience will lead the way for the Crusaders entering the 2010-2011 campaign.
6-7 forward Cory Johnson is a preseason Second Team All-Horizon League selection this year after earning Second Team and All-Newcomer honors in 2009-2010 in his first year as a Crusader. Johnson, who played his first two seasons at Iowa State, averaged 15.6 points and 5.8 rebounds last season, good for fourth and eighth among Horizon League players, respectively. His field goal percentage of .556 ranked second in the league and 20th nationally as well. One of the league’s most versatile inside/outside players, he also connected on better than half of his 3-point attempts. Johnson scored in double figures 28 times as a junior, including nine 20+ point efforts, and reached double digits in rebounding three times.
6-3 guard Howard Little returns for his final season poised to break the Crusaders’ career games played record if he stays healthy and plays in every game this season for Valpo. Little has started 44 games over his first three years, including 13 games last year as a junior. He averaged 6.8 points and 4.0 rebounds per game in 2009-2010, scoring in double figures on 10 occasions, including his first career double-double. Little led Valpo with 41 steals as a junior, grabbed 52 offensive rebounds on the year, second-most on the team, and hit at an incredible .603 clip from inside the 3-point arc.
6-6 forward Michael Rogers rounds out the Crusader triumvirate of seniors. Rogers has started 57 games over his first three seasons, including each of the last 19 contests as a junior. Last year, he averaged 5.1 points and 2.5 rebounds per game and scored in double figures six times, including a season-best 13-point effort in a home victory over Detroit.
Valpo boasts a trio of juniors as well entering the 2010-2011 campaign, rounding out a group of six experienced upperclassmen.
5-11 guard Nick Shelton is in his third season as a walk-on for the Crusaders. Shelton has appeared in 22 games over his first two years and scored his first career field goal last year at Michigan State. 6-8 forward Cameron Witt played in 30 games, mostly off the bench, as a sophomore for Valpo, averaging 1.6 points and 1.3 rebounds per game. Witt has proven that he can be a threat on the offensive end of the floor, as evidenced by his seven double-figure scoring efforts as a freshman.
Preseason First Team All-League honoree Brandon Wood returns after being named the league’s Newcomer of the Year last season. In his first year as a Crusader, the 6-2 guard was also named a Second Team All-League and All-Newcomer honoree and earned a spot on the NABC All-District 12 Second Team as well. Wood led the Horizon League as a sophomore with 17.7 points per game, while his 565 total points were ninth-most in a single season in Crusader history. Wood, who also finished among the league leaders in 3-pointers (1.8/game, 6th) and free throw percentage (.813, 7th), posted 12 games with at least 20 points a year ago, including a 30-point effort at North Carolina and a Valpo Division I record 39 points at Georgia Southern.
The Crusaders bring back four players in their second season on the court, all of which have shown signs that they can be major contributors as Valpo looks to move up the standings.
5-10 guard Erik Buggs returns after being awarded a medical redshirt last season, a year in which he appeared in just six games before shutting down for the season due to injury. Buggs started in 23 of his 29 appearances at point guard as a freshman in 2008-2009, averaging 4.9 points and 2.6 assists per game. He became the first Valpo player in over a decade to open his career with three straight double-digit scoring efforts.
6-6 guard Ryan Broekhoff became known for his shooting ability and his knack for rebounding during his rookie season. Broekhoff appeared in all 32 games as a freshman, starting six times, and averaged 6.4 points and 4.0 rebounds per game. The sharpshooter knocked down six 3-pointers in a game at Loyola en route to a season-best 20 points, one of seven games he scored in double figures. Broekhoff also paced the Crusaders in rebounding seven times on the season, including a career-best 13 against Wright State.
6-3 guard Matt Kenney also played in all 32 games as a freshman, starting on five occasions. Kenney averaged 5.3 points, 2.3 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game in his first year as a Crusader, but peaked towards the end of the season, posting 8.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game over Valpo’s last 11 games. Kenney posted four of his six double-figure scoring games over the year-ending stretch, including a career-best 27 points in a win over Loyola. He also showed a solid handle of the basketball, ending the year with a 2.1 assist/turnover ratio.
6-1 guard Tommy Kurth appeared in all but one game as a rookie and started 23 times for Valpo. The pass-first point guard averaged 1.9 points, 1.7 rebounds and 1.4 assists in his first season while also averaging less than a turnover per game despite playing over 18 minutes per contest. He scored five or more points four times and connected on better than 40% of his 3-point attempts in Horizon League play.
Three players are set to take the court for the first time for the Crusaders in 2010-2011.
7-1 center Hrvoje Vucic will make his debut this year after redshirting last season in his first year at Valpo. Vucic, a native of Croatia, gained valuable international experience with Cibona Zagreb at the Nike International Junior Tournament two years running. After a year spent acclimating to the United States in the classroom and on the basketball court, Vucic will be counted on to provide valuable depth in the post this season.
6-1 guard Jay Harris was tabbed the #22 point guard in the nation in the Class of 2010 by ESPN.com/Scouts, Inc. and was rated the fifth-best prospect in his class in the state of Illinois. Harris, who played his prep basketball at Oswego East [Ill.] H.S., was a First Team All-State selection by the IBCA as a senior after guiding the Wolves to the first regional championship in school history. Harris averaged better than 28 points per game as a senior while also adding 3.6 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game.
6-8 forward Kevin Van Wijk joined the Crusader squad this past summer. A native of the Netherlands, Van Wijk most recently spent a year at the Canarias Basketball Academy in the Canary Islands. He led all players at the 2007 Spanish Junior Championships with 13 rebounds per game and was a member of the All-Tournament Team. Van Wijk also starred at the 2005 U16 European Championships, where he posted 15.6 points and 11.7 rebounds per game.
A visit to the ARC from a nationally-ranked Purdue squad on Dec. 7 and a trip to Kansas on Nov. 15 highlight the Crusaders’ 2010-2011 schedule, a slate that includes 15 regular season home games.
Valpo begins the year with a pair of exhibition contests at the ARC, taking on Olivet Nazarene Oct. 30 and Aurora Nov. 6. The game against Olivet Nazarene will also serve as the dedication of the brand-new Homer Drew Court, with a brief pre-game ceremony to honor Drew and officially unveil the new court.
The game against Kansas, which closed the 2009-2010 regular season atop both the AP and coaches polls and is projected to be one of the top teams in the nation again this year, will be played Nov. 15 in Lawrence at historic Allen Fieldhouse. It will be the first of four games Valpo plays as part of the Las Vegas Invitational, as the Crusaders will also travel to play Ohio (Nov. 23) before heading to Las Vegas to take on Northern Colorado (Nov. 26) and either Bethune Cookman or Texas A&M-CC (Nov. 27).
Purdue, which finished last regular season ranked among the top-ten in the nation, visits the ARC for the first time in nearly a decade on Tuesday, Dec. 7. Other non-league home games include IU Northwest (Nov. 12), Purdue North Central (Nov. 18), IPFW (Dec. 18) and Ball State (Dec. 28), as well as the annual BracketBusters game (Feb. 19). The Crusaders will hit the road in non-league action against Toledo (Dec. 11) and travel to former Mid-Con rival Oakland for the Lou Henson Award Tournament, playing Eastern Michigan (Dec. 20) and then either Rochester College or the host Golden Grizzlies (Dec. 21).
The Horizon League double round-robin schedule once again begins with a single weekend of league play in early December, as Valpo travels to UIC (Dec. 2) and Loyola [Chicago] (Dec. 4). The league slate resumes at the start of 2011 with a New Year’s Day showdown against national runner-up Butler, with the return trip from the Bulldogs scheduled for Jan. 29. The Crusaders will close out the regular season against UIC on Feb. 26, with the Horizon League Championship scheduled for March 1-8. The winner of the league championship event will receive an automatic bid to the 2011 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.
The Crusaders were picked to finish in fourth place in the league’s annual preseason poll. But with the number of returning players, the talented newcomers and the invaluable experience gained over the summer by practicing together and playing as a team in Cancun, Valpo is well equipped to make a run at the top echelon of the league standings in 2010-2011.