The Valparaiso men’s basketball team is fighting for a berth in the NCAA tournament for the second time in three years, and a familiar family name is calling the shots for the Crusaders.
Earlier this week, Bryce Drew was honored as Horizon League Coach of the Year. This weekend, he hopes to help his team clinch the league title, which would earn the Crusaders a spot in the Big Dance.
Bryce is following in the footsteps of his beloved and successful father. Homer Drew led the school to the tournament seven times over his 22-year career at Valparaiso.
This year’s Crusaders clinched the Horizon League regular season title, exceeding preseason expectations that they would finish fourth. Bryce Drew’s lineup includes league Defensive Player of the Year Vashil Fernandez, Sixth Man of the Year Jubril Adekoya, and first-team all-conference forward Alec Peters. They look to take the next step in the league tournament, which they are hosting for the second time in three years.
Valpo is undefeated at the Athletics-Recreation Center in conference play this season.
The Drew family dynasty is visible at the ARC, starting with Homer Drew’s signature across the court. He began the family basketball tradition as a young boy in St. Louis playing on his neighbor’s court with older boys.
“I was always picked on and was the last one chosen, but that made me better,” Homer recalls. “I enjoyed the game from an early age.”
Homer never thought his son Bryce might play for him. But Bryce’s skill level continued to improve in high school, and schools like Notre Dame, Syracuse, Clemson, and Stanford showed interest.
“It was really Bryce’s decision where he wanted to go, and as a father, I just wanted him to go where he felt comfortable,” says Homer. “When he decided on Valpo, it was very special because his older brother [Scott] was here [as an assistant coach].”
As a senior, Bryce sunk a buzzer-beater that gave the school its first NCAA tournament win, against Ole Miss in 1998. He left Valpo as the program’s all-time leading scorer, then spent six years in the NBA. He began his coaching career back at Valpo as an assistant, then served as associate head coach under his father.
Homer Drew, center, with his sons Scott, left, and Bryce, right, in 1997.
Scott, of course, is now the coach of the No. 14 Baylor Bears. His and Bryce’s sister, Dana, is the all-time leader in assists at Toledo and led the Rockets to four postseason appearances during her time there in the 1990s.
Bryce’s love of the game is evident when he talks about his basketball program. He enjoys seeing the relationships his players share.
“They get along very well,” he says. “They really enjoy spending a lot of time together, and I hope that carries over onto the court.”
As a coach, Drew is a very detail-oriented person. And that comes through in games and practices.
“Bryce is a precise guy — he likes things done exactly how they are supposed to be done,” says Fernandez. “He is down to the T about everything.”
The pressure is high for the Crusaders this weekend. It’s likely that only the league tournament’s winner will receive a bid to the Big Dance. Valparaiso is the Horizon League’s top seed, but Drew knows there are other teams who could advance.
“Our main focus has been trying to prepare the best that we can since we won’t know who we are going to play [until late Friday night], but hopefully our guys will be ready,” he says.
Regardless of the outcome, the family tradition will continue at VU.
“Just hanging out here everyday, you see a father-son relationship that is pretty great,” says Fernandez.
Adds Homer, “Some of my most enjoyable moments are at about 11 o’clock at night when Bryce, Scott, and I are talking about basketball [on the phone]. Now I’m to the point that I learn from them. They don’t learn much from me anymore.”
When asked who he would root for if a Baylor-Valpo matchup materialized in the postseason, the elder Drew smiled before responding as only a father could.
“It would be wonderful because they would both be in the NCAA tournament,” he said. “I would be happy.”
Photo: Head coach Bryce Drew of the Valparaiso Crusaders talks with Kevin Van Wijk #55 (L) and Bobby Capobianco #5 against the Michigan State Spartans during the second round of the 2013 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at at The Palace of Auburn Hills on March 21, 2013 in Auburn Hills, Michigan (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images), AP Photo/The Times, Sam Riche