March 16, 2015

Valparaiso coach Bryce Drew enjoys seeing his father's signature each time he walks onto the court.

He loves using the same office that belonged to his father and brother. He remembers growing up around campus, before basketball put the school on the national map, and he can relive that shining moment any time there's a replay of the game-winning shot he made against Ole Miss for the Crusaders' first NCAA Tournament win in 1998.

But in this small northwestern Indiana town, the Drews are treated like more than just basketball royalty. They are the first family.

''I don't think it's ever been in question who would be the coach here,'' said Alec Peters, the Crusaders' new young star. ''The name is on the floor, it's everywhere. It's what Valpo basketball is. It's all about the Drew family.''

The college landscape is littered with father-son combinations.

The late Ray Meyer turned over DePaul's program to son Joey. When Bob Knight retired at Texas Tech, his son, Pat, take over. John Thompson III eventually ran the Georgetown program his father led for 27 seasons. Pete Maravich broke the NCAA scoring record while playing for his father, Press, at LSU. Virginia coach Tony Bennett helped put Green Bay's program on the national scene while playing for his father, Dick.

Valparaiso has taken the family business to a different level.

The patriarch, Homer Drew, won 371 games during two different stints as the Crusaders' head coach. Scott Drew succeeded his father in 2002-03, won 20 games, made the NIT and bolted for Baylor, where he has won 228 games.

With Bryce Drew still pursuing a pro basketball career, Homer ended his retirement and led the program through 2010-11 before turning to over his younger son.

All the youngest coach has done is win. In four seasons, Bryce Drew already has 94 victories and he has hosted three Horizon League title games, getting two NCAA tourney bids. This season, with the least experienced team in the conference, Drew led Valpo to a 28-5 record, the regular season and tourney titles, and won the league's coach of the year award.

According to STATS, last week's 54-44 championship game win over Green Bay gave the Drew family 981 career wins, tying Indiana's most famous coaching family, Bob and Pat Knight. Baylor's Big 12 tourney win over West Virginia two days later broke that tie.

The proud papa has been there to see most of it, and the sons like having him around.

''I love talking to him and talking basketball with him. He won 640 (career) games,'' the 40-year-old Drew said. ''You know, Jim Calhoun was in here to (broadcast) our championship game and he and my dad sat there during practice and I said, `Look over there, there's 1,500 wins between the two of them.'''

Drew's players are hopeful they can put another line on their coach's impressive resume. Since toppling Mississippi and Florida State in the 1998 tourney, the Crusaders have lost six straight NCAA games.

The odds appear to be stacked against them this year, too. They are young, with only two seniors on the roster and only one veteran who played in their last tourney game in 2013. Their top scorer is Peters (16.7 points per game), though junior Darien Walker and freshman Tevonn Walker also average in double figures.

What they do have is a suffocating defense that allows just 59.3 points per game, 18th nationally. Opponents are shooting 38 percent from the field.

Whether that will be good enough to get by fourth-seeded Maryland on Friday may depend on how well the Crusaders stick to a philosophy that has been around since the start of the Drew dynasty in 1988.

''It's about more than basketball,'' swingman E. Victor Nickerson said. ''It's not only a teammate you're playing next to, it's a brother you're playing next to.''

And in this town, that matters.

Students, fans and the Drews have come together to celebrate the highs, lament the lows of basketball and real life. Four years ago, Drew's mother and father were both diagnosed with cancer. Today, Bryce Drew says, both are doing well.

How much longer can Valparaiso keep a Drew on the sideline?

It's a family discussion that may be looming.

Bryce Drew's success, at such an early age, is almost certain to make him a hot commodity for a major program that can afford to pay him millions.

But with so much of his own life invested in his alma mater, his city and his young team, Drew may feel compelled to hang around a while longer. Nobody can imagine it any other way.

''When you think of Valparaiso you think of Bryce Drew,'' Peters said. ''You think of The Shot, the Sweet 16. He is the program.''

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