Fieldhouse-Merrillville GM will always be hysteric over hoops

2012-08-27T22:00:00Z Fieldhouse-Merrillville GM will always be hysteric over hoopsJohn Burbridge, (219) 933-371

MERRILLVILLE | There is no off-season for John Stroia.

There are little -- if any -- days off.

And vacations?

"I do plan to take one this year," Stroia said. "It's been a while."

If and when it does happen, don't be surprised if attending a college or pro basketball game will be one of the excursions.

"Basketball has become a 12-month sport," said a non-complaining Stroia, who starred for Merrillville High School before continuing his hoops career at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, where he was the team captain his senior year. "There are a lot more opportunities to play year-round.

"I remember in my day, during the summer they would open up the gym at Merrillville and you would go in and sign your name to a list to play on a team. And as long as your team won, you kept the court and kept on playing. But if your team lost, you were likely done for the day because there were a bunch of teams signed up after you."

After UW-Whitewater, Stroia served as a graduate assistant coach at Ball State University under head coach Steve Yoder, who now is a scout for the New York Knicks.

Stroia later became coordinator of athletics and head men's basketball coach at Ohio State University at Lima, where he compiled an 84-31 record through four years, including two Ohio Regional Campus Conference Championships and one Ohio Regional Campus State Championship.

Stroia went on to become an assistant coach at Youngstown State University. When YSU head coach Jim Cleamons left the school in 1989 to assist Phil Jackson on way to NBA Championship glory with the Chicago Bulls, Stroia -- then just 29 years old -- took over the Division 1 program.

After leaving coaching in 1993 to form Hoosierland Basketball Review, a scouting service, Stroia returned to the bench in 1997 as an assistant for the Magic City Snowbears (Minot, N.D.) of the International Basketball Association, Weber State University (1999-2005) and Bowling Green University (2006-2007).

In 2008, Stroia returned to his hometown to become general manager of the Fieldhouse-Merrillville.

Now, even with the football season rearing its head, basketball is still brisk for Stroia and the Fieldhouse.

"Last year, our 'Back to School' doubled from the year before," Stroia said of the increase from 39 to 78 teams. "And we even get football players. They play football all week, and then on Sunday -- their off day -- they come in and play basketball."

Stroia has seen basketball league and tournament participation at the Fieldhouse -- a 53,000 square foot indoor basketball and multi-purpose facility -- grow steadily throughout his tenure.

"We use things like 'Constant Contact' to reach up to 10,000 people at a time," Stroia said of an email blanketing system he employs. "But it's the location that makes this a great place to play.

"When I promote our tournaments, I tell teams that it's only 40 minutes from Chicago with Indiana gas, hotel and restaurant prices."

Stroia imagines that junior high programs will be hosting their games at the Fielhouse in the near future.

"It can only be more economical than having to leave your school open, and having someone to clean it up after," he said. "And many of the schools already play here during the spring and summer."

The Fieldhouse has recently started a "Pro U" comprehensive basketball camp program.

"Overall, we had about 400 campers so far this year," Stroia said. "We were able to get major support from NIMO (Northern Indiana McDonald's Owners) to help out with our camp program."

Stroia estimates about 2,500 teams are participating in events so far this season at The Fieldhouse.

"If you do the math, each of those teams have about 10 players on it, and many of those players usually bring a parent, a relative and a sibling with them," Stroia said. "So you can imagine the traffic that comes through our doors.

"And all of them are here for basketball, the best sport in the world."

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