Head Coach Jason Hawkins leads a line of familiar faces to Athletics-Recreation Center Saturday night when the Calumet Crimson Wave take on the Crusaders in their final exhibition contest of the season.
Hawkins, a walk-on guard at VU from 2000-03, took over the Calumet program in August of 2004 and led the Crimson Wave to a 16-16 record last season. He is assisted this year by Chris Artis, an Andrean High School graduate and Crusader star of the mid-90's. The 6'5" forward played two seasons in a Valpo uniform and helped the Brown and Gold to a pair of Mid-Con titles and back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances.
The Crimson Wave's top returning scorer has a last name more familiar these days than either of his coaches, Oppland. Mike, brother of Crusader forward Dan and a former basketball player at VU himself, will meet his older brother (by two minutes) on the court as an opponent on Saturday for the first time in their respective careers.
But it's Hawkins, who stayed on at Valpo as Director of Basketball Operations during the 2003-04 season, who maintains the closest bond with his former home.
?I love Valpo," Hawkins said, ?I can't say enough about the people there, it feels like a family."
Hawkins' journey to Calumet began in 2004, when he earned a second degree from Valpo, a Masters in Education. He left the school he'd attended for the previous five years and moved on to Luther South High School in Chicago, Ill. to teach Social Studies and History, and coach the Cross Country team. Three months later, after returning from an Athletes in Action tour of London, he got a call from the Crimson Wave.
?Coach Drew was great," Hawkins said, ?He put in a good word for me and that was it."
With the full support of his superiors at Lutheran South, the 23-year-old Hawkins left for the world of collegiate coaching. Now at the ripe age of 24, Hawkins still takes advice and inspiration from his legendary former coach.
?I'm a Homer Drew protégé," Hawkins said, ?I've taken so many lessons from him, both in basketball and in life. He taught me how to communicate and how to relate to my players, and how to really listen to people."
To this day, the relationship between Drew and Hawkins remains strong. The two still speak frequently, especially when the young head coach finds himself in a situation he hasn't had to deal with before. Of course, if Drew is ever unavailable, Hawkins still has plenty of good basketball minds around him, including a former teammate who took his job as Director of Basketball Operations at Valpo last year, Greg Tonagel.
Tonagel, who spent six seasons in a Crusader uniform and battled through several injuries, was part of four NCAA Tournament teams and one of the best pure point guards to play at VU. The LaPorte High School graduate scored nearly 500 points and dished out 280 assists in 105 games as a Crusader, and left as one the school's top all-time free throw shooters, making an even 90% of his attempts. In the spring of 2005, with a Masters in Education now in hand to go with an undergraduate degree in biology and secondary education, Tonagel moved on to a team of his own, taking over the Indiana Wesleyan men's basketball program.
?I was blessed," Tonagel said of the hiring, ?I had the right people speaking on my behalf. Coach Drew really went to bat for me."
Tonagel is also quick to point the finger at one man for his development as a head coach, his former mentor Homer Drew.
?It started when I was in high school," Tonagel said, ?He came to me and put a lot of trust and faith in me. He taught me so many basketball and life lessons."
Drew's lessons on how to build a program have also resonated with the former Crusader guard, much as they did with Jason Hawkins.
?He [Drew] has such a positive program," Tonagel said, ?The kids are very important to him and he will make every effort to point you in the right direction."
Tonagel and Hawkins, the now ?rival" coaches, still speak two to three times a week, but not as often as Hawkins sees Tonagel's former college roommate, Drew Trost. Today, it's Hawkins and Trost who are roommates, with more than just a mutual friend in common.
Trost, a former Crusader manager and player at Calumet College, took over in July as the Head Coach at the Bishop Noll Institute in Hammond, Ind. He got the job, ironically enough, while on a visit from Salt Lake City, Utah to visit a pair of old college friends, Jason Hawkins and Greg Tonagel. Trost, who chose not to walk on the Valpo basketball team in 1999, still gives a great deal of credit to the Crusader program.
?Coach Drew was huge for me," Trost said, ?I learned tons about not only how to be a head coach but how to grow to be a man."
Trost's respect for the Valpo program reaches even beyond words, as shortly after his hiring at Bishop Noll he plucked another bright young manager from the Crusaders, Ben Liske, to serve as an assistant coach.
?He's [Liske's] been awesome," Trost said, ?He's a Valpo High School guy and a VU guy, and you can tell because he really knows the game well."
Saturday night, the journey comes full circle for Hawkins, when the Crimson Wave and Crusaders tip-off at 7:05 p.m. at the Athletics-Recreation Center. Tonagel, whose Indiana Wesleyan team will be in Deerfield, Illinois at a tournament that afternoon, will also be in the crowd on Saturday night, watching his teammate step onto the floor they used to share, and shake hands with the opposing head coach. Their head coach.