JIM PETERS: VU basketball team finds chemistry amid its diversity

2013-03-13T17:00:00Z 2013-03-14T06:05:04Z JIM PETERS: VU basketball team finds chemistry amid its diversityJim Peters Times Columnist nwitimes.com
March 13, 2013 5:00 pm  • 

They're quite the patchwork quilt, this Valparaiso University men's basketball team. A coat of many colors, if you will.

They come from east, west, north, south, Europe, the Caribbean and Down Under. Only three of them have spent all four -- or in one case, five -- years of their careers as Crusaders. Seven of them came to Valparaiso after stints at other colleges.

Even in a time when AAU basketball brings together top players together from widespread backgrounds, chances are few of the dozen on this amalgamated roster knew each other before they arrived on campus.

Their diversity begs the question, how did it all come together?

"Video games," Erik Buggs joked after Tuesday's Horizon League Championship victory over Wright State at the Athletics-Recreation Center.

Buggs is the longest-tenured Crusader, in his fifth year as part of the program, a stretch that included a redshirt season in 2009-10. He's seen more comings and goings than an airport. He's also seen the evolution of a group of individuals into a team, a critical element in the formula of success.

"It means a lot ... getting over the hump," Buggs said. "It's the point I've been trying to get to since I signed my letter of intent. Now, just to be a part of the show, I'm living the dream."

The video games aside, the Crusaders have a lot in common outside of basketball, a thread that goes beyond the bounds of the ARC.

"The biggest thing coming to the university is the family environment," Buggs said. "It's more than just the basketball team. It's not hard to mesh together. That's what makes us such a good team. We have chemistry off the court and it just flows into our chemistry on the court."

Head coach Bryce Drew knows as well as anybody the cultural melting pot that is Valparaiso University. In that regard, his team is a perfect representation of their school.

"The Valpo campus and community is very family-oriented," Drew said. "That's why we have some transfers, guys who have moved around. They feel so welcome. Valparaiso University has so many internationals, so many people from around the world. It's that family atmosphere that makes it special."

In his second year as head coach, Drew has seen it all come together, a bond forged through the disappointment of last year's Horizon championship loss and the commitment to not let it happen again.

"There's a great bond with those eight," Drew said of his playing rotation. "I really wanted to give those five (seniors) the chance to win or lose it."

With the win, the rest of the country will now get their chance to catch a glimpse of Drew's Crusaders on the big stage, the once-scattered pieces of a puzzle that have now interlocked and taken shape.

"It's amazing," Ryan Broekhoff, Valpo's resident Aussie, said. "All the personal accolades are fantastic, but this is what you play for, what you come here for, why you go to practice and work so hard. It's about the team."

This column solely represents the writer's opinion. Reach him at jim.peters@nwi.com.

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