The Valparaiso men’s basketball team begins the second half of Horizon League play on the road this afternoon, but as far as a quartet of players go, the Crusaders will be right at home.
Lavonte Dority will lead a group of Chicago natives back to their hometown as the Crusaders take on UIC in a game that means a little bit more than just another conference game.
“It’s about bragging rights whenever players from Chicago meet up,” Dority said. “There is a special connection with Chicago players. The games are always competitive. It’s a homecoming for me and for a bunch of us.”
While the Crusaders certainly haven’t ignored Chicago in the past – players such as Jimmie Miles, Ron Howard and Howard Little were important members of the team – the Second City has become significantly more important since Bryce Drew took over the program. Combined with assistants Roger Powell and Matt Lottich (both with Chicago ties), Drew has gone into the city selling Valparaiso’s proximity.
“There are so many good players within a two-hour drive from here,” Drew said. “There are a lot of good players in Chicago and they have a lot of pride for their city. When they play each other, it’s something special. Chicago players are tough; they’re competitors and those are some of the top characteristics we look for in players.”
If you’re from Chicago and you can play, the city becomes a lot smaller. Keith Carter, Jubril Adekoya and Lexus Williams all played against each other growing up while Dority has had plenty of run with various UIC players. When asked what defines Chicago basketball, each Valparaiso player responded with “tough.”
“Chicago players are tougher than most people,” Williams said. “You have to be. Growing up in Chicago, going through some things, it forces you to become a man quicker. That’s all we really know.”
The toughness factor has shown through for the Crusaders this season when they’ve fallen behind by double digits and worked to erase the deficit. Valparaiso trailed by eight points at halftime to UIC earlier this season. Carter scored 13 of his season-high 19 points in the second half as the Crusaders outscored the Flames by 23 points in the final 20 minutes. The three other Chicago natives all scored at least eight points in the second half.
“We have a lot more to prove,” Adekoya said. “Players from Chicago go out and fight for it. For a lot of people in the city, basketball is their escape.”
The Crusaders (13-10, 5-3) will look to build on their win over Green Bay this afternoon when they take on the Flames (5-17, 0-8) at the UIC Pavilion. UIC is led by Purdue transfer Kelsey Barlow (15.4 ppg) and has been competitive in the Horizon League despite its winless record.
“We’ll approach this just like we do any other game,” Dority said. “They could easily be 4-4 and we’re not going to take the lightly just because of their record. We know they can play.”