VALPARAISO | Valparaiso forward Ryan Broekhoff has done it all in his basketball career, from dominating Horizon League opponents to gaining extensive experience on an international level.
But the 22-year-old from Australia also has endured heartache and disappointment on the basketball court, and plans to use those painful memories to fuel the fire as he embarks on what is expected to be a memorable senior year for an experienced, talented Crusaders team.
This summer, Broekhoff was one of 15 finalists to try out for the Australian national team that played in the London Olympics. He was one of the final players to be cut from the 12-man roster, after playing for the team during three exhibition games in China.
"I did the best I could really against our top-tier players," Broekhoff said. "I got to play in my home country in front of the home fans, wearing the senior men's Australian uniform. That was a huge honor to be able to do that.
"But I guess I was one of the last three to be dropped, and that was obviously a disappointing time. I never thought that I might be going to London, but to push into the final 15 and be close to making the team was disappointing in some ways but motivation in another."
Broekhoff was named the Horizon League Player of the Year as a junior after leading the Crusaders in scoring (14.9 ppg) and rebounding (8.5 rpg). When Valpo lost to Detroit in the conference tournament title game, 70-50 on ESPN, Broekhoff was sick that day. Though he hadn't told anyone before the game, he had a stomach flu virus that he said, "knocked me around for a good week." Broekhoff scored 13 points that night.
After a loss to Miami in the NIT, Broekhoff and his teammates seethed while watching the NCAA Tournament.
"It was really tough to watch," he said. "I watched the Detroit-Kansas game and it was a little hard to watch because obviously that was where we wanted to be."
Broekhoff, his five senior teammates and a talented group of newcomers will look to improve on last year's 22-12 overall record that included a 14-4 first-place finish in the Horizon League. The ultimate goal is to host the tournament again, win it and claim Valpo's first NCAA berth since 2004.
"We've got the motivation of not only tasting some success, but also the ultimate failure," Broekhoff said. "We were at home in front of our fans with the nation watching on ESPN. We kind of had the all the pressure on us and it didn't work for us on that day.
"We've learned and grown and gained a lot of experience from that day. It's definitely given us that extra little bit of motivation to do what it takes and make sure it doesn't happen again."
Broekhoff, at 6-foot-7 and 215 pounds, had 12 double-doubles last season, with career highs of 26 points against Detroit and 16 rebounds against Butler.
Beyond the numbers, Broekhoff simply has a feel for the game perhaps like no other Valpo player since his head coach, Bryce Drew, played for the Crusaders from 1994 to 1998.
"He's such a great team player," Drew said. "Everybody enjoys playing with him because he makes everyone around him better, and does whatever is necessary at a certain point of the game.
"Part of him being that team player is he just so good at everything -- scoring, passing, rebounding."
Broekhoff will lead a talented front court that includes Kevin Van Wijk, a 6-8 bruiser who also earned first-team All-Horizon honors last year, and newcomers Bobby Capobianco and Vashil Fernandez. Capobianco is a 6-10 junior who transferred from Indiana and led the Crusaders in scoring in two exhibition games, while Fernandez is a 6-10 sophomore from Jamaica who had to sit out last season.
Guards Matt Kenney, Will Bogan and Ben Boggs return for their senior seasons, while junior transfers Jordan Coleman and LaVonte Dority provide depth in the backcourt. Junior Alex Rossi, a transfer from California who played at New Trier High School in Winnetka, will also contribute.
The Crusaders were the overwhelming favorites to win the Horizon League in the preseason poll. But they realize a poll means nothing; they were picked fifth in last year's poll but won the conference by two games.
"We'll find out when the games come," Drew said. "We've been very pleased with them in practice and how they have been doing. The true test will be when the games come and only time will tell exactly where they're at when we play real games."