The Valparaiso University men’s basketball team begins writing a new chapter in program history as the Crusaders prepare for the start of the 2007-08 season. The Horizon League awaits the Crusaders this year after a very successful 25-year run in the Mid-Continent Conference that included nine regular season championships, eight tournament championships and seven NCAA Tournament appearances.
While the move in conference affiliation will present a stern challenge for the Crusaders, they will meet the challenge head-on with a very experienced squad. Eight of last season’s 11 letterwinners return this year for Valpo, including four starters who averaged over 10 points per game in 2006-07. The eight returnees combined to account for 93.6% of the scoring and 86.6% of the rebounding on last year’s team.
One of the winningest head coaches in the history of Division I basketball, Homer Drew returns for his 31st season on the sidelines. In his fifth season of his second stint at Valparaiso, and his 19th year overall coaching the Crusaders, Drew currently ranks ninth among active Division I coaches in career victories with 571. His 571 wins also is good for 37th all-time among Division I head coaches, just 27 victories out of the top-30. Drew enters the 2007-08 campaign with 302 victories at the helm of the Crusader program, and has averaged better than 20 wins a season over his last 13 years guiding Valpo.
Joining Drew on the sidelines once again will be the most successful player in Crusader basketball history, Bryce Drew. Drew, who put Valparaiso on the national radar when he hit “The Shot” in the first round of the 1998 NCAA Tournament to lift the Crusaders over Ole Miss, is in his third season as a member of the Valpo coaching staff and his second year as the associate head coach.
Assistant coach Luke Gore enters his sixth season on the Crusader coaching staff in 2007-08, while Chris Sparks returns to the Athletics-Recreation Center for his first season as an assistant coach after playing for Valpo from 1997-2000. Tarrance Price, also a former Crusader player, is in his second year as Valpo’s director of basketball operations.
Drew has three seniors ready to lead the Crusaders into the Horizon League for the 2007-2008 campaign.
Forward Shawn Huff started all 31 games for Valpo a year ago, bouncing back from an injury that caused him to miss the second half of his sophomore season. Huff averaged 11.4 points per game as a junior, increasing his scoring average nearly four points from the previous year. He posted double-figure point totals 19 times last season and broke the 20-point barrier on four occasions, including a career-high 25 points at Chicago State. Huff was the most prolific Crusader from the free throw line last season, hitting 87% of his attempts from the charity stripe, tenth-best in a single season in Valpo history. He is also one of the most accurate 3-point shooters to ever play at Valpo, with a career 3-point percentage of .393; good for ninth all-time.
Guard Jarryd Loyd showcased his versatility last season, coming off the bench in a sixth man role in all but one contest after making 43 starts over his first two years. Loyd is also one of Valpo’s best 3-point shooters, having hit 39.9% of his attempts from behind the arc in his career, eighth-best in the Crusader annals. Seeing most of his time at point guard, Loyd has also shown the ability to distribute the basketball in his first three seasons. He has registered 262 career assists, good for 14th all-time at Valpo and just 33 helpers shy of the top-ten in the category. Loyd dished out 84 assists last season, second-most on the team, and led the Crusaders in scoring off of the bench with 6.4 points per game.
Calum MacLeod will look to try to earn a starting spot this year after receiving five starts during his first year with the Crusaders. The 7’1" center from New Zealand showed flashes of potential during his junior campaign, reaching double figures in scoring five times, including three games with at least 16 points. MacLeod has shown a soft touch on his shot, as he hit 58.7% of his field goal attempts and 84.8% of his free throw attempts last year.
Valpo’s three juniors all jumped into the starting lineup last season after seeing limited playing time as freshmen, and will use that year of experience to their advantage this season.
Guard Jake Diebler started all 31 games for the Crusaders last year after seeing action in just 18 games his first season. Diebler was on the floor the most of any Valpo player, averaging 32 minutes per game and playing at least 20 minutes in all 31 contests. The Crusaders’ defensive leader, Diebler paced the team with 1.52 steals per game, which ranked fourth among all Mid-Con players. He especially stood out on the defensive end over the regular season’s final weekend, holding two First Team All-Conference selections in Steve Barnes and Quinton Day to a combined seven points on 2-of-22 shooting. Not to be overlooked offensively, Diebler averaged 5.4 points per game, including three double-figure efforts.
Forward Urule Igbavboa had a breakout season last year, earning Valpo’s Homer W. Drew Sr. Memorial Award as the Crusaders’ most improved player. Igbavboa emerged as Valpo’s top post threat, averaging 11.6 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, the latter mark being good for second among all Mid-Con players. He also ranked among the Mid-Con’s top-10 in field goal percentage (.563, fourth) and blocked shots (0.68/game, eighth) on his way to earning Second Team All Mid-Con recognition. Igbavboa reached double figures in scoring 20 times last year, including a career-best 21 points at Western Michigan, and broke the 10-rebound barrier on 12 occasions. He tallied his first career triple-double with 18 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists at Chicago State, and added nine other double-doubles.
Guard Brandon McPherson rounds out the Crusaders’ trio of juniors returning to the starting lineup this year. McPherson started all 31 games for Valpo last year, averaging 11.3 points and 3.3 assists per game from the point. His assist average was good for sixth in the Mid-Con, one of four statistical categories McPherson ranked in the top-10 league-wide. McPherson owned a team-best assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.51, third-best in the league, and ranked second in the league by hitting 44.8% of his 3-point attempts, a mark which ranks tenth-best in a season in Valpo history. He reached double figures in scoring in 19 games last year, including back-to-back career-high 24-point efforts at the Rainbow Classic.
One Crusader sophomore will look to gain a permanent position in the starting lineup, while another will look to see increased playing time heading into this season.
Samuel Haanpää received All-Newcomer accolades from the Mid-Con last season and became the first Crusader freshman since Lubos Barton (1998-99) to lead Valpo in scoring, averaging 12.0 points per game in his debut campaign. Haanpää ranked 12th nationally and led the Mid-Con, hitting 45.7% of his shots from behind the 3-point line. In addition, the sharpshooter’s 75 made 3-pointers rank sixth in a single season all-time at Valpo. Haanpää, who started 12 games and came off the bench in 17 others, hit five 3-pointers in seven different games, including a season-best 24-point effort at Western Illinois that earned him Mid-Con Player of the Week honors.
Matt Bennett walked on to the Crusader squad prior to his freshman year and provided valuable minutes off the bench, seeing action in 16 games. Bennett played a season-high nine minutes against Centenary in Valpo’s win over the Gents.
Coach Drew has brought four freshmen in for the 2007-08 season to go along with the eight returnees in the quest for Horizon League gold.
Bryan Bouchie and Benjamin Fumey will provide depth for the Crusaders in the frontcourt as freshmen. Bouchie comes to Valpo from Indiana’s Washington H.S., where he was a member of the Hatchets’ state championship team as a sophomore and was twice named to the All-Regional team. Fumey joins the Crusader squad after playing in his native Germany.
Two freshmen, Howard Little and Mike Rogers, will look to make an impact in the backcourt this season. Little played a season of prep basketball at Stoneridge [Calif.] School after earning All-Area honors four times at Rich Central H.S. in Illinois. Rogers arrives at Valpo from Redemption [N.Y.] Christian Academy, where he earned team MVP honors.
Coach Drew has put together a challenging schedule for the 2007-08 campaign, one which features seven games against five NCAA Tournament teams from a year ago. The schedule also contains 16 home games at the Athletics-Recreation Center, the most since the ARC was constructed prior to the 1984-85 season.
The season kicks off with a home game November 12 against Grace, the first of four contests the Crusaders will play as part of the South Padre Island Invitational. Valpo will travel to Vanderbilt, an NCAA Sweet 16 team last season, on November 20 for the second game before heading to South Padre Island for the final two games. The Crusaders will take on Maryland Eastern Shore on November 23, with Austin Peay, 2007 Ohio Valley Conference regular season champions, and Florida Gulf Coast facing off on the other side of the pod.
The Crusaders will also play at IPFW in between games of the tournament. Valpo returns home November 28, hosting Western Michigan, and will follow with a December 1 home contest against Ball State. The Horizon League slate gets off to an early start, as the Crusaders play at 2007 NCAA Tournament participant Wright State on December 6 and at Detroit two days later.
The Crusaders return home for two more contests, hosting Evansville and Chicago State, before hitting the road for two challenging games. Valpo will play at Big Ten power and 2007 NCAA second round foe Wisconsin on December 22. They follow on December 30 with a game at the Dean Smith Center against North Carolina, which went to the NCAA Elite 8 last year.
Valpo hosts Indiana Wesleyan on January 2 before resuming the double round-robin league schedule January 5 at Butler, the 2007 Horizon League regular season champions and NCAA Sweet 16 participants. The Bulldogs’ return trip to the ARC on February 5 will be televised to a nationwide audience on ESPN2. The Crusaders will once again be part of the ESPN BracketBusters event, hosting a game on February 23. The regular season closes out when Valpo hosts Wright State on March 1.
The Horizon League Championship runs from March 4-11, with the top two seeds getting byes into the semifinals. The first round contests will be at the higher seeds, while the second round and semifinal games will be hosted by the top overall seed. The championship game on March 11 will be hosted by the highest remaining seed.