VALPARAISO | It's a long, long way from Valparaiso University to Frankston, Victoria in Australia.
If you aren't on an airplane, the trip of 15,414 miles would take you about three weeks, according to Google maps.
So when Jo Toebelman, a former police officer, entrusted her son Ryan Broekhoff to a college for basketball, her faith would not come easily.
"All we expected was for them to be honest and up front with us and they could expect the same in return," Toebelman said.
To borrow a line from Jerry Maguire, the Crusaders had her from hello.
"When we visited (the school) for the very first time, straight away, we loved it," Toebelman said before Tuesday's Horizon League Championship at the Athletics-Recreation Center. "He loved it. We did a lot of homework with people we trusted, basketball people in Australia, and everybody we spoke to about Valparaiso said it was a fantastic school. They would care for him, nurture him, look after him, and he would get a good education."
Broekhoff's two years at the Australia Institute of Sport helped ready 'Mum' for the time ahead, when her son would be pretty much halfway around the world. During his freshman year, Toebelman was able to spend seven weeks in Valpo. In between visits, she keeps up with him via social media such as Skype and Facebook.
"When he's been home, there's never, ever been a time when we didn't want to send him back," she said. "There's never been a problem. Valpo's become like a second home. We've made life-long friends. We always enjoy coming back, and the reception we get is because of him."
Breokhoff is the de-facto star on a Valparaiso team that came up a game short on an NCAA tournament bid last season. She and her husband Kevin, Ryan's stepfather, have been able to see the stretch run of his senior year, having spent the last month or so in town, living in an apartment. Ryan spends the night on occasion and the Toebelmans have the players over now and then for a home-cooked meal.
"It's nice for them to be like a family," Jo said.
Win or lose, they will return down under Friday. The Toebelman's grandson turns 1 over the weekend and they want to be able to return to see Ryan graduate. As much as she wants to be around for the rest of March Madness, that's the sacrifice she has to make.
"I can watch the games at home on TV," she said. "I can't watch graduation on TV."
Whatever the basketball and professional future hold for Broekhoff, Toebelman knows he's better for his time at Valparaiso University.
"He's always been a nice young man," she said, sporting a t-shirt with a picture of her son that read 'Team Rowdy.' "He's matured, grown as a person, and a lot of that's due to the people here, the coaches, teachers, kids. It's like a big family. We'll miss it as much as him."
This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.