VALPARAISO | Bryce Drew isn’t the only member of the Valparaiso coaching staff that has made some memories in the NCAA men's basketball tournament.
All three Valparaiso assistant coaches have been to the "Big Dance" in one way or another and their experience is proving to be plenty beneficial as the No. 14 seed Crusaders prepare to take on No. 3 Michigan State on Thursday morning in Auburn Hills, Mich.
Longtime assistant Luke Gore is the only coach on the staff, including Drew, to have actually coached in a tournament game. Gore is the lone holdover from Valparaiso’s last trip to the NCAA tournament in 2004.
“I got to the NCAA (tournament) in my second year, then you think it’s easy and you’ll get there every year,” Gore said. “It’s been a long time coming to get back and this means a whole lot for Valparaiso because the program has changed going from the Mid-Con to the Horizon League.”
Gore has been a coach at Valparaiso since 2002, and he was still relatively new when the Crusaders played Gonzaga in Seattle in 2004. The fact that Gore has now been at the same school for 11 years and played an integral role in building this team has made this year all that more special.
“I’m always going to cherish the first time I went, but this is a bit different,” he said. “This is my first time really going through the entire process of recruiting these guys from when they were sophomores in high school and getting to the tournament with them many years later. It’s just been awesome to see their excitement, the guys we’ve been building relationships with for years.”
Second-year assistant Roger Powell last was at a NCAA tournament game when his Illinois squad lost to North Carolina in the 2005 NCAA title game in Powell’s senior year. Having been to the tourney each of his four years in college, it never occurred to Powell just how difficult it was to reach the field of 68 until he began coaching at Valparaiso.
“I was blessed because we were pretty good when I was in college,” he said. “I’ve gained a better appreciation coming out of a one-bid league. Winning the Horizon League tournament and the run we just went on was very similar to what we did at Illinois my senior year when we knocked off Arizona.”
Former Valparaiso player Jake Diebler never made it to the NCAA tournament when he suited up for the Crusaders, but the second-year assistant coach has plenty of experience courtesy of his younger brother.
Jon Diebler went to the NCAA tournament all four years with Ohio State and the older brother was there every step of the way.
“My brother and I shared in the same dream to play in the NCAA tournament and it maybe didn’t work out the way I originally planned it, but I was very blessed to watch Jon play,” Diebler said. “Those games were very intense and when he got knocked out, part of me felt like I got knocked out as well.”
Drew and the players have been the ones getting most of the recognition since Valparaiso earned a berth into the tournament last week, but the assistant coaches have been fielding just as many happy phone calls from family and friends.
“My brother called me from overseas and I know it was in the middle of the morning for him,” Diebler said. “I could just hear the excitement in his voice for me; the same kind that I had for him when he made the tournament. This is just a dream come true.”