WEST LAFAYETTE | Leave your school better than how you found it.
It's an old coaching cliche, but it rings true for Western Illinois senior Jack Houpt.
"When coach 'Mo' (Jim Molinari) was recruiting me, he said the hardest thing you'll have ever done is turning around this program," the Chesterton grad said after Wednesday's 81-67 loss to Purdue in the College Basketball Invitational at Mackey Arena. "It sucks that I'm done with basketball, but I can honestly say I helped turn the program around. It's a great feeling to leave with a ring. It's been a fun ride."
The Leathernecks went 7-23 in 2010-11, Houpt's first year with them. This season, they were 22-9, setting a school record for wins at the Division I level, and sharing the Summit League regular-season title.
"It's been a crazy journey so far," Houpt said. "I've traveled all over the country, playing AAU, going to prep school. I wouldn't trade this for anything. I couldn't ask for better teammates. I had so much fun playing with the guys. Obviously, it hasn't hit me yet. I feel like we're just going back, have a day off, then go back to practice Friday. It probably won't hit me until everybody else has to go back for workouts and I don't have to show up."
Western, minus its top two players due to injuries, came out on fire, hitting 10 of its first 14 shots, including 3 of 4 from deep, and led 25-16 at 10:48 of the first half. Purdue answered with an 11-2 run to take the lead and ran away with a sizzling second half.
"Obviously, it was tough," Houpt said. "You can play the coulda, woulda, shoulda game, but we couldn't dwell on it. We just had to play as hard as we could."
For Molinari, that's what typified Houpt as a Leatherneck.
"I don't remember Jack ever missing a practice, which is something in this day and age," Molinari said. "He came every day. He competed. He led. He had a terrific career. He was a big part of our championship. He may not have had the numbers, but he was always guarded. His value was that no one could ever leave him alone. He's one of those guys, whenever he shot, you thought it was going in, and he had a defensive awareness. I can't say enough about him and his family. He's going to be missed at Western."
While Houpt's playing days may be done, his days on campus aren't. A Summit League All-Academic team selection with a 3.66 GPA, he is in graduate school working toward his Master's in sports management. He hopes to be on the bench next season as a graduate assistant and put off being a 9-to-5'r a little longer.
"It's bittersweet," he said. "If I'm going to end my career anywhere, I'm glad it's here, in front of my friends and family who have been with me from Day 1."
Freshman Jordan Foster (Seton Academy) drew his third start for Western, going scoreless in 30 minutes.