Saturday, February 6, 2016

Bryce Drew takes the next step of turning Valparaiso into a mid-major juggernaut

                                      Photo Credit: Geno Green

The first thing most college basketball fans think of when it comes to current Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew is his days as a member of the same team who scored the buzzer-beater heard around the world in the 1998 NCAA Tournament first round with a 70-69 win over Ole Miss.

Drew, who starred as the guard under his father and coach Homer Drew became an overnight sensation in the sports world.

Fast forward 18 years and you can find Homer Drew in the media section at the UIC Pavilion observing his son Bryce, now in his fifth season as the coach for Valparaiso command respect from his players.

In return, the results have reaped rewards for the Crusaders.

Saturday's 73-55 win over UIC gave Valpo its fourth 20-win season in Drew's tenure.

20 wins in any given season can be a significant accomplishment, but for Drew, the ultimate goal is to get the Crusaders back to the big dance for the third time in the last four seasons.

"I am very proud of the guys because they are the ones putting in the work," Drew said. 

"They are the ones out there sweating, but at the same time, it is not something that they look at right now. Years from now, they will look back and know they won back-to-back 20-game seasons and it will mean a lot then."

Drew's system emphasizes discipline on both ends with players showing versatility to keep opponents second-guessing at all times.

No other player represents the Valpo philosophy more than Alec Peters. The Crusaders' leading scorer has produced double-figure totals in 23 of 24 games this season.

Peters' ability to dominate on the rebounding end has been an asset with 7.8 per game– second on the team and only 0.3 off Vashil Fernandez for the team lead.

UIC coach Steve McClain believes Valparaiso can make a run not only at the Horizon League title, but in the NCAA Tournament.

"[Valpo] is a championship-level team," McClain said. "Having done this a long time and just removed from the Big Ten Conference nine months ago [at Indiana], there's no question watching what they do offensively or defensively, they are at-large worthy and if anyone is critical of them, then they have not watched them play."

At 20-4 overall and 10-1 in the Horizon League, Drew and Valparaiso are in full business mode and ready to crash the party and make another run to the conference tournament championship and beyond.

"You can tell they are in a mode of winning a championship, there is no doubt about it," McClain said.

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